Leena B. Mithal, MD

Basic and Preclinical Science
Mithal (Leena) Laboratory
Pronouns: She, Her
Contact: lmithal@luriechildrens.org

“My research mission is to understand how perinatal microbial exposures set the trajectory for health and disease in order to ensure that each child is put on a healthy track from the start.”

Research Interests

  • Perinatal Infections
  • Neonatal Sepsis
  • Novel Diagnostics
  • Placental Inflammation
  • Early Life Microbiome


  • Attending Physician, Infectious Diseases, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
  • Assistant Professor of Pediatrics (Infectious Disease), Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

See Lurie Children's Provider Profile

Leena Mithal, MD, is a pediatric infectious diseases specialist with an academic focus and clinical expertise in neonatal and congenital infections. Dr. Mithal is passionate about understanding microbial exposures in utero, perinatally, and in the first months of life; the interaction of microbes (viruses, bacteria) and the developing immune system; and the role of the microbiome in health outcomes.

Education and Background

  • MSCI, Northwestern University 2016
  • Fellowship, Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Northwestern University McGaw Medical Center 2012-2015
  • Residency in Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine 2008-2011
  • MD, Northwestern University Medical School 2008
  • BA, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University 2004

Research Highlights


Clinicians lack optimal tools to identify newborns with neonatal sepsis. Dr. Mithal and the research team are developing novel diagnostics including detection of new biomarkers in umbilical cord blood and advanced placental diagnostics, that will allow precise decisions about the need for antibiotics in the first few days of a baby’s life. In the process of looking for bacterial DNA and immunologic responses in cord blood, new findings led to questions about normal levels of bacterial exposures that are not harmful but rather may be important in newborn development. Through their ongoing work, Dr. Mithal and the team seek to gain insight into the impact of perinatal microbial exposure and colonization in infants in utero, at birth, and in early infancy.


Dr. Mithal’s collaborative research team studies novel gene-environment (microbiome) interactions that impact the developing brain, contributing to neurobehavioral disorders. While previous research has shown that microbes in the gut have important implications for early life brain development, very little research has been done on the nasal microbiome. Building upon novel preclinical studies in mice, the research team investigates the microbiome-olfactory pathway by studying the nasal microbiota of infants and neurobehavior through several studies from retrospective work utilizing archived nasal samples from infants to the team’s MIND study, a prospective pilot study investigating the infant nasal microbiome, brain odor processing, and infant emotional dysregulation. Understanding how neurodevelopmental disorders start and develop promises to advance new diagnostic and therapeutic interventions.


There were infinite unknowns and complex clinical decisions as clinicians and scientists learned about the risks and adverse outcomes of SARS-CoV-2 infection to pregnant people, the pregnancy, and newborn. Dr. Mithal’s Studying Novel Infectious Pathogens in Pregnancy (SNIPP) research team has made numerous contributions to the understanding of COVID-19 that has impacted clinical guidelines and been featured in media. These include characterization of COVID-19 placental abnormalities, management of mom and baby at delivery, SARS-CoV-2 infection in infants less than 90 days old, safety of mRNA vaccine during pregnancy, immunologic response in mother, and passage of antibodies to newborn. Dr. Mithal and the research team are dedicated to advance research on the adverse obstetric outcomes and infant outcomes of COVID-19 during pregnancy, to optimize risk stratification and clinical care.


Featured Grants

Identifying the Impact of COVID-19 on Pregnant Women, Fetuses, and Infants

Friends of Prentice Grants Initiative
09/01/2020 → 08/31/2022

Nasal Microbiome–Olfactory Axis and Neurobehavior: A Pilot Study Using Infant Functional Olfactory Imaging

Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute Visionary Award
01/01/2020 → 04/30/2022

Perinatal Transmission of Multi-Drug Resistant Bacteria

Dixon Translational Research Grant
01/01/2020 → 12/31/2022

Molecular Signatures of Early-Onset Neonatal Sepsis in Umbilical Cord Blood

National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
02/01/2019 → 02/29/2024

Randomized Controlled Trial of Valganciclovir for Asymptomatic Cytomegalovirus Infected Hearing-Impaired Infants—ValEAR Trial

National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
01/01/2018 → 12/31/2022

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