Tag Archive for: research

Digital background depicting innovative technologies in (AI) artificial systems, neural interfaces and internet machine learning technologies

AI algorithm that detects brain abnormalities could help cure epilepsy

Digital background depicting innovative technologies in (AI) artificial systems, neural interfaces and internet machine learning technologies

A new AI algorithm can detect subtle brain abnormalities that cause epileptic seizures.

An artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that can detect subtle brain abnormalities that cause epileptic seizures has been developed by a UCL-led team of international researchers, including Children’s National Hospital.

To do this, the team quantified features from MRI scans, such as how thick or folded the brain was at nearly 300,000 locations in each case.

They then trained the AI algorithm using examples labelled by expert radiologists as either a healthy brain or one with focal cortical dysplasia (FCD) based on their patterns and features.

The results, published in Brain, showed that in the main cohort of 538 patients, the algorithm was able to detect the FCD in 67% of cases.

“We put an emphasis on creating an AI algorithm that was interpretable and could help doctors make decisions. Showing doctors how the Multicentre Epilepsy Lesion Detection project (MELD) algorithm made its predictions was an essential part of that process,” said Mathilde Ripart, research assistant at UCL and the study’s co-first author.

Around 1% of the population have epilepsy and, of these, 20-30% do not respond to medications.

“We are excited to collaborate with MELD on ways to improve the treatment of pharmacoresistant epilepsy,” said Nathan Cohen, M.D., neurologist at Children’s National Hospital and co-author of the study. “This advanced imaging platform is open source and demonstrates the benefit of team science at the broadest scale.”

In children who have had surgery to control their epilepsy, FCD is the most common cause, and in adults it is the third most common cause.

Additionally, of patients who have epilepsy that have an abnormality in the brain that cannot be found on MRI scans, FCD is the most common cause.

You can read the full UCL press release here.

mitochondria

Grant funds study of two maternally inherited mitochondrial diseases

mitochondria

The National Institutes of Health awarded George Washington University and Children’s National Hospital a grant to study two maternally inherited mitochondrial diseases.

The National Institutes of Health awarded George Washington University and Children’s National Hospital a grant to study two maternally inherited mitochondrial diseases. Andrea Gropman, M.D., division chief of Neurodevelopmental Pediatrics and Neurogenetics at Children’s National, along with her co-investigator, Anne Chiaramello, M.D., from the George Washington University School of Medicine, will lead the study.

The proposed studies focus on two ultra-rare maternally inherited mitochondrial diseases:

  • Mitochondrial Encephalopathy, Lactic Acidosis and Stroke-like episodes (MELAS); and
  • Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy-Plus (LHON-Plus).

Both diseases are among those studied by the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network.

“We are really pleased to be able to change the landscape for MELAS and LHON, two mitochondrial disorders with relentless progression and no treatment,” Dr. Gropman said. “This grant represents the fruition of an eight-year collaboration with my colleague Dr. Chiaramello and we are fortunate to be able to deliver this at Children’s National and serve our patients and community.”

Because patients currently do not have access to effective therapeutic intervention, this results in significant disability, morbidity and premature death. The UG3 phase of the study will focus on translational MELAS and LHON-Plus studies and submission of an IND protocol to the Food and Drug Administration. The UH3 phase will focus on a basket clinical trial with MELAS and LHON-Plus to:

  • Provide proof-of-concept that the basket design can be applied to divergent ultra-rare diseases.
  • Advance the dataset for safety and pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics of our lead compound for a larger number of patients than in a conventional clinical trial setting.
  • Gather outcomes and practical information for optimizing the design of future basket clinical trial.

“Dr. Gropman is dedicated to giving children with MELAS the very best care,” said Elizabeth Wells, M.D., vice president of Neuroscience and Behavioral Medicine Center at Children’s National. “This new research funding is exciting and means more patients can benefit from the expertise she has developed at Children’s National.”

Dr. Javad Nazarian

Q&A with Dr. Javad Nazarian on his upcoming work on low-grade gliomas

Dr. Javad Nazarian

Supported by the Gilbert Family Foundation, Dr. Nazarian’s return is part of a special research program within the Gilbert Family Neurofibromatosis Institute that focuses on NF1 research.

Javad Nazarian, Ph.D., M.Sc., associate professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University and professor at the University of Zurich, has expanded his research group at Children’s National to focus on Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) transformed low-grade gliomas (LGGs). Dr. Nazarian will apply his expertise from establishing a successful DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma) and DMG (diffuse midline glioma) program in Zurich Switzerland and previously at Children’s National.

In addition to his continued research in Zurich, as a principal investigator at the Department of Genomics and Precision Medicine at Children’s National Dr. Nazarian plans on aggregating his knowledge to the new research and work spearheaded at Children’s National. As one of the first research teams to move to the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, Dr. Nazarian’s group is excited to use the opportunity to establish cutting-edge and clinically translational platforms.

Supported by the Gilbert Family Foundation, Dr. Nazarian’s return is part of a special research program within the Gilbert Family Neurofibromatosis Institute that focuses on NF1 research. This research includes associated gliomas with a special emphasis on NF1-associated transformed anaplastic LGGs. His team will develop new avenues of research into childhood and young adult NF-associated LGGs with a special emphasis on transformed high-grade gliomas.

Dr. Nazarian is excited for what’s to come and his goals are clear and set. Here, Dr. Nazarian tells us more about his main objectives and what it means for the future of pediatric neuro-oncology care at Children’s National.

  1. What excites you most about being back at Children’s National?

I have received most of my training at Children’s National, so this is home for me. Being one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals gives a unique advantage and ability to advocate for childhood diseases and cancers. It is always exciting to play a part in the vision of Children’s National.

  1. What are some of the lessons learned during your time working in Zurich? And how do you think these will compliment your work at Children’s National?

We developed a focused group with basic research activities intertwined with clinical needs.  The result was the launch of two clinical trials. I also helped in developing the Diffuse Midline Glioma-Adaptive Combinatory Trial (DMG-ACT) working group that spans across the world with over 18-member institutions that will help to design the next generation clinical trials. I will continue leading the research component of these efforts, which will have a positive impact on our research activities at Children’s National.

  1. How does your work focusing on low-grade gliomas formulating into high-grade gliomas expand and place Children’s National as a leader in the field?

Scientifically speaking, transformed LLGs are very intriguing. I became interested in the field because these tumors share molecular signatures similar to high-grade gliomas (HGGs). Our team has done a great job at Children’s National to develop tools – including biorepositories, avatar models, drug screening platforms, focused working groups, etc. – for HGGs. We will apply the same model to transformed LGGs with the goal of developing biology-derived clinical therapeutics for this patient population.

  1. How will this work support families and patients seeking specific neuro-oncology care?

We will develop new and high thruput tools so that we can better study cancer formation or transformation. These tools and platforms will allow us to screen candidate drugs that will be clinically effective. The main focus is to accelerate discovery, push drugs to the clinic, feed information back to the lab from clinical and subsequently design better therapies.

  1. You are one of the first scientists to move to the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus. What are some of the valuable changes or advancements you hope to see as a result of the move?

The campus will provide high-end facilities, including cutting-edge preclinical space, and allow for team expansion. The close proximity to Virginia Tech will also provide an environment for cross-discipline interactions.

  1. Anything else you think peers in your field should know about you, the field or our program?

The team at Children’s National includes Drs. Roger Packer and Miriam Bornhorst. Both have provided constant clinical support, innovation and clinical translation of our findings. I look forward to working with them.

Jeffrey Dome

Q&A with Dr. Jeffrey Dome on his new role as Continental President of SIOP-North America

Jeffrey Dome

In March 2021, Jeffrey Dome, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s National Hospital, was elected as the International Society of Paediatric Oncology’s (SIOP) Continental President of North America.

In March 2021, Jeffrey Dome, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s National Hospital, was elected as the International Society of Paediatric Oncology’s (SIOP) Continental President of North America.

On October 21-24, the society will hold its 53rd SIOP Annual Congress virtually. During the congress, Dr. Dome will begin his 3-year term as SIOP continental president of North America and will also chair and speak at an educational symposium on current approaches to the treatment of recurrent Wilms tumor.

Dr. Dome attended his very first SIOP meeting in 2005 and was captivated by how regional context influences pediatric cancer treatment. In 2017, he was chair of the local organizing committee for the 49th annual congress in Washington, D.C., and served on the SIOP Board of Directors.  After 15 years of involvement and attending many of the annual meetings, Dr. Dome shares what he looks forward to while serving as continental president of SIOP North America and the legacy he hopes to leave behind.

  1. What does it mean to you to be elected SIOP continental president of North America?

I’m very excited about this role. There are several important societies and organizations in North America that have made a mark on the field of pediatric oncology, but SIOP is unique in its sole focus on childhood cancer and global approach to improving outcomes, as encapsulated by its vision statement: No child should die of cancer: cure for more, care for all.

  1. What excites you most about this role?

In an eye-opening statistic, North America has only about 10% of the global burden of childhood cancer and less than 2% of worldwide childhood cancer deaths.  Although we relentlessly strive to improve childhood cancer outcomes in the United States, what we experience here is just the tip of the iceberg of the worldwide problem. SIOP seeks to make a difference on the international level by improving education, research and access to care for children with cancer around the world. And I’m excited to have a platform to lead North American ambassadors to do that.

Even though North America has a relatively small fraction of the overall childhood cancer cases, we are one of the most well-resourced continents. The question is, how can we use our knowledge, technology and resources to help the rest of the world.  A big part of this role is to make connections and liaisons to move the needle on improving outcomes.

The other thing we’ve learned from a research standpoint is that pediatric cancers are relatively uncommon and are becoming even rarer through molecular classification, which divides cancers into small genetically defined subgroups.  While these advances are tremendously exciting, they require international collaboration to amass a sufficient number of patients to evaluate novel treatment strategies.  My vision for SIOP North America is to be a convener of researchers and connect people around the world to facilitate that work.

  1. What are some of your goals while serving as continental president?

We recently sent a survey to more than 450 SIOP North America members and had a nearly 45% response rate, which I’m told is superb.  This speaks to an excellent level of engagement in SIOP’s mission, with many members volunteering to participate in committees related to research, advocacy and global health. The majority of the respondents to the survey were physicians but improving childhood cancer treatment takes a holistic approach.  One of my main goals is to increase SIOP North American membership to grow the number of nurses, pharmacists, scientists, psychologists, other behavioral health specialists and clinical research coordinators onboard.

I’d like to also identify two to three very specific projects that will impact pediatric cancer care on a global level. There are different ways to do that. We could improve education in different areas around the world (nursing education that we provide to areas that are lacking nursing support, for example). It could be research education and database education for regions of the world that would like to develop more robust research programs. It can also be medical support and developing medical guidelines for oncologists around the world that are adjusted to different levels of resources that are available.

The other goal would be to enhance supportive care and education for cancer care delivery on the global level.

  1. Why is this work important for you?

One of my mentors from when I was a junior faculty member advised me that to be a well-rounded oncologist, one must be familiar with how childhood cancer is treated around the world because different regions have different approaches. There is something to be learned from everyone.  I took that advice to heart and have tried to look beyond the North American approaches.  I think it’s very important to have a global exchange of ideas and serving as continental president of SIOP-North America will enable more to facilitate this dialogue.

  1. What’s the legacy or impact you hope to leave behind?

SIOP North America has a strong and devoted membership but has largely functioned at the level of the individual members.  I hope to bring more structure to the organization to tackle the global challenges of childhood cancer treatment.

Once this structure is in place, I hope to complete two or three SIOP-North America initiatives that have a measurable impact on improving childhood cancer care delivery or outcomes.  The specific projects have yet to be defined but will likely be in the categories of enhancing education, supportive care and facilitating research infrastructure. There’s so much to tackle that if you just look at the overall problem of childhood cancer, it’s overwhelming.  We’re not going to be able to solve everything in three years, but if we could have a few victories and be able to move the needle in some areas, I think that would be a huge success.

Maria Susana Rueda Altez

Maria Susana Rueda Altez, M.D., to lead as Junior Section President-Elect

Maria Susana Rueda Altez

Maria Susana Rueda Altez, M.D., junior section president-elect for the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR).

Maria Susana Rueda Altez, M.D., was selected as junior section president-elect for the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR). During her tenure, Dr. Rueda Altez will ensure more trainees benefit from networking opportunities and leverage her online communications experience to increase awareness, membership and participation in SPR among students, residents and fellows.

The president of the junior section is a fellow who is elected by other junior member peers and is in-charge of managing and enhancing the junior section, by participating in SPR council meetings, promoting membership among trainees and reinforcing the pipeline from junior to active members.

“I am so honored, not only as a Peruvian physician, but as an international medical graduate (IMG), to have been elected for this position,” said Dr. Rueda Altez. “As an IMG, there are special challenges to conducting research, so I plan to raise awareness and provide support to my fellow IMG junior members.”

To Beth A. Tarini, M.D., M.S., SPR president and associate director for the Center for Translational Research at Children’s National Hospital, it is an honor for the hospital to have representatives in the roles of SPR president and SPR junior section president-elect simultaneously.

Dr. Rueda Altez added that there is an urgent need for increased funding in pediatric research, especially for minority and health disparities research. Through her participation in SPR, she will also have the opportunity to advocate for increases in child health research funding.

“I encourage all the trainees and junior faculty in our institution to join the SPR junior section,” said Dr. Rueda Altez. “It provides wonderful resources for career development and guidance, grant writing courses and invaluable mentorship.”

Her research interest is newborn infections, and her overall goal is to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics in this population.

“I am currently working on a quality improvement project to reduce the number of days NICU infants are exposed to antibiotics,” said Dr. Rueda Altez. “I have developed a project to ascertain the utility of microbial cell-free DNA next generation sequencing, a novel microbiologic diagnostic tool, for the diagnosis of neonatal infections.”

Dr. Rueda Altez’s work on neonatal sepsis will help scientists better distinguish between neonates who do and don’t have serious bacterial infections.

“Right now, when in doubt we tend to treat it as bacterial infections, which can lead to unnecessary medical treatment and worsen resistance to antibiotics,” said Tarini.

Dr. Rueda Altez also serves as an independent reviewer of investigational manuscripts for The Journal of Pediatrics and Pediatrics and guest editor for The Journal of Pediatrics. Her passion for the peer-review process also shows in her long list of published research.

Dr. Tarini also foresees multiple research trends in the next five years that might appear in peer-reviewed publications.

“We have so much to tackle in child health research, both ongoing and new challenges,” said Dr. Tarini.  “Some issues that come to mind are the mental health crisis in children and teens, continuing to make strides on treating and preventing childhood obesity, the effect of poverty on children’s health, and the pandemic’s effect on all of these issues and its direct effect on health outcomes.”

Midsection of a handicapped man and woman

Increasing the patient’s voice in osteogenesis imperfecta research and care

Midsection of a handicapped man and woman

The Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Project brought patient voices into efforts to improve patient-centered outcomes research and education in osteogenesis imperfecta.

Rare bone diseases constitute about 5% of all known rare diseases. Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) is a group of genetic disorders causing connective tissue dysfunction and bone fragility, affecting an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 people in the U.S. Many patients with rare diseases, including those with conditions like OI, suffer from delays in diagnosis and lack of access to the complex multidisciplinary care they require.

Children’s orthopaedic surgeon Laura Tosi, M.D., is the co-lead of a two-year program, Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Project. The now completed program brought patient voices into efforts to improve patient-centered outcomes research and education in osteogenesis imperfecta.

Increasingly, the OI community has become more vocal about its need for information and options for evidence-based care. Research about this condition often lacks the patient’s voice. Collecting the patient’s perspective about natural history, clinical best practices, quality of life and research priorities is challenging because, like so many rare diseases, the affected population is relatively small and geographically dispersed.

“We were excited that so many members of the OI community (patients, caregivers, clinicians, and researchers) stepped up to help us with this work for the last two years,” said Dr. Tosi. “They served on committees, completed surveys, and attended training sessions to learn more about patient-centered outcomes research.”

The program accomplished many goals, including creating a community of stakeholders who are trained in patient-centered outcomes research, with specific attention to priority topics identified by the OI community.

“We believe that attention to the broad impact of OI on patients’ lives, from patients’ perspectives, is urgently needed to better inform assessment, care and comparative effectiveness recommendations across the life span,” said Dr. Tosi.

The program considered the patients’ perspective and encouraged a collaborative effort among Children’s National Bone Health Program staff, geneticists, endocrinologists and other specialists to achieve rapid, accurate diagnosis that facilitates individualized care.

“Advances in knowledge can and will happen faster when more people participate in research from the outset,” said Dr. Tosi. “This means not just shaping the questions but also gaining the ability to understand and interpret the impact of such investigations.”

The program also expanded the communications and education strategies related to patient-centered outcomes, even during COVID-19.

The pandemic positively influenced the program’s educational efforts, Dr. Tosi added. The difficulties that emerged in the early months of the pandemic helped capture the community’s attention as they discussed the importance of the program. Through a COVID-19 supplemental award, the program gained more resources to expand the scope of the original education efforts.

With the new challenges and the possible physical and mental health threats that the pandemic posed to people with OI, including isolation and social distancing, the team used engagement strategies to raise awareness of the COVID-19 hazards, disseminated best practices for responses, and enhanced communications between stakeholders. The researchers were able to:

  1. Expand virtual meetings, which allowed them to reach a wider range of patients.
  2. Create and disseminate COVID-19 content (e.g., prophylactic care, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, outcomes).
  3. Use their existing OI Registry to document and track evolving issues such as more difficult access to medical care (or other necessary services), “daily living” concerns or burdens, and options for safe “return to work” and American Disabilities Act “work accommodations.”
  4. Gather information on therapeutic options (e.g., pros and cons of medicines, counseling, telemedicine) and their potential to mitigate the health problems that isolation and social distancing create.
  5. Develop tools to prepare the community for telemedicine, with emphasis on educating health professionals about patients’ higher vulnerability to coronavirus.

While the outcomes of this initiative were overwhelmingly positive, the researchers are also considering some changes, such as implementing “hybrid” models of in-person and remote meetings in the future.

Dr. Tosi served as project co-lead alongside colleagues Tracy Hart, project lead, from the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation (OIF) and Bryce Reeve, Ph.D., co-project lead, director of the Center for Health Measurement at Duke University.

doctor looking at brain MRIs

NINDS awards $10 million for pediatric concussion research

doctor looking at brain MRIs

Researchers will use advanced brain imaging and blood tests to explore biological markers—changes in blood pressure, heart rate and pupil reactivity—that could predict which children will develop persistent symptoms after concussion.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has awarded a $10-million grant to the Four Corners Youth Consortium, a group of academic medical centers studying concussions in school-aged children. Led in part by the Safe Concussion Outcome Recovery and Education (SCORE) program at Children’s National Hospital, the project is named Concussion Assessment, Research and Education for Kids, or CARE4Kids.

Researchers will use advanced brain imaging and blood tests to explore biological markers—changes in blood pressure, heart rate and pupil reactivity—that could predict which children will develop persistent symptoms after concussion. The five-year CARE4Kids study will enroll more than 1,300 children ages 11-18 nationwide.

The five-year study will be led by Gerard Gioia, Ph.D., division chief of Neuropsychology at Children’s National Hospital, Frederick Rivara, M.D., M.P.H., at Seattle Children’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development and University of Washington’s Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, and Dr. Chris Giza at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

“We will be gathering innovative data to help answer the critical question asked by every patient: ‘When can I expect to recover from this concussion?’” said Dr. Gioia. “We have a great team and are excited to have been selected to study this important issue.”

Christopher G. Vaughan, Psy.D., neuropsychologist, and Raquel Langdon, M.D., neurologist, both at Children’s National, will join Dr. Gioia as principal investigators of the study at this site.

Every year, more than 3 million Americans are diagnosed with concussions. Symptoms continue to plague 30 percent of patients three months after injury—adolescents face an even higher risk of delayed recovery. Chronic migraine headaches, learning and memory problems, exercise intolerance, sleep disturbances, anxiety and depressed mood are common.

“Providing individualized symptom-specific treatments for youth with a concussion has been a longstanding aim of the SCORE program,”Dr. Vaughan said. “This project will lead to a better understanding of the specific markers for which children may have a longer recovery. With this knowledge, we can start individualized treatments earlier in the process and ultimately help to reduce the number of children who experienced prolonged effects after concussion.”

The grant was announced on September 9, 2021.

In Washington, D.C., an estimated 240 children ages 11 to 18, will participate in the study.

The study will unfold in two phases. The first part will evaluate children with concussion to identify a set of biomarkers predictive of persistent post-concussion symptoms. To validate the findings, the next stage will confirm that these biomarkers accurately predict prolonged symptoms in a second group of children who have been diagnosed with concussion. The goal is to develop a practical algorithm for use in general clinical practice for doctors and other health professionals caring for pediatric patients.

Institutions currently recruiting patients for the study include Children’s National Hospital, UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, Seattle Children’s, the University of Washington, University of Rochester, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Wake Forest School of Medicine. Indiana University, the National Institute of Nursing Research, University of Arkansas, University of Southern California and the data coordinating center at the University of Utah are also involved in the project.

Earlier research conducted by the Four Corners Youth Consortium that led to this project was funded by private donations from Stan and Patti Silver, the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program and the UCLA Easton Clinic for Brain Health; Children’s National Research Institute; as well as from the Satterberg Foundation to Seattle Children’s Research Institute; and an investment from the Sports Institute at UW Medicine.

Yuan Zhu

Yuan Zhu, Ph.D., receives Outstanding Scientist Award

Yuan Zhu

The George Washington University (GW) Cancer Center recently announced the selection of the 2021 GW Cancer Center Awards, recognizing excellence in research, mentorship and early career contributions.

The GW Cancer Center Outstanding Scientist Award was presented to Yuan Zhu, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) and Children’s National Hospital. The award is presented to faculty members who make a noteworthy contribution in the areas of basic science, clinical science, translational science or population science.

In his nomination, Dr. Zhu was cited for his contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the development of tumors and altered brain development arising in the setting of the inherited condition neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). “Throughout his career, Dr. Zhu has had a remarkable consistency of focus in his scholarly work, where he has sought to advance new molecular and mechanistic insights to understand the biological basis of NF1 and the cancers arising in individuals affected by this genetic disease.”

You can find a full list of award winners here.

inside a GMP lab

Cell therapy manufacturing process ramps up to meet increased demand for T-cell products

inside a GMP lab

The new laboratory space includes floor-to-ceiling windows and brand new, state-of-the-art GMP lab suites.

Since Children’s National Hospital began its pediatric cellular therapy program in 2013, it has received more than $5 million in annual funding, treated over 200 patients, manufactured more than 400 cell-based products and supported over 25 clinical trials.

One of the in-house programs supporting this work is the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility. Patrick Hanley, Ph.D., chief and director of the cellular therapy program at Children’s National and leader of the GMP laboratory, explained that the first patient received a dose of less than 10 million cells in May 2014. Fast forward to now, the lab uses liters of media, automated bioreactors and multiple staff, making upwards of 12 billion cells per run — a growing production scale that enables many different options. Using cells as an off-the-shelf technology is one of those.

The cell therapy program exports these off-the-shelf products beyond Children’s National to make them available for kids across the country. Catherine Bollard, M.D., MBChB., director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at Children’s National, and Michael Keller, M.D., director of the Translational Research Laboratory in the Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy (CETI) at Children’s National, each led clinical trials with hospitals across the United States, including the first-ever cellular therapy clinical trial run through the Children’s Oncology Group.

To meet the high demand for cell therapy trials at Children’s National, the GMP lab moved to a larger space, doubling the team’s capacity to produce alternative treatment options for patients and facilitate the lab’s ability to support clinical divisions throughout the hospital.

The GMP lab is exploring how to make cell products more consistent — regardless of patient-to-patient variability. They are also hoping to delineate the characteristics that ensure quality cell products, educate other facilities, enhance the overall knowledge of how to safely manufacture these products and make these technologies more available and affordable to the patients who need them.

Among Hanley’s many goals for the GMP lab, one is to improve the transition from when an investigator discovers a product in the translational research lab to when it is manufactured for patients.

“To improve this transition, we have started a process development team that will learn the process alongside the research team, replicate it, and then train the staff who manufacture the product for patients,” said Hanley. “In addition to providing a better training opportunity for the manufacturing staff, it allows us to work with the investigators earlier on to identify changes that will need to be made to translate the products to patients, ultimately resulting in safer, more potent immunotherapy products.”

While cell therapy has seen increased interest in the last 10 years, there are still some challenges in the field, given that it is not as mature as other scientific areas. The lack of trained staff, scalability of cell and gene therapy, the variability between patients and products, delayed FDA approvals and rejection of licensing applications for cell therapy products — are barriers that scientists and companies often face.

“Each of us has a unique immune system, and that means that if we try and make a product from it, it will not behave like any other, so the number of cells, the potency the alloreactivity — it is all different,” said Hanley. “T-cells are a living drug that expand in the body at different rates, are composed of different types of T-cells, and release different cytokines and in different amounts.”

This all ties back to the process development and basic research. The better researchers can characterize the products under development, the more they will know about how the products work and the easier it will be to tie these products to patient outcomes.

Meet some of the Children’s National multidisciplinary experts who join forces to lead the cell therapy space.

Jay Tanna, M.S., quality assurance manager, has extensive experience with drug development at Children’s National as well as Sloan Kettering, another premier cell therapy institution. He has a Masters in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and a Regulatory Affairs Certification (RAC) in U.S. FDA drugs and biologics regulations from the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS).

Kathryn Bushnell, M.T. (ASCP), the cell therapy lab manager, oversees Stem Cell Processing. She has 20 years of experience with hematopoietic progenitor cells and cellular therapy, starting her career as a medical technologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Nan Zhang, Ph.D., assistant director of manufacturing at Children’s National, has worked at Wake Forest and the National Institutes of Health developing various cellular therapies. Zhang chaired the cell processing session at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in 2020.

Abeer Shibli, M.T., is a specialist in the cellular therapy laboratory with extensive experience in the processing of cellular therapy products. She has over 10 years of experience as a medical technologist, is specialized in blood banking and transfusion medicine and is one of the senior technologists in the lab.

Chase McCann, M.S.P.H., Ph.D., is the cell therapy lab lead for manufacturing at Children’s National Hospital. He recently completed his Ph.D. training in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. Much of his graduate research focused on developing and enhancing cellular therapies for HIV while identifying common mechanisms of escape, shared by both HIV and various cancers, which limit the efficacy of current cell therapies. Previously, McCann worked as the laboratory coordinator for the HIV Prevention Trials Network, and now oversees the manufacturing of many cell therapies supporting the many clinical trials currently underway at Children’s National.

Anushree Datar, M.S., the cell therapy lab lead for immune testing and characterization, oversees the release testing of products manufactured in the GMP for safety and function before they can be infused in patients. She also leads a part of the research team investigating the improvement in immune function after cell infusion.

Dr. Bollard is also the director of the Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy and president of the Foundation for the Accreditation for Cellular Therapy (FACT). Additionally, in 2019, she became a member of the Frederick National Laboratory Advisory Committee (FNLAC) for the NIH and an ad hoc member of the Pediatric Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) for the FDA. She has been an associate editor for the journal Blood since 2014 and in 2020 was appointed editor-in-chief of Blood Advances (starting Fall 2021). Dr. Bollard has 21 years of cell therapy experience as a physician, sponsor and principal investigator.

Dr. Hanley serves as the commissioning editor of the peer-reviewed journal Cytotherapy, as the vice-president-elect (North America) of the International Society of Cell and Gene Therapy (ISCT), and board of directors member at FACT, which provides him visibility into various cell and gene therapies, manufacturing approaches, and other intangibles that make Children’s National facility one of the leaders in the field.

To find the full research program list and their experts, click here.

GMP group photo

Lab members celebrate the expansion of the GMP Laboratory.

girl with asthma inhaler

Children’s National becomes part of CAUSE Network

girl with asthma inhaler

Seven clinical sites in six different cities will join forces to perform mechanistic and translational studies examining the basic immunology of pediatric asthma among urban, under-resourced and largely minority children and adolescents.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) allocated $10 million in funding to establish the Childhood Asthma in the Urban Setting (CAUSE) network. The NIAID plans to increase this number by $70 million over seven years to support the network. Children’s National Hospital will be part of the new research network, which is a 7-year consortium comprising of seven clinical sites in six different cities that will join forces to perform mechanistic and translational studies examining the basic immunology of pediatric asthma among urban, under-resourced and largely minority children and adolescents.

Children’s National is the home of Improving Pediatric Asthma Care in the District of Columbia (IMPACT DC). The program focuses on research, care and advocacy to decrease asthma morbidity experienced by at-risk youth in the region while serving as a model program for the nation. NIAID gave an initial $3 million to IMPACT DC to conduct its own pilot study of anti-IgE therapy to prevent asthma exacerbations. Additional support for this and other studies will come from subcontracts from the CAUSE Coordinating Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

“This new award allows IMPACT DC to remain part of one of the nation’s most prestigious pediatric asthma research consortia,” said Stephen Teach, M.D, M.P.H., chair for the Department of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “It will allow us to both pursue an independent research agenda while collaborating with similar academic centers nationwide.”

Pediatric asthma is the most common chronic disease in children, and it is estimated that about 6.1 million children under 18 years suffer from this condition. It disproportionately affects urban, minority and under-resourced children and adolescents.

“It is essential to develop an understanding of the basic immunology of the disease and therapeutic options to ameliorating these disparities,” said Dr. Teach.

CAUSE researchers will explore the mechanisms of immune tolerance to allergens, the role of early environmental exposures in the pathogenesis of asthma, the pathogenesis and mechanisms of non-atopic asthma, the role of the respiratory epithelium in asthma and more.

The CAUSE network comprises of seven clinical research centers, including Children’s National led by principal investigator, Dr. Teach, and the following research centers:

  • Boston Children’s Hospital. Principal investigators: Wanda Phipatanakul, M.D., and Talal Chatila, M.D.
  • Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Principal investigator: Gurjit Khurana Hershey, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Columbia University Health Sciences, New York. Principal investigator: Meyer Kattan, M.D.
  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. Principal investigators: Paula Busse, M.D., Supinda Bunyavanich, M.D., and Juan Wisnivesky, M.D.
  • Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Principal investigators: Rajesh Kumar, M.D., and Jacqueline Pongracic, M.D.
  • University of Colorado Denver. Principal investigator: Andrew Liu, M.D.
Francis Collins

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. from NIH: The future of genomic medicine and research funding opportunities

Kurt Newman and Francis Collins

Genomic medicine, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), a world post-COVID-19 and pediatric research funding were among the topics discussed during the “Special Fireside Chat” keynote lecture at the 2021 Children’s National Hospital Research, Education and Innovation Week.

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is well known for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book.

The President and CEO of Children’s National, Kurt Newman, M.D., joined Dr. Collins during the “Special Fireside Chat” keynote lecture. Dr. Newman posed several health care-related questions to Dr. Collins over the course of 30 minutes. Dr. Collins’s responses shed light on what it takes to advance various research fields focused on improving child health and develop frameworks that advocate for DEI in order to foster a more just society.

Q: You have been involved with genomic medicine since its inception. You discovered the gene causing cystic fibrosis and led the Human Genome project. What do you see as the future of genomic medicine, especially as it relates to improving child health?

A: Thank you for the question, Kurt. First, I wanted to say congratulations on your 150th anniversary. Children’s National Hospital has been such a critical component for pediatric research and care in the Washington, D.C., area, and at the national and international levels. We at the NIH consider it a great privilege to be your partner in many of the things that we can and are doing together.

Genomic medicine has certainly come a long way. The word genomics was invented in 1980, so we have not been at this for that long. Yet, the success of the Human Genome Project and the access to cost-effective tools for rapid DNA sequencing have made many things possible. It took a lot of effort, time and money to discover the gene that causes cystic fibrosis. Kurt, if you look at what we did, while it was rewarding, it was a challenging problem that occupied the hearts of the scientific community in 1980. Now, a graduate student at Children’s National that has access to DNA samples, a thermal cycler, a DNA sequencer and the internet could do in about a week what it took us a decade and with 50 people.

We have been able to rocket forward as far as identifying the genetic causes of 6,500 diseases, where we know precisely the molecular glitch responsible for those conditions. While most of those are rare diseases, it leads to the opportunity for immediate diagnosis, which used to be a long and troubled journey.

DNA sequencing has increasingly become an essential tool in newborns, especially when trying to sort out puzzling diagnosis for specific syndromes or phenotypes that are not immediately clear. Additionally, DNA sequencing significantly impacted clinical care in cancer because it made it possible to look at the mutations driving the malignancy and its genetic information that can lead to interventions. This approach is going forward in the next few years in ways that we can see now. Although I am a little reluctant to make predictions because I have to be careful about that, it may be possible to obtain complete genome sequences that can be yours for life and place them into the medical record to make predictions about future risks and choices about appropriate drugs. This path costs less than any imaging tests.

Q: The racial justice movement that was brought back to the forefront this past year has, once again, reaffirmed that this country has so much more work to do in order to end systemic racism. You have been at the forefront of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in research and at the NIH. What do you and the NIH plan to do further DEI efforts in research and in general so that we can be a more just and equitable society?

A: I appreciate you raising this, Kurt. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is an issue where everyone should be spending a lot of time, energy and passion. You are right. 2020 will be remembered for COVID-19. I also think it will be remembered for the things that occurred around the killing of George Floyd, and the recognition of the very foundation that is still infected by this terribly difficult circumstance of structural racism. I convened a group of about 75 deep thinkers about these issues, many of them are people of color from across the NIH’s different areas of activities. I asked the group to come forward with a bold set of proposals. This effort is how the program UNITE came together to work hard on this, which is now making recommendations that I intend to follow. We are determined to close that gap and pursue additional programs that will allow us to be more successful in recruiting and retaining minority groups, for example. We need to do something with our health disparity and research portfolio as well to ensure that we are not just looking around the edges of the causes for racial inequities. We are digging deeper into what the structural racism underpinnings are and what we can do about it. I am particularly interested in supporting research projects that test intervention and not just catalog the factors involved. We have been, at times, accused and maybe rightly so of being more academic about this, and, less kindly, we have been accused of admiring the problem of health disparities as opposed to acting on it. We are ready to act.

Q: COVID has affected us all in so many ways. Could you tell us what this past year has been like for you? Also, how is the NIH preparing for a soon-to-be post-COVID pandemic?

A: This is the time to contemplate the lessons learned as everyone knows that the last worst pandemic happened over a century ago. One thing that maybe will vex us going forward, which we already started to invest in a big way, is this whole long COVID syndrome, also referred to post-acute sequelae, to understand precisely the consequences and mechanisms like Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). Before moving to the next pandemic, we must think about how we will help understand those who suffer from long COVID syndrome. As far as the broader lessons learn, Kurt, we must expect that there will be other pandemics because humans are interacting more with animals, so zoonosis is likely to emerge. We need to have a clear sense of preparation for the next one. For instance, we are working on this right now, but we need to have a stronger effort to develop small molecules of anti-viral drugs aimed at the major viral classes, so we do not have to start from scratch. We also need clinical trial networks warm all the time, ready to go and to learn how valuable public partnerships can be to get things done in a hurry.

Editor’s Note: The responses in this Q+A have been modified to fit the word count.

global connectedness concept illustration

Research partnerships and capacity building in the time of COVID-19

global connectedness concept illustration

“COVID infection anywhere in the world is COVID infection everywhere in the world,” said John Nkengasong, M.Sc., Ph.D., director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control (Africa CDC), during his remarks on the importance of shared science, innovation and diplomacy. Leading experts in global health met virtually on November 13, 2020, to discuss updates in the COVID-19 crisis and lessons learned in Africa. Children’s National Hospital, along with the George Washington University (GW) Institute for Africa Studies and the CNRS-EpiDaPo Lab, sponsored the half-day conference that captured the interest of international attendees committed to examining how best to expand strong and enduring partnerships between U.S. and African scientists, health professionals and research institutes to meet global challenges.

Trust, transparency and communication were common themes of expert panelists that included Elizabeth Bukusi, Ph.D., M.P.H., Kenya Medical Research Institute; Maryam DeLoffre, Ph.D., GW Humanitarian Action Initiative; Peter Kilmarx, M.D., National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fogarty International Center; Enock Motavu, Ph.D., Makerere University in Uganda; Jennifer Troyer, Ph.D., Human Health and Heredity in Africa Program (H3Africa) at NIH; Désiré Tshala-Katumbay, M.D., Ph.D., National Institute of Biomedical Research in Kinshasa; Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National, with Institute for African Studies Director Jennifer Cooke, and Jonathan LoTempio Jr and D’Andre Spencer of Children’s National as moderators and co-conveners. Read more about the panelists.

The keynote speaker, Nkengasong, updated the group on the massive efforts in bending the COVID-19 disease curve on the African continent which at present has two million cases and 46,000 deaths. This is fewer than many other regions, and Nkengasong attributes this in part to health systems strengthening and capacity building that already occurred with past pandemics like Ebola. He stressed the importance of focusing on the “4 Ps” — population, pathogen, politics and policy — in fighting the pandemic, and the need to ensure that citizens trust their leaders and the public health measures they advance. New endeavors by the Africa CDC include the Pathogen Genomic Initiative, which will help inform research and responses to COVID-19 and other emergent disease threats, and the African COVID-19 Vaccine Development and Access Strategy, which aims to ensure widespread access, delivery and uptake of effective vaccines across Africa. Africa CDC is surging to hotspots as lockdowns ease or shift, and is empowering universities to invest in proactive and, which has helped with the active response success. “Rising tides raise all boats in the sea,” said Nkengasong. He went on to say that there is great power in coordination and cooperation, and science diplomacy and technology are critical to winning the novel coronavirus war.

In a panel on research partnerships, speakers Motavu, Tshala-Katumbay, and Vilain emphasized the global benefits of scientific collaborations in Africa. Africa contains more human genetic variation than any other region of the world, and capturing that diversity in global understanding of the human genome — which is still heavily skewed toward individuals of European ancestry — will be a major factor in global medical advances of the future. And research into relatively localized diseases can lead to breakthroughs in broader understanding on connections between climate variation, environment, nutrition and child health. “The simplistic, localized, nationalist, way of doing science is over,” said Tshala-Katumbay, “and there is no way to go back.” The discipline of science diplomacy will take time for people to grasp, he added, “but it will be crucial for the future generation of scientists to go back.”

A recurring conference theme was that collaboration between countries is crucial for development of better care. Kilmarx told the event participants that in 2019, the National Institutes of Health supported some 1,668 collaborations with African research institutions. Investments in capacity building have yielded impressive results, and today some of Africa’s foremost leaders in science research and public health have received NIH training and support, stating: “If you plant acorns over the decades, you have some mighty oaks.” Bukusi, once such NIH trainee, now is engaged in training a new generation of African researchers and U.S. researchers based in Africa and expanding research partnerships at the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

Troyer showed the successes of the Human Heredity and Health in Africa Initiative, a large consortium that supports a pan-continental network of laboratories that aims to determine disease susceptibility and drug responses. Finally, DeLoffre underscored the need for long-term investments and the value of building local capacities to respond to current crises and anticipate future challenges.

Overall, there was optimism that innovative coalitions are a long-term strength in fighting pandemics and promoting reciprocal learning that will last after the crisis. Science can be a neutral platform that, combined with diplomacy and technology, builds bridges between peoples.

pile of plastic bottles

The linkage between chemicals used in plastics and cardiovascular disease

pile of plastic bottles

For people across the globe, plastics are synonymous with modern life and it’s impossible to avoid exposure to them, including clinical environments where a variety of frequently used materials, such as tubing and blood storage bags, are made from plastics.

For people across the globe, plastics are synonymous with modern life and it’s impossible to avoid exposure to them, including clinical environments where a variety of frequently used materials, such as tubing and blood storage bags, are made from plastics. Led by Nikki Posnack, Ph.D, principal investigator at The Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital, a team of Children’s National researchers has been studying the potential effects of chemicals found in plastics, such as BPA and DEHP, as possible contributors to cardiovascular disease.

Along with conducting proprietary studies of the potential effects, Posnack and her team recently reviewed available scientific studies to further identify and illuminate the potential links between exposure to the synthetic additives contained in plastics and cardiovascular mortality. The article was published this month in Nature Reviews Cardiology.

In the article Posnack cites a 10-year longitudinal study with the finding that high exposure to BPA was associated with a 46-49% higher hazard ratio for cardiovascular and all-cause mortality, compared with low exposure to BPA.

“Plastics may be indispensable materials, but their ubiquity does raise concerns about the effects of our continuous exposure to plasticizer additives like di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and synthetic chemicals used to create polymers like BPA,” said Posnack. “Although disease causation can be difficult to pinpoint in population and epidemiological studies, experimental work has clearly demonstrated a direct link to plastic chemicals and cardiac dysfunction. It is clear that future collaborative endeavors are necessary to bridge the gap between experimental, epidemiological and clinical investigations to resolve the impact of plastics on cardiovascular health.”

Nikki Gillum Posnack

Nikki Posnack, Ph.D, principal investigator at The Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital.

Posnack added that, given the omnipresence of plastics and their related chemicals, biomonitoring studies have reported detectable levels of DEHP and BPA in 75-90% of the population. Occupational or clinical environments can also result in elevated exposures to these dangerous chemicals. Previous epidemiological studies have reported links between elevated urinary levels of phthalate or bisphenol, common additives in plastic, and an increased risk of coronary and peripheral artery disease, chronic inflammation, myocardial infarction, angina, suppressed heart rate variability and hypertension.

Additionally, available research has shown that incomplete polymerization or degradation of BPA-based plastic products can result in unsafe human exposure to BPA. Despite these links, the article points out, both BPA and DEHP are still manufactured in high volumes and are used to produce a wide variety of consumer and commercial products.

Further exploring implications for pediatrics, a June 2020 article published by Posnack in Birth Defects Research looks at the potential effects of plastic chemicals on the cardiovascular health of fetal, infant and pediatric groups. The article highlighted experimental work that suggests plasticizer chemicals such as bisphenols and phthalates may exert negative influence on pediatric cardiovascular health. The article systematically called out areas of concern supported by research findings. Also addressing current gaps in knowledge, Posnack outlined future research endeavors that would be needed to resolve the relationship between chemical exposures and the impact on pediatric cardiovascular physiology.

In related work, Posnack and her team are expanding their work on plastics used in blood bags to also investigate the role of blood storage duration on health outcomes. A recently published first study demonstrates that “older” blood products (stored 35 or more days) directly impact cardiac electrophysiology, using experimental models. Published October 22, 2020 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study concludes that the cardiac effects are likely caused by biochemical alterations in the supernatant from red blood cell units that occur over time, including but not limited to, hyperkalemia (elevated potassium levels).

MRI of the patient's head close-up

Madison Berl, Ph.D., receives 2020 PERF award for Infrastructure/Registry Research

MRI of the patient's head close-up

The Pediatric Epilepsy Research Foundation Grant (PERF) has awarded Madison Berl, Ph.D., neuropsychologist at Children’s National Hospital, the 2020 PERF award for Infrastructure/Registry Research. The funds will support her work on researching neuropsychological outcomes of children being considered for pediatric epilepsy surgery.

This grant, which provides $200,000 of research funding, will allow Dr. Berl to systematically collect data outcomes and create robust prediction models that are critical to achieving precision medicine that allows for selecting the most effective surgical treatment for an individual child.

“While seizures are a critical outcome, there is increasing recognition that outcomes beyond seizure control is critical to children and their families when evaluating and treating the impact of epilepsy and its treatments,” said Dr. Berl.

Guidelines and consensus statements related to pediatric epilepsy surgery are uniformly lacking high quality published outcome data to support clinical decisions that impact likelihood of seizure freedom and optimizing outcomes beyond seizures (e.g., neuropsychological functioning, quality of life, improved sleep). Despite recognition of the need for standardized collection of data on a multi-institutional basis, the efforts that exist are limited in scope.

Moreover, as new techniques – such as laser ablation and brain stimulation – are approved for pediatric patients, there is little information available to determine which children will benefit from which intervention.

“This project fundamentally is a multi-site registry for epilepsy surgery outcomes,” Dr. Berl added.

“However, this type of infrastructure also fosters growth and active collaboration within a network of pediatric epilepsy clinicians. I am excited because if successful, this will be the start of long-term collaborative effort.”

illustration of lungs surrounded by virus

COVID-19: First comprehensive review of pediatric lung imaging features

illustration of lungs surrounded by virus

A systematic review and meta-analysis by Children’s National Hospital researchers, published in Pediatric Pulmonology, provides the first comprehensive review of the findings of published studies describing COVID-19 lung imaging data in children.

The number COVID-19 studies focused on children have been small and with limited data. This has prevented the identification of specific pediatric lung disease patterns in COVID-19. Although children make up around 9.5% of COVID-19 infections, less than 2% of the literature on the virus, its symptoms and effects, have focused on kids.

A systematic review and meta-analysis by Children’s National Hospital researchers, published in Pediatric Pulmonology, provides the first comprehensive review of the findings of published studies describing COVID-19 lung imaging data in children. The analysis concludes that chest CT manifestations in children with COVID‐19 could potentially prompt intervention in the pediatric population.

Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator in the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National, discusses the importance of this work.

Q: What findings stand out to you?

A: We found that more than a third of children with COVID-19 had normal imaging. The lung imaging findings in these children were overall less frequent and less severe than in adult patients, but they were also more heterogeneous than in adults. Importantly, children with COVID-19 were three times more likely to have a normal exam than adults.

Several common lung imaging findings reported in adults were extremely rare or not found in the pediatric studies. These discoveries, and other recent reports in this space, support the fact that children’s symptoms may be less obvious than adults or even absent, but they still carry the virus and may be at risk for serious and life-threatening illness.

Marius George Linguraru

Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator in the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National.

Q: How will the findings of this study benefit pediatric care?

A: In our study, we showed how the health of the lungs of these children is impacted. Our results from data from 1,026 children (from newborns to 18 year old) with COVID-19 present chest manifestations that could potentially prompt informed intervention and better recovery.

Another conclusion of our study is that the abnormalities reported on the chest scans of children infected with COVID-19 are distinct from the typical lung images seen during other viral respiratory infections in the pediatric population. This is important for preparing for the cold and flu season.

Q: Why was this review important to our understanding of how COVID-19 impacts children?

A: This is the first systematic review and meta-analysis focused on the manifestation of the COVID-19 infection in the lungs of children. Our study, and others from colleagues at Children’s National, helps lead the efforts on elucidating how the pandemic affects the health of children.

Though children were initially thought to be less susceptible to infection, the data has made it clear that many children are at high risk for hospitalization and severe health complications. Although there are similarities between how children and adults are affected by the pandemic, there are also critical differences.

Given the limited knowledge in the manifestation of COVID-19 in children, with children susceptible to infection and hospitalization, and with children returning to school, continued efforts to understand the impact of COVID-19 on young patients is critically important. Understanding how children fare through the pandemic is the foundation of discovering better ways to take care of young patients and their health.

You can find the full study published in Pediatric Pulmonology. Learn more about the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National.

sick child in palliative care hospital bed

Children’s National Research Institute receives NIH grant for palliative care study

sick child in palliative care hospital bed

A new NIH grant will support the first study that examines palliative care needs in pediatric rare disease community.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has awarded $500,875 to the Children’s National Research Institute (CNRI), the academic arm of Children’s National Hospital, to support a new study examining the palliative care needs of children living with rare genetic diseases.

This is the first study of families of children with genetic and metabolic conditions, termed collectively as rare diseases, that is designed to intervene to support the well-being of family caregivers and create advance care plans for future medical decision making. In the United States, a rare disease is defined as a particular condition affecting fewer than 200,000 people. Pediatric patients with rare diseases experience high mortality rates, with 30 percent not living to see their fifth birthday.

“Children with ultra-rare or complex rare disorders are routinely excluded from research studies because of their conditions, creating a significant health disparity. Surveys show that families of children with rare diseases are adversely impacted by lack of easy access to peer and psychological support,” says Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., Clinical Health Psychologist and Professor of Pediatrics at the CNRI and principal investigator on the project. “This study will examine the palliative care needs of family caregivers of children with rare genetic disorders and advance care planning intervention, which will ultimately help facilitate discussions about future medical care choices that families are likely to be asked to make for their child.”

Although greatly needed, there are few empirically validated interventions to address these issues Currently, there is only one intervention described for families of children with rare diseases — a Swedish residential, competence program — which focuses on active coping. However, this intervention does not address pediatric advance care planning, a critical aspect of palliative care.

Lyon adds that the major benefit of this proposed project will be filling the gap in knowledge about what family caregivers of medically fragile children with rare diseases want with respect to palliative care. In the United States, these families are expected to provide a level of care that, until a few decades ago, was reserved for hospitals.

Maureen E Lyon

Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., Clinical Health Psychologist and Professor of Pediatrics at the CNRI and principal investigator on the project.

“Our hope is that this study will provide a structured model for facilitating family decisions about end-of-life care, for those families who do not have the good fortune to have children who have the capacity to share in decision-making,” Lyon says.

In addition to bridging the knowledge gap regarding palliative care in rare disease patients, the study will also help inform current clinical, ethical and policy discussions, as well as the legal issues in a variety of areas, such as the debate surrounding advocacy, particularly for those children with impairments in physical function.

“We look forward to the results of this study,” said Marshall Summar, M.D., director of the Rare Disease Institute and division chief, Genetics and Metabolism at Children’s National Hospital. “As a leader in rare disease care, we continually examine how we can improve care and support for our patient families at our clinic and want to share our findings with others engaged in caring for rare disease patients. Because rare diseases can be life limiting in some cases, we need to learn all we can about how best to care and support a patient and family as they prepare for a potential transition to palliative care.”

All research at Children’s National Hospital is conducted through the CNRI, including translational, clinical and community studies. The CNRI also oversees the educational activities and academic affairs of the hospital and the Department of Pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, frequently partnering with many other research institutions regionally and nationally. CNRI conducts and promotes translational and clinical medical research and education programs within Children’s National Hospital that lead to improved understanding, prevention, treatment and care of childhood diseases.

Kristina Hardy

Kristina Hardy awarded St. Baldrick’s Foundation research grant for supportive care

Kristina Hardy

Kristina Hardy, Ph.D., pediatric neuropsychologist within the Division of Neuropsychology at Children’s National Hospital, was a recipient of a $60,000 grant for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood, from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the largest charitable funder of childhood cancer research grants. .

Dr. Hardy along with her co-principal investigator in this project, Dr. Sarah Alexander, an oncologist from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, study neurocognitive difficulties in survivors of pediatric cancer. Through their research, both doctors will examine the potential connections between specific anesthesia medications, their doses, the amount of time they’re given and the chances of patients having learning problems later on in life. This critical research will be important for patients, families and clinical teams in helping to make the best choices for anesthesia use.

“About 20-40% of children who are diagnosed with ALL develop problems with thinking and learning after treatment,” said Dr. Hardy. “This research is exciting because if certain types or amounts of anesthesia are shown to increase risk for cognitive changes in survivors, we may be able to quickly change the way that we use anesthesia to lessen the risk.”

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is on a mission to defy childhood cancers by supporting the most promising research to find cures and better treatments for all childhood cancers. As a leader in the pediatric cancer community, St. Baldrick’s works tirelessly to ensure that current and future children diagnosed with cancer will have access to the most cutting-edge treatment from the best leaders in the pediatric oncology field.

Research & Innovation Campus

Tailoring treatments to young patients

Research & Innovation Campus

The Children’s National Research & Innovation campus will be a a one-of-a-kind pediatric research and innovation hub.

Children’s National Hospital president and CEO, Kurt Newman, M.D., recently spoke with Modern Healthcare about the soon-to-open Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus and how it will help address the lagging development of devices, medications and technologies specifically designed to help children.

You can read the full article here.

Lataisia C. Jones on Mission Unstoppable

Getting to know the unstoppable Lataisia C. Jones, Ph.D.

Lataisia C. Jones on Mission Unstoppable

Children’s National Hospital neuroscientist Lataisia C. Jones, Ph.D., appears in the Jan. 18, 2020, edition of Mission Unstoppable, a Saturday morning show aired by CBS that spotlights cutting-edge women leaders in science, technology, engineering and math.

Budding neuroscientist Lataisia C. Jones, Ph.D., is unstoppable. For instance, using everyday items that families can pluck from their own kitchen cabinets, she walks kids through the steps of creating homemade lava lamps. In the process, the youngsters learn a bit of science, like the fact that oil and water do not mix provides the hypnotic magic behind their new lamps.

Jones’ infectious enthusiasm for science that Children’s National Hospital patients and families experience in person during weekly Young Scientist sessions she hosts will be shared nationwide as Jones appears in the Jan. 18, 2020, edition of “Mission Unstoppable.” The half-hour show aired by CBS on Saturday mornings is co-produced by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and spotlights cutting-edge women leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“I’m excited,” Jones says of the filming experience. “It’s going to be an amazing opportunity to show kids that there is a fun way of learning. This show is opening a lot of doors and a lot of eyes to the fact that science can be fun.”

Jones’ scientific inquiry focuses on the corpus callosum, a network of fibers centrally located in the middle of the brain that is responsible for transferring information from one lobe to another. Her current research leverages experimental models to better understand brain abnormalities associated with autism spectrum disorder. Or, as she tells CBS viewers, studying the brain helps the field better understand how information is processed in order for people to move, learn and think effortlessly.

Lataisia C. Jones on Mission Unstoppable

“I’m excited,” Jones says of the filming experience. “It’s going to be an amazing opportunity to show kids that there is a fun way of learning. This show is opening a lot of doors and a lot of eyes to the fact that science can be fun.”

In September 2019, Jones was selected to serve as an IF/THEN Ambassador by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, to inspire the next generation of women pursuing STEM careers. A postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Neuroscience Research lab run by Masaaki Torii, Ph.D., Jones now also serves as a role model for future scientists, connecting with middle school students in person, virtually and via the CBS network television show.

“A lot of my inspiration comes from individuals who I mentor, which also shows that I am learning as well. If I am able to teach science, translate it in different ways to different audiences, I am helping to fulfill my lifelong dream,” she adds. “I always say we all have an inner scientist.”

As the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Florida State University’s College of Medicine, Department of Neuroscience, Jones has continued to acquire “first” experiences throughout her academic and professional career. But she’s also motivated to diversify the ranks of science to ensure she’s not the last.

“I am not the normal face you see in science,” she says. “Another reason for me to be stronger and to work harder and get more things done in science is so people who look like me know they can do the same things and know that they’re just as good.”

Dr. Kurt Newman in front of the capitol building

Making healthcare innovation for children a priority

Dr. Kurt Newman in front of the capitol building

Recently, Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National Hospital, authored an opinion piece for the popular political website, The Hill. In the article, he called upon stakeholders from across the landscape to address the significant innovation gap in children’s healthcare versus adults.

As Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Children’s Hospital Association,  Dr. Newman knows the importance of raising awareness among policy makers at the federal and state level about the healthcare needs of children. Dr. Newman believes that children’s health should be a national priority that is addressed comprehensively. With years of experience as a pediatric surgeon, he is concerned by the major inequities in the advancements of children’s medical devices and technologies versus those for adults. That’s why Children’s National is working to create collaborations, influence policies and facilitate changes that will accelerate the pace of pediatric healthcare innovation for the benefit of children everywhere. One way that the hospital is tackling this challenge is by developing the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, which will be the nation’s first innovation campus focused on pediatric research.