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Courtney D. Townsel, MD, MS

Academic Title:

Assistant Professor

Primary Appointment:

Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences

Additional Title:

Director of Perinatal Research

Phone (Primary):


Education and Training

Howard University, BS (Summa Cum Laude), 2007

University of South Florida, MD, 2011

Morsani College of Medicine, Scholarly Concentration in Health Disparties, 2011

George Washington University, Residency, Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2015

University of Connecticut, MS in Clinical and Translational Research, 2018

University of Connecticut, Fellowship, Maternal Fetal Medicine, 2018



I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology with specialty training in Maternal Fetal Medicine. Additionally, I have a master’s in Clinical and Translational Research, which has provided me with the foundational knowledge and expertise to conduct retrospective and prospective studies exploring maternal and neonatal health outcomes. My primary research focuses on perinatal placental biology in opioid-exposed pregnancies. Over the past 6 years, I have been caring for patients with substance use disorders and engaging this community in various research projects. I have experience coordinating and leading multi-site prospective translational research studies assessing placental genes that might impact the severity of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome in opioid-exposed pregnancies. 

Research/Clinical Keywords

maternal fetal medicine, substance abuse disorder in pregnancy, placental biology

Highlighted Publications

  1. Courtney Townsel MD MSc, Sanaya Irani MS, Carol Buis PT DPT, Sheryl Lasser LMSW, Nathan Menke MD PhD, Yolanda Preston RN, Joanna Kountanis MD, Maria Skoczylas MD, Rena Menke PhD, Barbara Getty RNC WHNP, Molly Stout MD MSCI, Maria Muzik MD MSc. Partnering for the Future Clinic: A Multidisciplinary Perinatal Substance Use Program. General Hospital Psychiatry. 2023 November. PMID: 37992465.
  2. Leah Habersham MD, Joshua George MD MPH, Courtney Townsel MD MSc. Chapter 13: Substance Use in Pregnancy and its Impacts on Communities of Color. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics. 2024 March; 5191):193-210. PMID: 38267128.
  3. Alex F. Peahl, MD, MSc; Lisa Kane Low, PhD, MS, CNM; Elizabeth S. Langen, MD; Michelle H. Moniz, MD, MSc; Bryan Aaron, BS, Hsou Mei Hu, PhD, MBA, MHS; Jennifer Waljee, MD, MPH,; Courtney Townsel, MD, MSc. Drivers of variation in postpartum opioid prescribing across hospitals participating in a statewide maternity care quality collaborative. Birth. 2023 December 30. PMID: 38158784.
  4. Townsel C*, Covault J, Hussain N, Oncken C, Nold C, Campbell WA (2021) Placental aromatase expression decreased in severe neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 34:5, 670-676, DOI: 1080/14767058.2019.1612870
  5. Parchem JG, Townsel CD, Wernimont SA, Afshar Y. More than grit: growing and sustaining physician-scientists in obstetrics and gynecology. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2022 Jan;226(1):1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2021.09.045. PMID: 34998476; PMCID: PMC9826617.

Additional Publication Citations

  1. Townsel C, Stone J, Debolt C, Hussain N, Campbell WA (2022) Fetal gastric area ratio to predict severe neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 35:25, 7957-7961, DOI: 1080/14767058.2021.1939302
  2. Townsel, C.*, Moniz, M.H., Wagner, A.L. et al.COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among reproductive-aged female tier 1A healthcare workers in a United States Medical Center. J Perinatol 41, 2549–2551 (2021).
  3. Townsel C*, Metz TD, Bunik M. The Term Newborn: Prenatal Substance Exposure. Clin Perinatol. 2021 Aug;48(3):631-646. doi: 10.1016/j.clp.2021.05.011. PMID: 34353584.
  4. Siden JY, Carver AR, Mmeje OO, Townsel CD. Reducing Implicit Bias in Maternity Care: A Framework for Action. Womens Health Issues. 2022 Jan-Feb;32(1):3-8. Epub 2021 Nov 10. PMID: 34774401.
  5. Giuliani E, Townsel CD*, Jiang L, Leplatte-Ogini DJ, Caldwell MT, Marsh EE. (2022) Emergency Department Utilization for Substance Use Disorder During Pregnancy and Postpartum in the United States (2006-2016). Womens Health Issues. 2022 Jun 3:S1049-3867(22)00034-2. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2022.04.005 . PMID: 35660347.
  6. Batchelor JL, Townsel CD, Jiang L, Leplatte-Ogini D, Caldwell M, Giuliani E, Marsh EE. Disparities in Emergency Department Utilization Among Women with Postpartum Mood Disorders (2006-2016). Matern Child Health J. 2022 Nov 9. doi: 10.1007/s10995-022-03544-w. dsfPMID: 36352280.
  7. Wagner AL, Moniz MH, Stout MJ, Townsel C, Hawley ST, Zikmund-Fisher BJ. Experiences, risk perceptions, and COVID-19 vaccination outcomes among hospital workers. Vaccine. 2023 Feb 3;41(6):1247-1253. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2023.01.012. Epub 2023 Jan 9. PMID: 36639271; PMCID: PMC9826991.
  8. Colwell ML, Townsel C, Petroff RL, Goodrich JM, Dolinoy DC. Epigenetics and the Exposome: DNA Methylation as a Proxy for Health Impacts of Prenatal Environmental Exposures. Exposome. 2023;3(1):osad001. doi: 10.1093/exposome/osad001. Epub 2023 Jan 27. PMID: 37333730; PMCID: PMC10275510.
  9. Peahl AF, Keer E, Hallway A, Kenney B, Waljee JF, Townsel C. Postpartum Opioid Prescribing in Patients with Opioid Use Prior to Birth. Am J Perinatol. 2023 Apr 10. doi: 10.1055/s-0043-1767816. PMID: 37037203.
  10. Bahado-Singh R, Tarca AL, Hasbini YG, Sokol RJ, Keerthy M, Goyert G, Jones T, Thiel L, Green P, Youssef Y, Townsel C, Vengalil S, Paladino P, Wright A, Ayyash M, Vadlamud G, Szymanska M, Sajja S, Turkoglu O, Sterenberg G, Mangus AR, Baracy M, Gibbons M, Grace K, Houston K, Norman J, Gudicha DW, Hassan SS; Southern Michigan Regional COVID-19 Collaborative. Maternal SARS-COV-2 infection and prematurity: the Southern Michigan COVID-19 collaborative. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2023 Dec;36(1):2199343. doi: 10.1080/14767058.2023.2199343. PMID: 37217448.
  11. Kelly JC, Ayala NK, Holroyd L, Townsel C. Number of buprenorphine induction attempts impacts maternal and neonatal outcomes: a multicenter cohort study. Am J Obstet Gynecol MFM 2023;5:100998. PMID: 38236700.
  12. Townsel C, Irani S, Nguyen BH, Hallway A, Shuman CJ, Waljee J, Jaffe K, Peahl AF. Use of Opioid-Sparing Protocols and Perceived Postpartum Pain in Patients with Opioid Use Disorder and Chronic Prenatal Opioid Exposure. Matern Child Health J. 2023 Aug;27(8):1416-1425. doi: 10.1007/s10995-023-03710-8. Epub 2023 Jun 2. PMID: 37266855; PMCID: PMC10235822.
  13. Townsel C1; Ashley M. Hesson, MD, PhD2; Patricia Greco, MD3; Nayla G. Kazzi, MD4; Marjorie C. Treadwell, MD The impact of spontaneous versus indicated preterm birth on neonatal outcomes among extremely premature neonates. American Journal of Perinatology. 2023 Nov 3. PMID: 37774749.

Research Interests

  • Opioid transport and metabolism within the placenta
  • Substance use disorders in pregnancy
  • Racial/ethnic health disparities

Clinical Specialty Details

I practice the full scope of Maternal Fetal Medicine. I am also the MFM Lead for the Substance Use In Pregnancy and Parenting Outpatient recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) clinic at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. 

Awards and Affiliations

2017          Third Place Award: UConn Annual Symposium on Patient Safety and Continuous QI “Implementing a Delayed Umbilical Cord Clamping Guideline for Labor and Delivery”

2017          Finalist- Wolff New Venture Competition: “Natasure: novel medical device to prevent preterm birth”

2018          First Place Award: UConn Annual Symposium on Patient Safety and Continuous QI “Implementing a Delayed Umbilical Cord Clamping Guideline: Part II”

2019          First Place Award: Fast Forward Medical Innovation FastPace Finale- “Natasure: novel  medical device to prevent preterm birth”

2019          Crowd Favorite: Fast Forward Medical Innovation FastPace Finale- “Natasure: novel medical device to prevent preterm birth”

2020          Perinatal Research Society's Young Investigator

2020          Top 10% Peer Reviewer for Obstetrics and Gynecology

2021          2021-2024 Foundation for SMFM Scholarship Award

2021          “Silver Speculum Award” given to the top OB/GYN educator at Michigan Medicine

2024          2024-2028 Harold Amos Scholar, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Grants and Contracts

1. 02/2024-01/2028 PI 

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Total: $420,000

Molecular Mechanisms impacting placental transport of medication for opioid use disorder

2. 07/2021-06/2024 PI 

American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAOGF)/ Foundation for Society of Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM) 2021-2024

Placental Epigenetic Regulation of Fetal Opioid Exposure

Total Cost: $360,000                 

3. 07/2023-06/2024 PI 

Coulter Translational Research Partnership Program: Evolve Award Recipient     

Total Cost: $65,000

4. 02/2024-01/2028 Co-I 


PRS Young Investigators Grants Workshop

Total Cost: $50,000

5. 09/2023-08/2025 Co-I 


Using the Transdermal Patch for Buprenorphine Induction during Pregnancy: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial 

Site Cost: $122,078


In the News

1. Jill Konopka. “Families Stepping Up to Help Newborns Impacted by Opioid Crisis.” NBC Connecticut. February 26, 2018.

2. Kat Stafford, Kristi Tanner and Joe Guillen. “Detroit’s preterm birth rates Spike.” Detroit Free Press. November 8, 2019.        date/4156777002/

3. Joe Guillen. “Racism, poverty among factors that contribute to Michigan’s dreadful infant mortality rate.” Detroit Free Press. March 1, 2020.

4. Susan Rinkunas. “How COVID-19 Is Leaving Pregnant Women and New Moms Behind.” What to expect. July 20, 2020.

5. Will Callan. “Volunteers receive shots from henry Ford health System as part of national COVID-19 vaccine trial.” Michigan Radio Interview: NPR. August 6, 2020.

6. Rene Wisely. “5 Placenta Issues Every Woman Should Know.” Michigan Medicine: Women’s Health Blog. October 14, 2020.

7. Panelist: “Fibroids: What Women Need to Know” Michigan Medicine Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital. October 23, 2020.

8. Meryl Davide Landau. “7 Incredible Health Breakthroughs Worth Celebrating in 2020: Finally, a focus on Black women’s health.” Prevention. Novemeber 28, 2020.

9. Amanda D’Ambrosio. “Maternal Opioid Use and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Still on the rise.” MedPage Today. Jjanusary 12, 2021.

10. Larry Spruill. “Sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority show support for vice President-elect Kamala Harris.” Local 4 News. Janusary 19, 2021.

11. Lindsey Carr. “Opioids and Obstetrics: Substance use disorders in pregnancy.” Contemporary OB/GYN Journal, Vol 66 No 3, Volume 66, Issue 03. January 27, 2021.

12. Kelly Malcolm. Some Healthcare Providers Among Those Hesitant About COVID-19 Vaccine.” University of Michigan Health Blog. May 12, 2021.

13. Beata Mostafavi. “COVID-19 in Pregnancy: Studying racial disparities and adverse birth outcomes.” University of Michigan Health Blog. February 4, 2022.

COVID-19 in Pregnancy: Studying racial disparities and adverse birth outcomes (

14. Gus Burns. Marijuana is legal in Michigan, but mothers may face a CPS investigation if they use it.” m-LIVE. October 3, 2022.