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Bella when she was sick

Preserving brain function by purposely inducing strokes

Bella when she was sick

Born to young parents, no prenatal testing had suggested any problems with Bella’s brain. But just a few hours after birth, Bella suffered her first seizure – one of many that would follow in the ensuing days. After brain imaging, her doctors in Iowa diagnosed her with hemimegalencephaly.

Strokes are neurologically devastating events, cutting off life-sustaining oxygen to regions of the brain. If these brain tissues are deprived of oxygen long enough, they die, leading to critical loss of function – and sometimes loss of life.

“As physicians, we’re taught to prevent or treat stroke. We’re never taught to inflict it,” says Taeun Chang, M.D., director of the Neonatal Neurology and Neonatal Neurocritical Care Program at Children’s National Hospital.

That’s why a treatment developed at Children’s National for a rare brain condition called hemimegalencephaly is so surprising, Dr. Chang explains. By inflicting controlled, targeted strokes, Children’s National physician-researchers have treated five newborns born with intractable seizures due to hemimegalencephaly before they’re eligible for epilepsy surgery, the standard of care. In the four surviving infants, the procedures drastically reduced or completely relieved the infants of hemimegalencephaly’s characteristic, uncontrollable seizures.

The most recent patient to receive this life-changing procedure is Bella, a 13-month-old from Iowa whose treatment at Children’s National began within her second week of life. Born to young parents, no prenatal testing had suggested any problems with Bella’s brain. But just a few hours after birth, Bella suffered her first seizure – one of many that would follow in the ensuing days. After brain imaging, her doctors in Iowa diagnosed her with hemimegalencephaly.

A congenital condition occurring in just a handful of children born worldwide each year, hemimegalencephaly is marked by one brain hemisphere growing strikingly larger and dysplastic than the other, Dr. Chang explains. This abnormal half of the brain is highly vascularized, rippled with blood vessels needed to support the seizing brain. The most conspicuous symptoms of hemimegalencephaly are the numerous seizures that it causes, sometimes several in the course of an hour, which also may prevent the normal half of the brain from developing and learning.

Prior studies suggest early surgery achieves better developmental outcomes with one study reporting as much as a drop of 10-20 IQ points with every month delay in epilepsy surgery.

The standard treatment for unilateral megalencephaly is a dramatic procedure called a hemispherectomy, in which surgeons remove and disconnect the affected half of the brain, allowing the remaining half to take over its neurological duties. However, Dr. Chang says, implementing this procedure in infants younger than 3 months of age is highly dangerous.  Excessive, potentially fatal blood loss is likely in infants younger than 3 months who have a highly vascularized brain in the setting of an immature coagulation system. That leaves their doctors with no choice but to wait until these infants are at least 3 months old, when they are more likely to survive the surgery.

However, five years ago, Dr. Chang and her colleagues came up with a different idea when a newborn continued to have several seizures per hour despite multiple IV seizure medications: Because strokes cause irreversible tissue death, it might be possible to effectively incapacitate the enlarged hemisphere from within by inflicting a stroke on purpose. At the very least, this “functional embolization” might buy time for a traditional hemispherectomy, and slow or halt ongoing brain damage until the infants are able to withstand surgery. Ideally, this procedure may be all some children need, knocking out the offending hemisphere completely so they’d never need a hemispherectomy, which has late complications, such as hydrocephalus.

A pediatrician friend of Bella’s paternal grandparents read a story on Children’s National website about Darcy, another baby who’d received functional embolization a year earlier and was doing well. She contacted Dr. Chang to see if the procedure would be appropriate for Bella.

Within days, Bella and her family headed to Washington, D.C., to prepare for functional embolization herself. Within the first weeks of life, Bella underwent three separate procedures, each three to four hours long. Under real-time fluoroscopic and angiographic guidance, interventional neuroradiologist Monica Pearl, M.D., threaded a micro-catheter up from the baby’s femoral artery through the complex network of blood vessels all the way to her brain. There, in targeted branches of her cerebral arteries, Dr. Pearl strategically placed liquid embolic agent to obstruct blood flow to the abnormal half of Bella’s brain.

Immediately after the first procedure, the team had to contend with the same consequences that come after any stroke: brain swelling that can cause bleeding and herniation, complicated further by the already enlarged hemisphere of Bella’s brain. Using neuroprotective strategies learned from treating hundreds of brain-injured newborns, the neonatal neurocritical care team and the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) minimized the brain swelling and protected the normal half of the brain by tightly controlling the brain temperature, her sugar and electrolyte levels, her blood pressure and coagulation system.

As the brain tissue in the oversized hemisphere died, so did the seizures that had plagued Bella since birth. She has not had a seizure since she left Children’s National more than one year ago. Her adoptive parents report that Bella is hitting many of the typical developmental milestones for her age: She’s getting ready to walk, blowing kisses and saying a few words. Physical, speech and occupational therapy will keep her moving in the right direction, Dr. Chang says.

“We believe that Children’s National is the only place in the world that’s treating newborns in this way to preserve their futures,” Dr. Chang says. “We’re privileged to be able to care for Bella and other kids with this rare condition.”

Bella’s transfer and successful procedures required the support and collective efforts of many within the hospital organization including William D. Gaillard, M.D., and his surgical epilepsy team; interventional neuroradiology with Dr. Monica Pearl; Neurosurgery; Neonatology and the NICU; social work; and even approval from Robin Steinhorn, M.D., senior vice president of the Center for Hospital-Based Specialties, and David Wessel, M.D., executive vice president and Chief Medical Officer.

“While obvious credit goes to the medical team who saved Bella’s future and the neonatal intensive care nurses who provided exceptional, intensive, one-on-one care, Bella’s team of supporters extend to all levels within our hospital,” Dr. Chang adds.

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Pitch Competition Winners

7th Annual Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium

 Melinda Richter and Dr. Newman

The event featured an onstage discussion by Melinda Richter, global head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS and Dr. Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National Hospital, about the power of collaboration to spur innovation.

The 7th Annual Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium, presented by Children’s National Hospital, recently brought together stakeholders from across the clinical, investor, business and regulatory sectors of pediatric device development for a day-long program focused on closing the wide gap that exists between the number of medical devices developed for adults and the significantly smaller number developed for children.

Co-located with AdvaMed’s The MedTech Conference for the third consecutive year, the symposium featured an opening keynote address by Melinda Richter, global head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS, who was later joined Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National Hospital, for an on-stage discussion about the power of collaboration to spur innovation.

That collaboration was on display as Dr. Newman and Richter shared details of the recently announced JLABS @ Washington, DC, a 32,000 square-foot facility to be located at the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus on the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus in the nation’s capital.

“We had this idea at Children’s National to develop the first pediatric research and innovation campus in the world to create a sustainable pipeline and ecosystem of everything needed to bring medical devices from concept to market for children. Seeing what Johnson & Johnson has accomplished with JLABS across the world, we knew they were the right partner,” said Dr. Newman.

Richter highlighted the need to take action, “We have made modest progress in pediatric device innovation, but we need to do better. We need to advance solutions that take into account the unique characteristics of our youngest and most vulnerable of patients. Only then will we achieve real progress for children and their families.” Of all the medical devices approved each year, only 25% are approved for children and most of those are approved for patients over the age of 18. Richter encouraged symposium attendees to leverage collaborations and convenings to move pediatric device development forward and lauded innovators focused on babies and children, calling them “super heroes.”

$150K medical device pitch competition

Pitch Competition Winners

Six innovations that address the significant unmet needs of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) patients were awarded a total of $150K during the medical device pitch competition at the 7th Annual Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium hosted by Children’s National Hospital at Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. From L to R are: Anthony Sandler, M.D., Children’s National Hospital; Neil Ray, Raydiant Oximetry; Julia Finkel, M.D., AlgometRx, Inc.; Eric Chehab, Ph.D., Novonate; Xina Quan, Ph.D., PyrAmes, Inc.; Mark Lehmkuhle, Epitel, Inc.; Adam Zysk, Ph.D., Rhaeos, Inc.; and Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., Children’s National Hospital.

Six winners were announced in the symposium’s $150,000 “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” competition, sponsored by the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation (NCC-PDI) and focused on NICU devices, which the FDA identifies as an area of significant need for innovation. Ten finalists presented their innovations for a panel of 25 expert judges. Each winner receives a $25,000 award and an opportunity to participate in a first-of-its-kind pediatric accelerator program led by MedTech Innovator.

The winning pediatric devices and companies are:

  • AlgometRx, Inc., Washington, D.C. – The AlgometRx Rapid Drug Test is used to detect and monitor neonatal abstinence syndrome, allowing for earlier assessment and intervention of opioid withdrawal to reduce physiological stress.
  • Epitel, Salt Lake City, Utah – Epilog is an inexpensive, discrete and disposable EEG machine that provides real-time monitoring to revolutionize the way neonates suspected of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy are managed at community hospitals.
  • Novonate, South San Francisco, Calif. – LifeBubble secures and protects the umbilical catheter insertion site for neonates in intensive care, preventing infection from caregivers and parents.
  • PyrAmes Inc., Cupertino, Calif. – Noninvasive and wireless, the Boppli Band allows for risk- and pain-free continuous blood pressure monitoring for neonates.
  • Raydiant Oximetry, Mountain View, Calif. – Raydiant Oximetry Sensing Systems is a novel, non-invasive technology that more accurately detects fetal distress during labor and delivery, reducing medically unnecessary cesarean deliveries and the occurrence of newborns suffering the consequences of metabolic acidosis.
  • Rhaeos, Inc., Evanston, Ill. – FlowSense is a wearable device that enables noninvasive monitoring of ventricular shunt function in patients who have hydrocephalus, obviating the need for imaging and unnecessary hospital visits and admissions.

“Improved neonatal monitoring devices, such as those among our award winners, can make a critical difference in detecting interventions that could positively impact the long-term developmental trajectory of many children, said Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., P.M.P., vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National and principal investigator of NCC-PDI. “We welcome these winning companies into the NCC-PDI network of device startups and entrepreneurs and look forward to helping them accelerate commercialization so that these innovations can benefit children everywhere as soon as possible.”

 Julia Finkel

Children’s National anesthesiologist and innovator Julia Finkel, M.D., delivers a winning pitch for her AlgometRx device for detecting and monitoring neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Award-winner AlgometRx is a spinout company from Children’s National Hospital that was founded by anesthesiologist and pain medicine research chief Julia Finkel, M.D.  A non-invasive, handheld and portable device, AlgometRx captures a digital image of a patient’s pupillary light response and applies a series of propriety algorithms to measure pain type, intensity and drug effects in real time. Designed for use in virtually any clinical setting, Dr. Finkel originally developed this objective pain measurement technology to aid in diagnosing and monitoring non-verbal pediatric patients such as neonates. AlgometRx was also selected earlier this year to join the JLABS location in Philadelphia.

This is the ninth pediatric medical device competition sponsored by NCC-PDI, one of five FDA-funded programs focused on addressing unmet needs for pediatric medical devices. The consortium is led by the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland. NCC-PDI recently added new accelerators BioHealth Innovation and MedTech Innovator and design firm partner, Archimedic.

The symposium also featured four multidisciplinary panel discussions that followed the theme “Pediatric Device Clinical Trials: Forging a Better Path.” Solutions uncovered during these panels will be highlighted in an upcoming whitepaper that will be used to suggest FDA guidance on pediatric device trial conduct and best practices to safely validate medical devices for children more efficiently and effectively.

Vasum Peiris, M.D., chief medical officer, Pediatrics and Special Populations, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, FDA, gave the closing address, which outlined FDA initiatives focused on pediatric device development. David L. Wessel, M.D., senior vice president for the Center for Hospital-Based Specialties at Children’s National, provided an insightful overview of why NICU device development is so important and shared some of the NICU innovations currently in development at Children’s National, which ranks #1 nationally in NICU care.

Darren Klugman

Children’s National cardiac intensive care experts named to leadership of Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society

Darren Klugman

Darren Klugman, M.D., medical director of the cardiac intensive care unit (ICU) at Children’s National Health System, has been re-elected to the executive board of the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society (PCICS).

Darren Klugman, M.D., medical director of the cardiac intensive care unit (ICU) at Children’s National Health System, has been re-elected to the executive board of the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society (PCICS). Klugman will serve a second term as secretary of the organization, which serves to promote excellence in pediatric critical care medicine.

Melissa B. Jones, CPNP-AC, a critical care nurse practitioner at Children’s National, received the honor of being elected Vice President of PCICS. She will take on this leadership role for two years before assuming the presidency of the society in 2020.  Another critical care nurse practitioner at Children’s National, Christine Riley, CPNP-AC, was elected to serve a two-year term on the board of directors.

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is the most common birth defect. There have been many advances in the treatment of children with cardiovascular disorders, leading to a reduction in mortality. However, the extreme complexity of this treatable disease requires specialized care from disciplines beyond cardiology, including critical care, cardiac surgery and anesthesia. PCICS was formed to provide an international professional forum for promoting excellence in pediatric cardiac critical care.

Children’s National has had a large role in PCICS since its inception in 2003. David Wessel, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer, Hospital and Specialty Services, was one of the founding members of the international society. Children’s National served as the host of the 13th Annual International Meeting of PCICS in December of 2017 with many experts including Richard Jonas, M.D., division chief of cardiac surgery and co-director of the Children’s National Heart Institute, and Ricardo Muñoz, M.D., division chief of cardiac critical care medicine and executive director of telemedicine, giving talks. Many Children’s National specialists again will lend their expertise to this year’s PCICS annual meeting in Miami, Fla., in December.

Robin Steinhorn

Children’s National senior vice president elected to American Pediatric Society leadership

Robin Steinhorn

Robin Steinhorn, M.D., Senior Vice President of Center for Hospital-Based Specialties at Children’s National Health System, was elected by her peers to become vice president and president-elect of the American Pediatric Society (APS) beginning May 2018 at the annual Pediatric Societies Meeting in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Steinhorn will serve in this role for one year and will then become the Society’s president in May 2019 for a one-year term.

Dr. Steinhorn is a globally recognized physician-leader, researcher and clinician in the fields of neonatal perinatal medicine and fetal pulmonary development. She was elected to the APS Council in 2015 and currently holds a seat on the American Board of Pediatrics’ Board of Directors.

“Dr. Steinhorn has devoted her professional career to advancing the field of pediatrics through exemplary leadership in related societies, as well as editorial oversight of cutting-edge research,” says David Wessel, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer of Hospital and Specialty Services at Children’s National. “This elevated role with the APS will enable her to further share her expertise to benefit children on a national and international level.”

Dr. Steinhorn serves as associate editor of the Journal of Pediatrics and is also a contributing editor for NEJM Journal Watch’s Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.  Additionally, she sits on the editorial boards of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and Pulmonary Circulation. Dr. Steinhorn is an elected fellow of the American Heart Association and a member of both the Perinatal Research Society and the American Thorasic Society.

Founded in 1888, the American Pediatric Society is the oldest and most prestigious academic pediatric organization in North America. Members are elected to APS based on their accomplishments as academic leaders in pediatrics and goal to shape the future of academic pediatrics. Mark L. Batshaw, M.D., physician-in-chief and chief academic officer of Children’s National preceded Dr. Steinhorn as APS President from 2016-2017.

“This is a tremendous honor, and it is a special privilege to follow Dr. Batshaw’s sound leadership. I look forward to leveraging the collective leadership and research accomplishments by our members to improve the health of infants and children throughout the U.S.,” said Dr. Steinhorn.

Dr. Steinhorn joined Children’s National in 2015 after a successful tenure as professor and chair of the department of pediatrics at the University of California, Davis (UCD) School of Medicine and as physician-in-chief, UCD Children’s Hospital. Previously, she was vice chair of the department of pediatrics and chief of the division of neonatology at Northwestern University and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Dr. Steinhorn’s clinical and academic interests have focused primarily on fetal and neonatal pulmonary vascular development. Her translational work has spanned from in vitro studies, to experimental models and clinical trials. In addition to her own translational research program, she has participated in numerous multicenter trials that have helped define the clinical treatment of pulmonary hypertension during the neonatal period. Her clinical research work also has addressed other topics, such as harmonization of electronic health records for clinical research and telemedicine support of neonatal care in small rural hospitals.

Additionally, Dr. Steinhorn is particularly passionate about mentoring faculty and supporting the growth and career development of young neonatologists and scientists, with several having developed their own research laboratories and assumed division leadership positions. She was selected as a “Top Doctor” by Northern Virginia  Magazine in 2018.

Ricardo Munoz

Ricardo Muñoz, M.D., joins Children’s National as Chief of Cardiac Critical Care Medicine, Executive Director of Telemedicine and Co-Director of Heart Institute

Ricardo Munoz

Children’s National Health System is pleased to announce Ricardo Muñoz, M.D., as chief of the Division of Cardiac Critical Care Medicine and co-director of the Children’s National Heart Institute. Dr. Muñoz also will serve as the executive director of Telemedicine Services at Children’s National, working to leverage advances in technology to improve access to health care for underserved communities and developing nations.

Within the new division of Cardiac Critical Care Medicine, Dr. Muñoz will oversee the work of a multidisciplinary team, including critical care nurse practitioners and nurses, respiratory and physical therapists, nutritionists, social workers and pharmacists, in addition to a medical staff with one of the highest rates of double-boarded specialists in cardiology and critical care.

“We are honored to welcome Dr. Ricardo Muñoz to Children’s National,” says David Wessel, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer of Hospital and Specialty Services. “He is a pioneer and innovator in the fields of cardiac critical care and telemedicine and will undoubtedly provide a huge benefit to our patients and their families along with our cardiac critical care and telemedicine teams.”

Dr. Muñoz comes to Children’s National from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. During his 15-year tenure there, he established the cardiac intensive care unit and co-led the Heart Center in a multidisciplinary effort to achieve some of the best outcomes in the nation. He also is credited with pioneering telemedicine for pediatric critical care, providing nearly 4,000 consultations globally.

“Children’s National has a longstanding reputation of excellence in cardiac critical care, and I am pleased to be able to join the team in our nation’s capital to not only deliver top-quality care to patients regionally, but also around the world,” says Dr. Muñoz. “The early identification and treatment of pediatric congenital heart disease patients has made rapid improvements in recent decades, but there is a shortage of intensivists to care for these children during what is often a complex recovery course.”

Dr. Muñoz attended medical school at the Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla, Colombia, and completed his residency in pediatrics at the Hospital Militar Central, Bógota, Colombia. He continued his training as a general pediatrics and pediatric critical care fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, and as a pediatric cardiology fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital. He then joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School and served as an attending physician in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Boston Children’s.

Dr. Muñoz is board certified in pediatrics, pediatric critical care and in pediatric cardiology. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Critical Care Medicine and the American College of Cardiology. Additionally, he is the primary editor and co-author of multiple textbooks and award-winning handbooks in pediatric cardiac intensive care, including Spanish language editions.

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.

David Wessel to speak at USN’s Healthcare of Tomorrow

David Wessel

The fourth annual U.S. News & World Report Healthcare of Tomorrow conference will take place on Nov. 2 in Washington, DC. The leadership forum, which examines challenges in health care and how we must evolve with policies, society, and technology, will hold children’s hospital sessions for the first time. The topics will include pediatric population health, patient safety, strategic partnerships, and genomic medicine. Children’s National’s David Wessel, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer, hospital and specialty services, is scheduled to speak during the event.