News Briefs

Children’s National Chief of Allergy and Immunology helps move gene therapy forward

Catherine Bollard

Catherine Bollard, M.D., MBChB, Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology, recently shared her expertise on an FDA panel that unanimously expressed its support for a pediatric cancer T-cell therapy called CTL019.

On July 12, 2017, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee unanimously expressed its support for CTL019 – a pediatric cancer T-cell therapy. If the FDA follows the advice from the 10-member Oncologic Drug Advisory Committee (ODAC) – which included Children’s National Health System’s Catherine Bollard, M.D., MBChB, Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology and Director of the Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy – CTL019 will become the first gene therapy to hit the market.

“Many of these children with recurrent cancer are out of other options to treat their illness,” said Dr. Bollard. “We are encouraged by these findings and the potential for this therapy to improve outcomes and quality of life.”

CTL019 is a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, comprised of genetically modified T cells that target CD19, an antigen expressed on the surface of B cells. Also known as tisagenlecleucel, the therapy targets a single type of cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukemia and was created by Novartis.

In clinical trials, CTL019 showed unparalleled effectiveness. Of the 68 patients who received the drug, 52 responded almost immediately, and their cancer disappeared within the first three months. Seventy-five percent of those patients remained cancer-free six months after treatment. The therapy has one main side effect: an immune reaction called cytokine release syndrome, which can be deadly, with extended spiking fevers and other symptoms.

However, because of CTL019’s high efficacy, FDA scientists asked the ODAC panel to focus on the therapy’s safety and manufacturing challenges rather than whether or not it works.

Several committee members, including Dr. Bollard, expressed apprehension about the T-cell subpopulations’ heterogeneity, which could affect safety and efficacy. Another issue for consideration by the ODAC panel was the long-term side effects of CTL019 and the possibility that the T-cell modification could go awry, causing secondary cancers in the future.

Despite these concerns, the committee concluded that the strong efficacy data and the near-term benefits of CAR-T therapy more than tipped the scales in favor of the therapy. ODAC members were also pleased with Novartis’ plan to minimize risk, which includes limiting CTL019 distribution to selected centers with CAR T-cell therapy experience, and extensive, long-term post-marketing surveillance plans.

The FDA is not required to follow the ODAC panel’s advice when making its final decision, but it often does so. A final decision by the FDA is anticipated by late September.

Read more about the story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Medpage Today and Healio.com.

Children’s National expert joins a national discussion on Zika and other emerging threats

Roberta DeBiasi

“Our goal is to provide the earliest and most accurate information to women affected by Zika exposure and infection during pregnancy, including capability for fetal MRI,” says Roberta DeBiasi, M.D., M.S., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and co-director of the Congenital Zika Virus Program at Children’s National Health System.

An expert roundtable discussion, “Facing the Zika Crisis and Other Emerging Threats,” organized in collaboration with Purdue University, the Gallup Organization and the Bipartisan Policy Center, was recently held at the U.S. Capitol. Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Co-Director of the Congenital Zika Program at Children’s National Health System, Roberta DeBiasi, M.D.,M.S., weighed in on the discussion, sharing knowledge on the challenges to the United States health system and the continuous research and work that the Children’s National Congenital Zika program does.

Eighteen months ago, Children’s National received its first referral for a Washington, D.C. woman who had a Zika infected pregnancy in January 2016. This case prompted the development of the Congenital Zika program to serve as a consultation resource for affected women and infants, and to perform research to address the knowledge gaps concerning Zika infection during pregnancy: Young researchers tackle Zika’s unanswered questions.

“Our goal is to provide the earliest and most accurate information to women affected by Zika exposure and infection during pregnancy, including capability for fetal MRI,” says Dr. DeBiasi.

Since then, the Zika team has evaluated 65 mother-fetus/infant pairs. Researchers are actively learning the best methods for detection of infection and neurologic injury by continually conducting research and obtaining new and useful information that can be shared with others. The research mission of the Congenital Zika program is now focusing on several areas, which include the study of biomarkers to predict if the infant could be affected by the disease, the utility of a fetal MRI in conjunction with ultrasound, genetic risk factors in mothers and infants that might explain why some infants become infected and some do not, long term neurodevelopment of babies that are infected, and neuropathologic evaluations of brains from fetuses that have died from Zika.

The challenges and concerns that were presented for the United States health system include the willingness and ability to share information, the acceptance of the need for data sharing between institutions and determining if testing resources are adequate and appropriate.

Dr. DeBiasi says, “Institutions have become much better at looking at how to prepare for emerging infectious diseases on a broader level.” Proactively thinking, Dr. DeBiasi finds it useful for health systems to use their own task forces, such as the Ebola Response Task force at Children’s National, as a cohesive existing team that will be prepared for additional infectious disease threats that may arise.

Eric Vilain explores “Disorders/differences of sex development: A world of uncertainty”

Eric Vilain

In his keynote address at Children’s National’s Research and Education Week, Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., explored the genetics of sex development and sex differences.

After announcing he would be joining Children’s National as the new director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research late last year, internationally-renowned geneticist Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., gave a keynote address entitled “Disorders/Differences of Sex Development: A World of Uncertainty” during Children’s National’s Research and Education Week.

Dr. Vilain explored the genetics of sex development and sex differences – specifically differences of sex development (DSD), congenital conditions in which the development of chromosomal, gonadal or anatomical sex is atypical.

“The first step in sex development is looking at genetic sex and how it results in gonadal sex,” Dr. Vilain said. “From a scientific perspective, we are trying to take a step back and assess how cells become more typically male or female.”

He explained that, at conception, the fundamental difference between male and female embryos exists in the sex chromosome complement. Both XX and XY embryos have bipotential gonads capable of differentiating into a testis or an ovary, though embryos are virtually indistinguishable from a gender perspective up until six weeks in utero.

Eric Vilain - sex differences

According to Dr. Vilain, the fundamental difference between male and female embryos exists in the sex chromosome complement, though embryos are virtually indistinguishable until six weeks in utero.

Whether or not a bipotential gonad forms is largely left up to the genetic makeup of the individual. For example, a gene in the Y chromosome (SRY) triggers a cascade of genes that lead to testis development. If there is no Y chromosome, it triggers a series of pro-female genes that lead to ovarian development.

However, genetic mutations can alter the subsequent steps of sex differentiation. Dr. Vilain explained that, depending on the genotype, an individual may experience normal gonadal development, but abnormal development of the genitalia.

He also noted that these genes are critical to determining the differences between men and women in non-gonadal tissues as well.

In addition to exploring the genetics of sex development and sex differences, Dr. Vilain’s research explores the biological bases of sex variations in predisposition to disease. His clinic at Children’s National is completely devoted to caring for patients with a wide array of genetic and endocrine issues, particularly cases dealing with variations of sex development.

For seven years, Children’s National’s Research and Education Week has celebrated the excellence in research, education, innovation and scholarship at Children’s National and around the world. This year, the annual event focused how “Collaboration Leads to Innovation” and celebrated the development of ideas that aim to transform pediatric care.

Panel: Significant Zika risks linger for pregnant women and developing fetuses in US

Roberta DeBiasi

The threat from Zika “is not over. It is just beginning for the families who are affected by this,” says Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., M.S., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and co-director of the Congenital Zika Virus Program at Children’s National Health System.

The Zika virus epidemic may have fallen off the radar for many media outlets, but significant risks continue to linger for pregnant women and developing fetuses, a panel of experts told staff working for U.S. Congressional leaders.

“The threat of this virus is real, and the threat continues,” Margaret Honein, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) pregnancy and birth defects task force, said during the July 13 briefing held in the Russell Senate Office Building.

Dr. Honein told about 100 attendees that more than 200 Zika-affected babies have been born in the United States suffering from serious birth defects, such as rigid joints, inconsolable distress that causes them to cry continuously and difficulties swallowing. Some of these infants experience seizures that cause further brain damage.

Predicting what Zika will do next in the United States is very difficult, Dr. Honein said, adding that local outbreaks could occur “at any time.” A map she displayed showed Zika’s impact in shades of blue, with Zika infections documented in nearly every state and the highest number of infections – and deepest shade of blue­ – for California, Florida and Texas.

The threat from Zika “is not over. It is just beginning for the families who are affected by this,” agreed Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., M.S., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and co-director of the Congenital Zika Virus Program at Children’s National Health System.

Since Children’s National launched its Zika program in May 2016, the multidisciplinary team has consulted on 65 mother-fetus/infant pairs, Dr. DeBiasi said. Because in utero Zika infection can result in a wide range of side effects, the Children’s team includes pediatric infectious diseases experts, fetal/neonatal neurologists to consult on seizures, audiologists to assess hearing, physical therapists and orthopaedists to contend with limb contractures, pulmonologists to relieve breathing problems and ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat vision disorders – among other specialists.

“You really need a program that has all of these areas of expertise available for a family,” Dr. DeBiasi told attendees. “It is not possible for a family to organize 27 different appointments if you have a child with these needs.”

Children’s Zika experts also collaborate with researchers in Colombia to gauge the ability of magnetic resonance imaging to produce earlier Zika diagnoses, to assess the role of viral load as biomarkers and to document Zika’s long-term impact on children’s neurodevelopment. The Colombia study has enrolled an additional 85 women/infant pairs.

In one presentation slide, Dr. DeBiasi showed sharp magnetic resonance imaging scans from their research study of a fetal brain at 18 and 22 weeks gestation that indicated clear abnormalities, including abnormal cortical folding. Ultrasound images taken at the exact same time points did not detect these abnormalities, she said.

Asked for advice by an attendee whose clinic treats women who regularly travel between California and Mexico, Dr. DeBiasi underscored the fact that Zika infection poses a risk to developing fetuses even if the pregnant woman has no symptoms of infection. “Whether or not they’re symptomatic, the risk is the same. It’s hard for people to understand that. That is No. 1,” she said.

Another challenge is for women who scrupulously follow the CDC’s guidance on lowering their infection risk while traveling. Upon return, those women may be unaware that they could still be exposed to Zika through unprotected sex with their partner who also has travelled, for as long as six months after travel.

US News Honor Roll 2017-18

Children’s National is #1 in Neonatology and Top 10 overall in U.S. News & World Report Survey

US News Honor Roll 2017-18Children’s National is proud to be named #1 in Neonatology in the U.S. News & World Report 2017-18 Best Children’s Hospitals survey. Also, Children’s National was once again named to the coveted Honor Roll, placing them among the Top 10 children’s hospitals in the country.

Being the #1 ranked Neonatology program reflects the quality of care throughout Children’s National because it requires the support and partnership of many other specialties, including cardiology, neurology and surgery. In addition to this honor, Children’s National ranked in the Top 10 in four additional services: Cancer (#7), Neurology and Neurosurgery (#9), Orthopedics (#9) and Nephrology (#10).  For the seventh year in a row, Children’s National has ranked in all ten services, a testament to the pediatric care experts across the organization and their commitment to children and families.

“This recognition is a great achievement for Children’s National, affirming our place as a premier destination for pediatric care, and the commitment of our people, partners and supporters to helping every child grow up stronger,” said Kurt Newman, M.D., President and CEO of Children’s National. “I’m particularly proud of our #1 ranking in Neonatology as, in many ways it reflects the quality of care across our hospital. Treating these tiny patients often encompasses many other specialties, including our Fetal Medicine Institute.”

Children’s National is dedicated to improving the lives of children through innovative research, expert care and advocacy on behalf of children’s needs. In addition to being recognized among the “best of the best” by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s National is a Magnet® designated hospital for excellence in nursing and is a Leapfrog Group Top Hospital. As a top NIH-funded pediatric health system, Children’s National marries cutting-edge research with the highest quality care, to deliver the best possible outcomes for children today and in the future.

Children’s National Heart Institute experts partner with FDA and nation’s leading cardiology organizations to advance pediatric drug development

New joint health policy statement offers roadmap for immediate changes in clinical trial design to save children’s lives

Families with children suffering from rare and difficult-to-treat cardiovascular diseases may soon have better access to drugs to treat their often life-threatening conditions. For the first time, experts from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are working together to describe the challenges and opportunities to improve pediatric drug research as shared in a joint statement published online June 29 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“Children should have access to the latest advances in treatment and the best care. By challenging the status quo and designing new, safe and effective alternative study designs, we can give them the best opportunity to grow up stronger,” notes David Wessel, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer, Hospital and Specialty Services at Children’s National Health System. Dr. Wessel is internationally recognized for his pioneering work in caring for children with heart disease. As the senior author of the new joint statement and principal investigator of the STARTS-1 trial, which is the catalyst for this collaboration, he says he is “optimistic about this forward progress.”

According to the statement, less than 50 percent of drugs approved for use in the United States have sufficient data to support labeling for dosing, safety and efficacy in children. Additionally, a 2008 report by Pasquali et al, which reviewed more than 30,000 records of hospitalized children with cardiovascular disease, found that 78 percent received at least one off-label medication and 31 percent received more than three.

There are numerous challenges in the development and approval of medications for children – especially those with rare diseases – but the paper’s lead author, Craig Sable, M.D., associate division chief of cardiology at Children’s National, says we can and need to do better.

“While randomized clinical drug trials remain the gold standard in advancing care for adults with cardiovascular disease, relying solely on these types of trials for children unnecessarily limits the drugs approved for use in children,” says Dr. Sable. “Through this unique collaboration that unifies the voice of leaders in pediatric cardiology and the FDA, our goal is to provide a framework to better define which drugs are needed and how we can create novel study designs to overcome the current trial barriers.”

To read more about the barriers and ideas presented, please find the full statement here.

Children’s welcomes hematology leaders, expands expertise

The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s National is emerging as a leader in Pediatric Hematology, and the recruitment of two prominent physician-scientists to our Division of Hematology and Sickle Cell Disease Program is evidence of that growth and presence on the national platform. Joining the faculty in June are:

Suvankar (Seve) Majumdar, M.D., Suvankar (Seve) Majumdar, M.D.
Division Chief, Hematology
Dr. Majumdar was born in Zambia, attended the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences and conducted his postdoctoral medical education at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Majumdar is currently the director of the Comprehensive Pediatric Sickle Cell Program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He previously directed the Mississippi Hemophilia Treatment Center and is a recognized leader in hematology and sickle cell disease. In addition to his broad clinical expertise, Dr. Majumdar is an accomplished researcher, and a principal investigator of NIH-funded studies.

Andrew Campbell, M.D.Andrew (Drew) Campbell, M.D.
Director, Sickle Cell Disease Program
Dr. Campbell’s distinguished training and career path began at Morehouse College. He continued medical school at Case Western Reserve University and completed post graduate training at Massachusetts General Hospital (Harvard) and Lurie Children’s Hospital (Northwestern University). He has been director of the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at the University of Michigan since 2005. His research interests span several topics in sickle cell disease including pulmonary complications, fetal hemoglobin switching in transgenic sickle cell mice, phenotype/genotype relationships and renal complications.

The Children’s National Division of Hematology includes the most comprehensive pediatric blood disorders team in the Washington, D.C., area. The Sickle Cell Disease Program is among the largest in the country, treating more than 1,400 children and young adults with all types of sickle cell disease.

Children’s National Diabetes Program Honored at SAMHSA’s National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Maureen Monaghan and Fran Cogen at SAMHSA

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) spotlighted the Children’s National diabetes program as an exemplar of integrated care for children and adolescents. Maureen Monaghan, Ph.D., CDE, (left) and Fran Cogen, M.D., CDE, interim co-chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes and director of the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program, were in attendance.

On May 4, Maureen Monaghan, Ph.D., CDE, clinical and pediatric psychologist and certified diabetes educator in the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program at Children’s National, participated in a panel emphasizing the importance of integrating physical and mental health in the care of young patients as part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. SAMHSA also spotlighted the Children’s National diabetes program as an exemplar of integrated care for children and adolescents.

“Many of our families start out knowing nothing about the disease, and they now have a child whose care requires day-to-day management for the rest of their lives,” says Dr. Monaghan. “It’s not a disease you ever get a break from – which can take both a physical and emotional toll on children and their families.”

Maureen Monaghan at SAMHSA National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Dr. Monaghan participated in a panel emphasizing the importance of integrating physical and mental health in the care of young patients with diabetes.

To combat this issue and reduce barriers and stigma related to seeking mental health care, the program brings a dedicated, multidisciplinary care team together in one convenient location.

From the initial diagnosis, patients have access to care from a comprehensive team, including six physicians, three nurse practitioners, eight nurse educators, three psychologists, a physical therapist, dietitian and social worker. Each expert counsels the patient and the family, helping them navigate all aspects of living with the disease – from overcoming stress and anxiety to offering healthy meal-planning guides and exercise routines.

“We aren’t just concerned about how they are doing medically or what emotions they are experiencing,” says Dr. Monaghan. “Instead, our team’s integration allows us to focus on the whole child and his or her total quality of life, which is so important for patients and families with chronic disease.”

To learn more, watch this short video, featuring employees and patients of the Children’s National Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program, which was presented during the events surrounding the SAMHSA National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.

Lenore Jarvis

Firearm-related injuries are leading causes of child and adolescent deaths and are preventable

Lenore Jarvis

Lenore Jarvis, M.D., M.Ed., F.A.A.P. addressed Congressional staff on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics in an effort to reduce gun injuries and deaths in the home by encouraging parents to ask about safe firearm storage.

“I see firsthand in my emergency department practice children getting shot: Unintentional, accidental injuries and shootings, homicides, suicides. And it’s terrible. If I never had to treat another child … for a gun-related injury, I would be so happy,” Lenore Jarvis, M.D., M.Ed., F.A.A.P., Pediatric Emergency Medicine Attending at Children’s National Health System, told Congressional staff. “I will never forget … a 5-year-old shot and killed by a family member who mistook him for a home intruder.”

Dr. Jarvis’ comments on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics came during briefings for Congressional staff working in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives just days after a gunman targeted Republicans practicing for a Congressional baseball game wounding five, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

The June 16, 2017 Congressional briefings were intended to draw attention to National ASK Day, an annual effort to reduce gun injuries and deaths in the home by encouraging parents to ask about safe firearm storage.

“It’s pretty simple,” Dr. Jarvis told attendees. “I think that there is a mutual recognition about what a public health problem this is: Firearms … are leading causes of deaths in children and adolescents through homicide and suicide by firearms. And they are preventable.”

Her comments echoed a recent firearms review paper published May 23, 2017, by a Children’s National research team that found firearms are present in 18 percent to 64 percent of U.S. homes, and 20,000 U.S. children are transported to Emergency Departments each year for firearm-related injuries. According to the study authors, pediatricians can play a pivotal role in helping to reduce gun violence by encouraging safe storage of firearms in the home and supporting research into firearm-related injury prevention.

In addition to Dr. Jarvis, speakers during the Congressional briefings included a Johns Hopkins Hospital surgeon who decided to pursue a medical career after surviving a gunshot wound to the throat while he was a teenager, a Missouri state representative who co-founded the Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance and a Brady Campaign strategist.

Children’s National earns five awards at the 2017 SPR Annual Meeting

Radiology PULSE Suite

Several technologists, fellows and faculty in the Division of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiology at Children’s National Health System were recognized at the 2017 Society of Pediatric Radiology (SPR) Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada, May 16-20. Each year, the international conference recognizes society members for outstanding research and education in pediatric care on the topics of imaging and image-guided care. Out of 15 major awards, Children’s National staff earned five, including two Caffey Awards – SPR’s most prestigious awards for academic excellence.

The awards received are as follows:

The Society of Pediatric Radiology Caffey Award for Best Clinical Research Paper went to attending radiologist, Dorothy Bulas, M.D., for her clinical research paper titled, “CXR Reduction Protocol in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – Lessons Learned,” which highlighted collaboration with the NICU team to reduce the reliance on x-rays to monitor neonates. This method decreases the radiation dose with no risk to the patient.

The Society of Pediatric Radiology Caffey Award for Educational Exhibit was given to Benjamin Smith, M.D., a pediatric radiology fellow, for his educational poster “Sonographic Evaluation of Diaphragmatic Motion: A Practical Guide to Performance and Interpretation.” The exhibit displayed a unique technique for examining the motion of the diaphragm using ultrasound to make an accurate diagnosis of diaphragm paralysis or motion. Dr. Smith’s exhibit was also recognized by The American Academy of Pediatrics and was given the Outstanding Clinical Education Poster Award along with radiologist Hansel Otero, M.D.; sonographer Tara K. Cielma, R.D.M.S, R.D.C.S, R.V.T.; and faculty member Anjum N. Bandarkar, M.D.

The Society of Pediatric Radiology Radiographer Best Poster Award was given to Dr. Bandarkar for her poster titled, “Infantile Hypertrophic Pyloric Stenosis: Value of measurement technique to avoid equivocal exam.” The World Federation of Pediatric Imaging also awarded Dr. Bandarkar, Adebunmi O. Adeyiga, M.D. and Tara Cielma the 2017 Outstanding Radiographer Educational Poster Award for their collaborative poster on, “A Sonographic Walk‐Through: Infantile Hypertrophic Pyloric Stenosis.”

Division Chief of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiology, Raymond Sze, M.D., remarked, “This is a major win not only for the department but also for the entire hospital. The support and collaboration of our Children’s National colleagues across many departments allowed us to advance the field of pediatric imaging and earn national recognition for the high-quality and impactful research and education that’s happening at our institution.”

STAR Team

STAR robot is finalist in NASA iTech challenge

STAR Team

Children’s National Health System’s proprietary robotic surgical technology Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) has been named one of the top ten finalists in the 2017 NASA iTech call for ideas challenge.

The Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation’s intelligent Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) has been named one of the top ten finalists in the 2017 NASA iTech challenge.

The team will present the project at the NASA iTech Forum on July 12-13, 2017 at the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, VA, where leaders from NASA and prospective stakeholders will evaluate the 10 finalists and select three top solutions.

“We’re honored to be selected as a finalist in this prestigious challenge,” said Peter C. Kim, M.D., vice president and associate surgeon in chief at Sheikh Zayed Institute at Children’s National. “Our technology is capable of many solutions that would be useful as part of NASAs deep space exploration, including intelligent pods capable of common intelligent autonomous surgical procedures.”

A cutting-edge system, STAR was the first to perform a successful autonomous robotic soft tissue surgery on a live subject in May 2016 and is licensed to Omniboros.

Promoting diversity and inclusion in pediatric academic medicine

Mary Ottolini

Mary Ottolini, M.D., M.P.H., ME.d., highlighted the Academic Pediatric Association’s efforts to promote more diversity and inclusion within pediatric academic medicine.

Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges on faculty promotion show a very low percentage of diverse assistant professors being promoted to associate professors, and a low percentage of diverse associate professors rising through the ranks to become full professors within academic medicine. Mary Ottolini, M.D., M.P.H., ME.d., vice chair for Medical Education at Children’s National Health System, professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and president of the Academic Pediatric Association (APA) addressed this problem at the recent Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting. In her presentation, “APA approach to diversity-inclusion,” Dr. Ottolini explained various APA initiatives in place to assist underrepresented minority (URM) residents, fellows and junior faculty to advance academically in pediatric medicine.

The APA’s core value and strategic goal for diversity and inclusion is to increase diversity and engagement of its membership. To execute this initiative, New Century Scholars was created in 2004 as a national mentorship program to increase racial and ethnic diversity of academic pediatric medicine. The two-year program collaborates with the American Pediatric Society and utilizes junior and senior mentors to provide support to our URM residents with a special interest in health disparities, social determinants of health, cultural competency and minority child health and development.

Dr. Ottolini believes, “it’s important for our URM faculty to have early, strong mentorship that provides an idea of what it takes to be academically successful, by networking and collaborating with others.” She went on to say, “By forming these collaborations, they can transform an idea into a project that will be published, which strengthens their ability to achieve promotions.”

Research Academic Pediatrics Initiative on Diversity (RAPID), is another APA national program working to recruit, retain, and provide career development for diverse junior faculty in general academic pediatrics that are pursuing careers in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases mission areas. RAPID targets applicants who are members of an underrepresented minority group and are disabled or from a socially, culturally, economically or educationally disadvantaged background.

“Diversity and inclusion is an issue that is important for patients and the field of academic pediatrics because we need to have a physician workforce that resembles the patient population that we are entrusted to take care of,” Dr. Ottolini says.

Dr. Ottolini also explained APA’s current special interest groups were put in place to bring awareness to the role of race in the practice of medicine, and to provide resources by which members can support the healthy development and optimal care for U.S. youth of color. The ultimate goal is to develop strategies for increasing diversity and retention among academic medical faculty across the United States, and develop best practices for caring for youth of color in the primary care setting.

The presentation concluded with a question-and-answer session and further discussion from the audience. Since her presentation, Dr. Ottolini has received offers from other doctors and national organizations to fund these initiatives.

Advances in T-cell immunotherapy at ISCT

Healthy Human T Cell

T-cell immunotherapy, which has the potential to deliver safer, more effective treatments for cancer and life-threatening infections, is considered one of the most promising cell therapies today. Each year, medical experts from around the world – including leaders in the field at Children’s National Health System – gather at the International Society for Cellular Therapy (ISCT) Conference to move the needle on cell therapy through several days of innovation, collaboration and presentations.

Dr. Catherine Bollard, Children’s National chief of allergy and immunology and current president of ISCT, kicked off the week with a presentation on how specific approaches and strategies have contributed to the success of T-cell immunotherapy, a ground-breaking therapy in this fast-moving field.

Later in the week, Dr. Kirsten Williams, a blood and marrow transplant specialist, presented encouraging new findings, demonstrating that T-cell therapy could be an effective treatment for leukemia and lymphoma patients who relapse after undergoing a bone marrow transplant. Results from her phase 1 study showed that four out of nine patients achieved complete remission. Other medical options for the patients involved – those who relapsed between 2 and 12 months post-transplant – are very limited. Looking to the future, this developing therapy, while still in early stages, could be a promising solution.

Other highlights include:

  • Both Allistair Abraham, blood and marrow transplantation specialist, and Dr. Michael Keller, immunologist, presented oral abstracts, the former titled “Successful Engraftment but High Viral Reactivation After Reduced Intensity Unrelated Umbilical Cord Blood Transplantation for Sickle Cell Disease” and the latter “Adoptive T Cell Immunotherapy Restores Targeted Antiviral Immunity in Immunodeficient Patients.
  • Patrick Hanley engaged attendees with his talk, “Challenges of Incorporating T-Cell Potency Assays in Early Phase Clinical Trials,” and his poster presentation “Cost Effectiveness of Manufacturing Antigen-Specific T-Cells in an Academic GMP Facility.” He also co-chaired a session titled “Early Stage Professionals Session 1 – Advanced Strategic Innovations for Cell and Gene Therapies.”
  • To round out this impressive group, Shabnum Piyush Patel gave a talk on genetically modifying HIV-specific T-cells to enhance their anti-viral capacity; the team plans to use these HIV-specific T-cells post-transplant in HIV-positive patients with hematologic malignancies to control their viral rebound.

This exciting team is leading the way in immunology and immunotherapy, as evidenced by the work they shared at the ISCT conference and their ongoing commitment to improving treatments and outcomes for patients at Children’s National and across the country. To learn more about the team, visit the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders site.

Steven Hardy presents sickle cell findings at ASPHO annual meeting

Steven Hardy

Steven Hardy, Ph.D.

Steven Hardy, Ph.D. recently joined medical leaders in Montréal for the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology’s 30th Annual Meeting, where he and his team presented key findings from their cognitive and psychosocial research program involving youth with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD).
The first presentation, “Processing Speed and Academic Fluency in Youth With Sickle Cell Disease,” showed that, on average, children with SCD are less able to quickly and efficiently process information than their healthy counterparts. This weakness negatively impacted their academic performance, particularly in math fluency, and increased the children’s odds of having to repeat a grade in school.

A second presentation, “Quality of Life and School Absences in Children With Sickle Cell Disease With and Without Asthma,” explored the differences in quality of life between children with SCD only and children with both SCD and asthma (a common comorbidity). Dr. Hardy and his team found that children with both diseases tend to experience a greater impact on quality of life. Other factors – such as the child’s IQ and the family’s financial, material and social resources – moderated this risk.

The presentations were met with enthusiasm from renowned medical professionals from around the world, all of whom came together for collaborative and constructive sessions to move the needle on pediatric care.

Research and Education Week 2017 recap: The immunization battle

Boris D. Lushniak

Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H., Dean of University of Maryland School of Public Health and former deputy surgeon general speaks at Research and Education Week 2017 at Children’s National.

Children’s National Health System recently held its 7th Annual Research and Education Week, inviting many keynote and special lecturers to share insights on the most recent research and education findings. Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland and former deputy surgeon general, was just one of many renowned keynote speakers to grace the stage.

In his presentation, “The immunization battle: Perspectives from a public health guy,” Dr. Lushniak described public health as the “science and art of preventing disease, prolonging health and preventing disease through the organized efforts and informed choices of all.” He discussed immunizations across the years, highlighting past achievements in the public health world, the current state of childhood immunizations, and how to improve the view and impact of immunizations and vaccinations in the future.

Since the 1900s, there have been great achievements in the public health world from vaccinations and child immunizations to the recognition of tobacco as a health hazard. Statistics have revealed how child immunizations are the most cost-effective clinical preventive service with a high return on investment. According to Healthy People 20/20, birth cohorts vaccinated according to the childhood immunization schedule provided by the Center for Disease Control saved 33,000 lives, prevented 14 million cases of disease, reduced direct health care costs by $9.9 billion and saved $33.4 billion in indirect health care costs.

Although the statistics have value to medical professionals, Dr. Lushniak explained how the personal views of patients and families create barriers for advancement. The March 2016 Journal of American Medical Association reported that 300 children in the United States die from vaccine-preventable diseases each year; each case representing a failed opportunity to prevent disease due to vaccine refusal and a decrease in community  immunity.

Based on the views of the Journal of Health Management & Practice¸ Dr. Lushniak recommends following these tips to increase vaccine rates:

  • Creating or supporting effective interventions (client reminder, recall systems, provider assessment/feedback/reminder)
  • Generating and evaluating public health response to outbreaks
  • Facilitating vaccine management and accountability
  • Determining client vaccination status or decisions made by clinicians, health departments, schools
  • Aiding surveillance and investigations on vaccination rates, missed opportunities, invalid doses and disparities in coverage

Dr. Lushniak concluded his presentation by encouraging the audience to keep working towards the advancement of immunization, despite any perceptions against getting children vaccinated.

Facial analysis technology helps diagnose rare genetic disease

Facial Analysis Technology

A new study uses facial analysis technology developed at Children’s National to diagnose 22q1.2 deletion syndrome, also known as DiGeorge syndrome.

According to a new study led by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), facial analysis technology can assist clinicians in making accurate diagnosis of 22q1.2 deletion syndrome, also known as DiGeorge syndrome. Using objective facial analysis software, developed by researchers from the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National, the study compared the most relevant facial features characteristic of DiGeorge syndrome in diverse populations. Based on a selection of 126 individual facial features, the researchers were able to correctly diagnose patients with the disease from different ethnic groups with 96.6 percent or higher accuracy.

“The results of the study demonstrated that the identification of rare diseases benefits from adapting to ethnic and geographic populations,” said Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., developer of the facial analysis technology and an investigator in the study from Children’s National.

Linguraru and his team are also working on a simple tool that will enable doctors in clinics without state-of-the-art genetic facilities to take photos of their patients on a smartphone and receive instant results.

Kathleen Gorman named AHA’s Grassroots Champion for D.C.

Kathleen Gorman

Kathleen Gorman, MSN, RN, FAAN

Kathleen Chavanu Gorman, M.S.N., R.N., FAAN, executive vice president of Patient Care Services and chief operating officer at Children’s National Health System, recently received the American Hospital Association (AHA) 2017 Grassroots Champion Award for Washington D.C.

The recognition highlights the achievements of grassroots leaders and honors one hospital leader from each state for their hard work over the previous year to effectively deliver key hospital and health care messages to elected officials; broaden the base of community support for hospitals; and advocate tirelessly on behalf of patients, hospitals and communities. Gorman will receive the award at a District of Columbia Hospital Association event later this year.

Catherine Bollard named to Medicine Maker’s Annual Power List

Catherine Bollard

Children’s National Health System’s Chief of Allergy and Immunology, Catherine Bollard M.D., has been named to The Medicine Maker’s 2017 Power List, which honors the top 100 most influential people in the world of drug development. Dr. Bollard is featured as a ”Champion of Change,” a category that highlights experts striving to make the world a better place by getting medicines to those who need them the most. She joins notable scientists Frances Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In the Medicine Maker feature, Dr. Bollard describes the inspiration behind her dedication to cellular immunotherapy and how that led to her team’s breakthrough T-cell therapy that gives complete remissions in over 50 percent of some patient groups. Read the full piece here.

Sarah Mulkey receives NIH career development grant

Sarah Mulkey

Sarah B. Mulkey, M.D., Ph.D., a fetal-neonatal neurologist in the Division of Fetal and Translational Medicine at Children’s National Health System, has received a KL2 award from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Children’s National, which is funded through the National Institutes of Health. This grant, totaling $135,000 over two years, will allow Dr. Mulkey to reserve dedicated research time — apart from her clinical duties — to pursue a research project studying the autonomic nervous system in newborns.

Dr. Mulkey’s project will focus on developing a better understanding of this part of the nervous system — responsible for unconscious control of basic bodily functions, such as heart rate and breathing — in healthy, full-term babies, and how this system integrates with other brain regions responsible for mood and stress responses. Dr. Mulkey and colleagues then will compare these findings to those from babies whose autonomic nervous systems might have abnormal development, such as infants born pre-term or those with congenital heart defects or intrauterine growth restriction. The findings could help researchers develop new interventions to optimize autonomic nervous system development in vulnerable patients and improve long-term neurologic and psychological health in children.

“This award is an incredible opportunity for a young investigator since it provides protected time both for research and career development,” Dr. Mulkey says. “We need more clinicians in pediatric research to improve medical care and outcomes for children. This award makes it possible for me to devote significant time to research in order to contribute to new knowledge about babies throughout my career.”

To that end, NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences has created a new LinkedIn page to highlight the innovative work of KL2 scholars.

Healthy Homes, Healthy Futures program receives national recognition

Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Activation Summit in Little Rock, Arkansas

Children’s National expert Kofi Essel (far right) was one of the Children’s National physicians recognized as a health care pioneer at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Activation Summit in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Children’s National Health System physicians were recognized as health care pioneers at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Activation Summit in Little Rock, Arkansas, in early April for their creation of “Healthy Homes, Healthy Futures,” an obesity-centered home visitation curriculum for pediatric residents at Children’s National. The program received the first-ever Innovation Award for Health Care Provider Training and Education and was named the most innovative program for current health care professionals.

The award recognizes leading health professional training programs that promote nutrition, physical education and obesity counseling education to its students. Co-collaborators of the program include: Children’s National experts Kofi Essel, M.D., FAAP, Sirisha Yalamanchi, M.D., FAAP and Cara Lichtenstein, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, as well as Erin Hysom, R.D.N., M.P.H., of the Maryland State Department of Education.

According to Dr. Essel, the team created the program to address the lack of knowledge providers have of the patient’s home and neighborhood environment, which is critical to understanding the barriers that families face when struggling with obesity.

Clinton Foundation's Innovation Award for Health Care Provider Training and Education award

Dr. Essel accepted the Innovation Award for Health Care Provider Training and Education on behalf of his team presented by former President Bill Clinton.

“Traditional medical training has been ineffective in equipping the next generation of providers with practical ways to manage or prevent obesity,” says Dr. Essel. “We created our program to address this issue and focus on the underlying sociocultural factors that are associated with obesity.”

To better equip providers, the program’s home visitation curriculum offers a unique approach to improve residents’ understanding of the social determinants of health, unpack how these underlying barriers can lead to obesity and strengthen critical goal-setting and obesity-management skills.

Dr. Essel and his team proudly accepted the award presented by former President Bill Clinton. Ultimately, Dr. Essel hopes to influence a national narrative around obesity, build empathy and reduce stigma toward families through immersion training, empower patients to improve their own health and help providers gain confidence in communicating about and managing obesity through the family context.