Dani Dumitriu, MD, PhD, is a board-certified pediatrician, neuroscientist, and pediatric environmental health scientist. Her research on the neurobiological basis of resilience aims to usher in a new era of “developmental neuroprevention,” a proactive approach to building resilient future generations through innovative new primary care practices. In her clinical practice in the Well Baby Nursery at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, she channels her passion for promoting optimal neurodevelopment through fostering parent-child emotional connection, advocating for evidence-based practices known to promote bonding, such as skin-to-skin time, rooming-in, and exclusive breastfeeding, and clinical innovations to optimize pediatric care practices. In her research, she investigates the role of early relational health in brain development and lifelong thriving in both human and animal models, using rigorous and state-of-the-art scientific methods and a highly collaborative approach.
In February of 2022, Dr. Dumitriu assumed the role of Director of the Nurture Science Program (NSP) at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC). Building on the visionary work of Founding Director Emeritus, Dr. Martha Welch, Dr. Dumitriu’s goal for the next decade is to more deeply elucidate the mechanisms by which emotional connection emerges between two individuals—that elusive experience that all of us have felt, yet has never adequately been defined by the sciences—and to disseminate tools and practices that foster parent-child emotional connection nationwide.
In collaboration with key partners across and beyond Columbia University, and in particular with Reach out and Read and Center for the Study of Social Policy, Dr. Dumitriu is working toward a paradigm shift in pediatrics, in which the importance of early relational health on a child’s development is deeply understood at a mechanistic level and utilized as a means of improving overall health. Ignited by a new policy statement on the importance of early relational health issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2021, Dr. Dumitriu envisions a future in which early relational health becomes a central pillar of pediatric care, with emotional connection an accepted measure of this new “vital sign.”
Dr. Dumitriu completed her entire physician-scientist training at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She conducted her thesis work in the laboratory of Dr. John Morrison, where she developed methods to investigate the role of brain plasticity in a variety of animal models of stress, addiction and aging. In the clinical portion of the MD/PhD training, she developed a novel animal model to probe the brain mechanisms of stress-resilience in mice in a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Eric Nestler. She completed a pediatric residency and a clinical fellowship in pediatric environmental health, during which she also developed her independent research program. In 2017, Dr. Dumitriu became the first female in the U.S. to secure R01-level funding from the NIH during clinical training and in 2018 she joined CUIMC as an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in Psychiatry.
At CUIMC, Dr. Dumitriu balances her time between caring for newborns in the Well Baby Nursery and conducting basic and translational research into the developmental origins of resilience in her “DOOR” lab, located at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. The DOOR lab uses multiple models to better understand the mechanisms for individual variability in stress-response, with the overarching goal of understanding the structure, function, and developmental origins of resilience. In 2019, she joined the NSP as Director of Translational Research.
In collaboration with Dr. Welch, Dr. Dumitriu wanted to bring Family Nurture Intervention (FNI) into the Well Baby Nursery at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital to help strengthen emotional connection between babies and parents. Work was underway to do so when the COVID-19 global pandemic hit in 2020. Dr. Dumitriu became the designated COVID attending physician in the Well Baby Nursery, taking care of moms and babies for up to fourteen hours a day. She quickly realized that she was in the midst of the largest natural experiment in early life stress in recent history, and so she co-founded the COVID-19 Mother Baby Outcomes (COMBO) Initiative to seize this important moment in time. Through COMBO, she was able to document the health and wellbeing of children born during the pandemic, as well as their mothers, with the ultimate goal of early identification and treatment of physical and early relational health concerns that may be caused either by having COVID, or by steps taken to prevent the spread of COVID, such as social distancing and isolation.
Dr. Dumitriu incorporated FNI and the Welch Emotional Connection Screen (WECS) into the COMBO study—testing whether emotional connection between mothers and children could be improved through use of FNI, and creating and implementing a protocol with Dr. Welch to conduct FNI through a virtual platform. The COMBO study has grown to be a multidisciplinary effort involving over one hundred physicians, researchers, trainees and staff, in fields ranging from pediatric endocrinology to maternal mental health and neurodevelopment. Dr. Dumitriu believes that COMBO’s findings will aid in not only the understanding of the effects of this worldwide event on the “COVID generation” (infants born during the pandemic), but also the effects of emotional connections on the resiliency of parents and children.
But even in the absence of a global pandemic, stress-induced changes to both child and adult bodies lead to poor outcomes in health. And though medicine has made progress in the treatment of disease over the last century, it has not made equal advancement in the prevention of disease. Through the strength-based model of early relational health, Dr. Dumitriu and her team will continue to develop novel preventative strategies aimed at bolstering resilience, building emotional connection, and creating healthier, happier families.
Research Interest Areas
- Brain Imaging
- Early-Life Stress
- Early infant and child development
- Models of Psychiatric Disorders
- Synapses and Circuits
Awards and Honors
- 2012 NINDS/AUPN/ANA Combining Research and Clinical Careers in Neuroscience
- 2015 NARSAD Young Investigator Award
- 2016 Reach for Your First R01 scholar, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
- 2016 AAP SOPT Partner for Resilience
- 2017 Kurt Hirschhorn MD Clinician-Scientist Award, Kravis Children’s Hospital, NY
- 2019 Society for Biological Psychiatry Domestic Travel Fellowship Award
- 2019 Research Initiatives in Science & Engineering Award
- 2020 Society for Pediatric Research New Member Outstanding Science Award
Bianco, C., Sania, A., Kyle M.H., Beebe, B., Barbosa, J., Bence, M., Coskun, L., Fields, A., Firestein, M.R., Goldman, S., Hane, A., Hott, V., Hussain, M., Hyman, S., Lucchini, M., Marsh, R., Mollicone, I., Myers, M., Ofray, D., Pini, N., Rodriguez, C., Shuffrey, LC., Tottenham, N., Welch, M.G., Fifer, W., Monk, C., Dumitriu, D., Amso, D. (2022). Pandemic beyond the virus: maternal COVID-related postnatal stress is associated with infant temperament. Pediatric Research, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-022-02071-2. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35444294; PMCID: PMC9020754.
Shuffrey, L. C., Firestein, M. R., Kyle, M. H., Fields, A., Alcántara, C., Amso, D., Austin, J., Bain, J. M., Barbosa, J., Bence, M., Bianco, C., Fernández, C. R., Goldman, S., Gyamfi-Bannerman, C., Hott, V., Hu, Y., Hussain, M., Factor-Litvak, P., Lucchini, M., . . . Dumitriu, D. (2022b). Association of Birth During the COVID-19 Pandemic With Neurodevelopmental Status at 6 Months in Infants With and Without In Utero Exposure to Maternal SARS-CoV-2 Infection. JAMA Pediatrics, e215563. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.5563
Behring, T. B., Kyle, M. H., Hussain, M., Zhang, J., Manganaro, A., Kaidbey, J. H., Ludwig, R. J., Myers, M. M., Welch, M. G., & Dumitriu, D. (2021). A severe form of maternal separation in rat consisting of nineteen-day 6-hour daily separation at unpredictable times minimally affects behavior across lifespan and possibly confers protection against some maladaptive outcomes. bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.06.07.447289
Grossman, Y. S., Fillinger, C., Manganaro, A., Voren, G., Waldman, R., Zou, T., Janssen, W. G., Kenny, P. J., & Dumitriu, D. (2021). Structure and function differences in the prelimbic cortex to basolateral amygdala circuit mediate trait vulnerability in a novel model of acute social defeat stress in male mice. Neuropsychopharmacology, 47(3), 788–799. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-021-01229-6
Dumitriu, D., Emeruwa, U. N., Hanft, E., Liao, G. V., Ludwig, E., Walzer, L., Arditi, B., Saslaw, M., Andrikopoulou, M., Scripps, T., Baptiste, C., Khan, A., Breslin, N., Rubenstein, D., Simpson, L. L., Kyle, M. H., Friedman, A. M., Hirsch, D. S., Miller, R. S., . . . Gyamfi-Bannerman, C. (2021). Outcomes of Neonates Born to Mothers With Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Infection at a Large Medical Center in New York City. JAMA Pediatrics, 175(2), 157. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.4298
Kyle, M. H., & Dumitriu, D. (2021). The effect of coronavirus disease 2019 on newborns. Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 33(6), 618–624. https://doi.org/10.1097/mop.0000000000001063
Ranger, M., Behring, T. B., Kaidbey, J. H., Anwar, M., Lipshutz, A. B., Mollicone, I., Hassan, G., Fasano, K., Hinz, N. K., Ludwig, R. J., Myers, M. M., Welch, M. G., & Dumitriu, D. (2021b). Maternal separation affects fronto-cortical activity in rat pups during dam-pup interactions and behavioral transitions. bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.05.19.444831
Anderson, K. R., Harris, J. A., Ng, L., Prins, P., Memar, S., Ljungquist, B., Fürth, D., Williams, R. W., Ascoli, G. A., & Dumitriu, D. (2021). Highlights from the Era of Open Source Web-Based Tools. The Journal of Neuroscience, 41(5), 927–936. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.1657-20.2020
Grossman, Y. S., Fillinger, C., Manganaro, A., Voren, G., Waldman, R., Zou, T., Janssen, W., Kenny, P., & Dumitriu, D. (2020). Prelimbic-amygdala overexcitability mediates trait vulnerability in a novel mouse model of acute social defeat stress. bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.11.147231
Gozali, A., Gibson, S., Lipton, L. R., Pressman, A. W., Hammond, B. S., & Dumitriu, D. (2020). Assessing the effectiveness of a pediatrician-led newborn parenting class on maternal newborn-care knowledge, confidence and anxiety: A quasi-randomized controlled trial. Early Human Development, 147, 105082. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2020.105082
Dumitriu, D., Rodriguez, A., & Morrison, J. H. (2011). High-throughput, detailed, cell-specific neuroanatomy of dendritic spines using microinjection and confocal microscopy. Nature Protocols, 6(9), 1391–1411. https://doi.org/10.1038/nprot.2011.389