Isabelle De Plaen, MD

Basic and Preclinical Science
Host-Microbial Interactions, Inflammation, and Immunity
De Plaen Laboratory
- Principal Investigator

“My research interest focuses on understanding how necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a disease affecting premature infants that commonly leads to septic shock and death, occurs, so novel interventions can be developed to prevent or treat NEC to improve premature infants quality of life.”

Research Interests

  • Cytokines
  • Digestive System (Including Gallbladder and Liver)
  • Immunology
  • Necrotizing Enterocolitis
  • Neonatal Necrotizing Entercolitis


  • Attending Physician, Neonatology, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
  • Professor of Pediatrics (Neonatology), Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

See Lurie Children's Provider Profile

Isabelle De Plaen, MD, is a Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She is a Physician-Scientist and an Attending Physician in the Division of Neonatology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Dr. De Plaen’s lab focuses on deciphering the mechanisms leading to necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a leading cause of morbidity and mortality amongst premature infants. Their studies have identified a critical role for defective intestinal mucosal microvascular development in the pathogenesis of necrotizing enterocolitis. Specifically, their work focuses on defining how perinatal stress affects the developing intestinal microvasculature to increase premature infants’ susceptibility to NEC. 

Education and Background

  • Fellowship, Children’s Memorial Hospital of Chicago 1995-1998
  • Residency, California Pacific Medical Center 1992-1994
  • Residency, Université Catholique de Louvain 1989-1992, 1994-1995
  • MD, Université Catholique de Louvain 1982-1989

Research Highlights


In this project, we study the critical role of intestinal mucosal microvascular development in the pathogenesis of necrotizing enterocolitis using a neonatal mouse NEC model. Our overall hypothesis is that, in premature infants, the oxygen-mediated downregulation of intestinal pro-angiogenic signaling pathways due to birth occurs before the intestinal microvasculature sufficiently develops. Perinatal stresses (such as inflammation) further reduce pro-angiogenic signaling and endothelial cell proliferation and subsequent vascular development. Therefore, the underdeveloped intestinal microvasculature, while sufficient for a “sterile” fasted intestine, becomes inadequate to meet the metabolic demand of postnatal stresses such as enteral feeding and bacterial colonization, which results in intestinal ischemia and necrosis, and NEC. 


In this project, we study how the intestinal macrophage compartment is affected by NEC stresses. We recently found that, in the neonatal intestine at birth, insulin-like-growth factor-1 (IGF-1) derived from embryonically-derived macrophages plays a critical role in promoting intestinal microvasculature development. We are now characterizing this embryonic macrophage population and define how this population is affected by NEC stresses, so we can define interventions that can preserve the paracrine role of these macrophages in premature infants to prevent NEC development.


In this translational project, with the collaboration of Dr. Dina Arvanitis, the Head of the Center for Advanced Microscopy at Northwestern University, Dr. Hao Zhang, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University, and Dr. Hawke Yoon, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, we are examining whether nailfold capillary network density parameters can be used to predict vascular complications in preterm infants such as ROP. Indeed, beside NEC, abnormal microvascular development plays a critical role in several other diseases of prematurity, including ROP and pulmonary hypertension complicating bronchopulmonary dysplasia. However, there is a lack of non-invasive approaches to assess microvasculature development in premature infants. 

Featured Grants

Role of the Intestinal Microvasculature in Necrotizing Enterocolitis

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
03/01/2019 → 02/28/2024

Insights into a Multi-hit Process in the Development of Necrotizing Enterocolitis

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
04/01/2022 → 03/31/2027

New Roles of Endothelial Regrowth in Ischemic Tissue Recovery and Regeneration

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
04/01/2022 → 03/01/2027

NEC Research

Sherman Fairchild Foundation
06/01/2021 → 05/31/2022

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