A photo of Nara Higano.

Nara S. Higano, PhD

  • Instructor, UC Department of Pediatrics



My research lies at the translational interface between pulmonary medicine, radiology and pediatrics. I investigate how innovative and sensitive imaging techniques can contribute to quantifying and redefining pediatric lung conditions, predicting outcomes in early disease and elucidating precise responses to various clinical treatments. My overarching goal is to improve our understanding of cardiorespiratory disease for young patients born prematurely or with congenital disorders.

In my PhD physics research at Washington University in St. Louis, I studied nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) – the basis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – and found state-of-the-art pulmonary MRI to be an ideal marriage between technical physics expertise and clinically relevant biomedical research. This combination can be particularly impactful in sensitively measuring pulmonary structure and function in infants and children with lung disease, who are most likely to be burdened by lifelong respiratory impairment.

Some of my groundbreaking work includes:

  • Pioneering MRI-based structural scoring and quantification of lung parenchymal abnormalities in preterm infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, with better correlation to short-term respiratory outcomes than any individual clinically available measure
  • A key team member in creating and validating a new method for quantifying dynamic tracheal collapse (tracheomalacia) in very small, free-breathing neonates using 3D high-resolution MRI, without requiring ionizing or invasive procedures
  • A key team member in efforts to measure structural and functional pulmonary deficits in infants using inhaled 129Xe gas MRI

I’m honored to have received several awards, including:

  • Recipient of the Parker B. Francis Fellowship for Research in Pulmonary and Respiratory Disease from the Parker B. Francis Foundation (2021-2024)
  • Recipient of the Young Investigator Scientific Abstract Award from the Assembly on Pediatrics of the American Thoracic Society (2021)
  • Recipient of the Trainee Research Prize in the Pediatric Category at the Radiological Society of North America (2021)
  • Recipient of a Neonatal Research Grant from the Little Giraffe Foundation (2020-2021)
  • Presenter in “Best in Pediatrics” scientific session at the American Thoracic Society conference (2019, 2020)
  • Presenter in “Scientific Highlights” plenary session at the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine conference (2019)
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) NHLBI T32 Fellow (2018-2020)
  • Recipient of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Research Team Award (2017)

I have been a researcher for more than eight years and began working at Cincinnati Children’s in 2014.

BA: Physics, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN, 2012.

PhD: Physics, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, 2017.

Postdoctoral Training: Pulmonary Medicine, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH, 2021.


Pediatric and neonatal pulmonary medicine; cardiorespiratory MRI

Research Areas

Pulmonary Medicine, Radiology



Fetal lung development via quantitative biomarkers from diffusion MRI and histological validation in rhesus macaques. Higano, NS; Cao, X; Guo, J; Wang, X; Kroenke, CD; Filuta, AL; Bridges, JP; Woods, JC. Journal of Perinatology. 2022; 42:866-872.


Alveolar Airspace Size in Healthy and Diseased Infant Lungs Measured via Hyperpolarized 3He Gas Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Higano, NS; Thomen, RP; Quirk, JD; Huyck, HL; Hahn, AD; Fain, SB; Pryhuber, GS; Woods, JC. Neonatology: foetal and neonatal research. 2021; 117:704-712.


Quantitative Assessment of Regional Dynamic Airway Collapse in Neonates via Retrospectively Respiratory-Gated 1 H Ultrashort Echo Time MRI. Bates, AJ; Higano, NS; Hysinger, EB; Fleck, RJ; Hahn, AD; Fain, SB; Kingma, PS; Woods, JC. Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. 2019; 49:659-667.


Quantification of neonatal lung parenchymal density via ultrashort echo time MRI with comparison to CT. Higano, NS; Fleck, RJ; Spielberg, DR; Walkup, LL; Hahn, AD; Thomen, RP; Merhar, SL; Kingma, PS; Tkach, JA; Fain, SB; et al. Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. 2017; 46:992-1000.


Retrospective respiratory self-gating and removal of bulk motion in pulmonary UTE MRI of neonates and adults. Higano, NS; Hahn, AD; Tkach, JA; Cao, X; Walkup, LL; Thomen, RP; Merhar, SL; Kingma, PS; Fain, SB; Woods, JC. Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. 2017; 77:1284-1295.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging-Based Evaluation of Anatomy and Outcome Prediction in Infants with Esophageal Atresia. Marks, KT; Higano, NS; Kotagal, M; Woods, JC; Kingma, PS. Neonatology: foetal and neonatal research. 2023; 120:185-195.

Quantitative cardiopulmonary magnetic resonance imaging in neonatal congenital diaphragmatic hernia. Tkach, JA; Higano, NS; Taylor, MD; Moore, RA; Hossain, M; Huang, G; Spielberg, DR; Fain, SB; Kingma, PS; Woods, JC. Pediatric Radiology: roentgenology, nuclear medicine, ultrasonics, CT, MRI. 2022; 52:2306-2318.

Predicting tracheal work of breathing in neonates based on radiological and pulmonary measurements. Gunatilaka, CC; Hysinger, EB; Schuh, A; Xiao, Q; Gandhi, DB; Higano, NS; Ignatiuk, D; Hossain, MM; Fleck, RJ; Woods, JC; et al. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985). 2022; 133:893-901.

Virtual Bronchoscopy of Neonatal Airway Malacia via High-Resolution, Respiratory-gated Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Higano, NS; Gandhi, DB; Xiao, Q; Gunatilaka, CC; Hysinger, EB; Fleck, RJ; Woods, JC; Bates, AJ. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2022; 206:e42-e43.

Imaging in neonatal respiratory disease. Hysinger, EB; Higano, NS; Critser, PJ; Woods, JC. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews. 2022; 43:44-52.