two doctors perform surgery

Can complex pediatric surgery interventions be standardized to facilitate telementoring?

two doctors perform surgery

The study’s authors write, “These discussions are particularly relevant to surgeons in small or rural practices who provide much-needed care to underserved populations and have decreased exposure to these index cases. Conversely, in some developing countries where prevalence of rare congenital surgical conditions is higher, there is a shortage of adequately trained pediatric surgeons. Each of these scenarios involves a mismatch in experience and exposure, which can result in poor patient outcomes and inadequate healthcare delivery.”

How does a surgeon-in-training get enough exposure to rare or complex cases to serve the patients who need them? How does a practicing surgeon perform enough cases each year to maintain proficiency at such index cases?

The authors of a study in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, including Marc Levitt, M.D., chief of the Division of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Children’s National Hospital, write that, “These discussions are particularly relevant to surgeons in small or rural practices who provide much-needed care to underserved populations and have decreased exposure to these index cases. Conversely, in some developing countries where prevalence of rare congenital surgical conditions is higher, there is a shortage of adequately trained pediatric surgeons. Each of these scenarios involves a mismatch in experience and exposure, which can result in poor patient outcomes and inadequate healthcare delivery.”

Telementoring is one strategy being explored by the American College of Surgeons’ Telementoring Task Force initiative. Pediatric anorectal malformations (ARM), pediatric colorectal surgical procedure, posterior sagittal anorectoplasty (PSARP) were the “index” areas for the pilot study. Once the expert established the areas of great need, they will test the feasibility of a curriculum and training program using telementoring in pediatric surgery. The ACS Task Force notes that these conditions are relatively rare and require a particular skill level to manage appropriately, making them good candidates for the study.

The Journal of Pediatric Surgery study presents a process for mapping out a standardized curriculum for these procedures. First, the authors sought expert consensus on three interoperative checklists that form a de facto curriculum for teaching, learning and performing ARM and PSARP procedures. Second, a multidisciplinary team of medical educators and pediatric surgery experts drafted the checklists. The authors then sought review and input from pediatric colorectal surgery experts at 10 institutions worldwide, who comprised the study’s colorectal pediatric surgery subject matter expert panel. To be considered “expert,” participants had to meet or exceed several strict inclusion criteria related to years in practice and experience with these case types.

Institutions of the colorectal pediatric surgery subject matter expert panel.

Institutions of the colorectal pediatric surgery subject matter expert panel.

The process led to a successful set of consensus documents. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to establish and standardize key intraoperative objectives using a modified-Delphi method in pediatric surgery,” the authors write. “Although this process can be quite time consuming, it provides an incredible opportunity to standardize intraoperative teaching and expectations of trainees. Future studies will expand these checklists into developing a competency assessment tool involving assessment for validity and reliability in a clinical setting to ultimately improve patient safety through standardization.”

Dr. Levitt says the overarching goal of this work is “to improve the surgical technique everywhere [to] thereby help as many kids as we can, even those we will never meet.”

Vahe Badalyan

Q & A with Celiac Disease Program Director Vahe Badalyan, M.D.

Vahe Badalyan

Vahe Badalyan, M.D., Celiac Disease Program Director

Children’s National Hospital is helping to improve the way pediatric celiac disease is diagnosed and treated. We are proud to announce that Vahe Badalyan, M.D., is the new director of our Celiac Disease Program. Here, Dr. Badalyan tells us more about his work and what makes the Children’s National Celiac Disease Program unique.

Why did you decide to work in this field?

I developed my interest in gastroenterology (GI) from the first months of being a pediatric intern at Inova Fairfax Children’s Hospital. As a resident, I was fortunate to work with and learn from the pediatric GI group led by Ian Leibowitz, M.D., whose mentorship and example inspired me to choose a career in pediatric GI. This field is ripe with so many opportunities to improve the lives of children with very diverse medical conditions, such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease and short bowel syndrome, while achieving professional fulfillment and satisfaction. Later, as a pediatric GI fellow at Children’s National, I was fortunate to work with the late John Snyder, M.D., who was in the foundation of developing our celiac program and was so passionate about helping children and families cope with celiac disease. Part of the reason I joined the celiac program is to continue Dr. Snyder’s legacy and to build on his vision to provide excellent care, education and advocacy for our celiac patients.

What is the importance of the multidisciplinary clinic approach for celiac care?

The advantage of the multidisciplinary clinic approach is that patients receive comprehensive care that is tailored to their specific needs. In this setting, medical, nutrition and mental health professionals come together to share the care priorities from their unique perspectives and build a roadmap for the patient that incorporates details of care that may otherwise have been missed. Patient questions pertaining to multiple specialties can be discussed and answered right then and there.

What are some of the most valuable changes or advancements for the program you hope to see in the next couple of years?

We hope to expand the screening and diagnosis of celiac disease in our communities, as many patients with celiac have minimal or no symptoms and go undiagnosed for years. Early detection will allow us to get involved sooner in patients’ lives and make a bigger difference for them. We also hope to be a part of clinical research on celiac disease, including drug therapy trials.

What makes the Celiac Program at Children’s National unique from other programs in the country?

We place a big emphasis on mental health and have a dedicated psychologist working with the children and their families. We also have an excellent celiac educator, dietician, coordinator and nurse practitioner who empower our patients to cope with celiac, lead normal lives and achieve their dreams and aspirations.

Dr. Matthew Bramble, Vincent Kambale, and Neerja Vashist

Gut microbiome may impact susceptibility to konzo

Dr. Matthew Bramble, Vincent Kambale, and Neerja Vashist

From left to right: Dr. Matthew Bramble, Vincent Kambale, and Neerja Vashist. Here, the team is processing samples in the field collected from the study cohort prior to storage in liquid nitrogen. Bramble et al. Nature Communications (2021).

Differences between gut flora and genes from konzo-prone regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may affect the release of cyanide after poorly processed cassava is consumed, according to a study with 180 children. Cassava is a food security crop for over half a billion people in the developing world. Children living in high-risk konzo areas have high glucosidase (linamarase) microbes and low rhodanese microbes in their gut, which could mean more susceptibility and less protection against the disease, suggest Children’s National Hospital researchers who led the study published in Nature Communications.

Konzo is a severe, irreversible neurologic disease that results in paralysis. It occurs after consuming poorly processed cassava — a manioc root and essential crop for DRC and other low-income nations. Poorly processed cassava contains linamarin, a cyanogenic compound. While enzymes with glucosidase activity convert starch to simple sugars, they also break down linamarin, which then releases cyanide into the body.

Neerja Vashist learning how to make fufu

Neerja Vashist is learning how to make fufu. Fufu is a traditional food made from cassava flour, and the cassava flour used in the making of the fufu here has gone through the wetting method to further remove toxins from the cassava flour prior to consumption. Bramble et al. Nature Communications (2021).

“Knowing who is more at risk could result in targeted interventions to process cassava better or try to diversify the diet,” said Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National. “An alternative intervention is to modify the microbiome to increase the level of protection. This is, however, a difficult task which may have unintended consequences and other side effects.”

The exact biological mechanisms underlying konzo disease susceptibility and severity remained poorly understood until now. This is the first study to shed light on the gut microbiome of populations that rely on toxic cassava as their primary food source.

“While the gut microbiome is not the sole cause of disease given that environment and malnourishment play a role, it is a required modulator,” said Matthew S. Bramble, Ph.D., staff scientist at Children’s National. “Simply stated, without gut microbes, linamarin and other cyanogenic glucosides would pose little to no risk to humans.”

To understand the influence of a detrimental subsistence on the gut flora and its relationship to this debilitating multifactorial neurological disease, the researchers compared the gut microbiome profiles in 180 children from the DRC using shotgun metagenomic sequencing. This approach evaluates bacterial diversity and detects the abundance of microbes and microbial genes in various environments.

The samples were collected in Kinshasa, an urban area with diversified diet and without konzo; Masi-Manimba, a rural area with predominant cassava diet and low prevalence of konzo; and Kahemba, a region with predominant cassava diet and high prevalence of konzo.

Dr. Nicole Mashukano and Dr. Matthew Bramble wetting cassava flour

From left to right: Dr. Nicole Mashukano and Dr. Matthew Bramble. Dr. Mashukano leads the efforts in Kahemba to teach the wetting method to individuals in different health zones. The wetting method is used as an additional step to further detoxify toxins from cassava flour prior to consumption. Here, Dr. Mashukano and Dr. Bramble are spreading out the wet mixture of cassava flour and water into a thin layer on a tarp for drying in the sun, which allows cyanogen breakdown and release in the form of hydrogen cyanide gas. Bramble et al. Nature Communications (2021).

“This study overcame many challenges of doing research in low-resource settings,” said Desire Tshala-Katumbay, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., FANA, co-senior author and expert scientist at Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale in Kinshasa, DRC, and professor of neurology at Oregon Health & Science University. “It will open novel avenues to prevent konzo, a devastating disease for many children in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

For next steps, the researchers will study sibling pairs from konzo-prone regions of Kahemba where only one sibling is affected with the disease.

“Studying siblings will help us control for factors that cannot be controlled otherwise, such as the cassava preparation in the household,” said Neerja Vashist, Ph.D. candidate and research trainee at Children’s National. “In this work, each sample had approximately 5 million DNA reads each, so for our follow-up, we plan to increase that to greater than 40 million reads per sample and the overall study cohort size. This study design will allow us to confirm that the trends we observed hold on a larger scale, while enhancing our ability to comprehensively characterize the gut microbiome.”

multimodal imaging images

Real-time surgical guidance system enables multimodal tissue monitoring

For the first time, researchers at Children’s National Hospital successfully demonstrated a label-free tissue perfusion imaging in a pre-clinical model, according to a study published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.

Richard Jaepyeong Cha, Ph.D., research faculty associate professor at Children’s National, and colleagues combined visible, near-infrared laser speckle contrast imaging (LSCI) and snapshot hyperspectral (HSI) cameras into a single clinical multimodal imaging device suitable for real-time intraoperative visualization and demonstrated such a device in a surgical model for the first time, to the best knowledge of the authors. This system provides instant microcirculation information about the ischemic regions, normal tissue and transitional ischemic zones with quantitative values that are reproducible.

“Our pre-clinical work demonstrated a novel, dye-free imaging platform for quantitatively assessing bowel perfusion. The ability to identify optimal surgical resection margins can improve surgical performance and patient outcome in terms of more targeted bowel resection and bowel preservation without anastomotic leakage,” Cha said. “This new optical imaging and quantitative assessment technology holds great promise to solving the long-standing issue of suboptimal assessment of intestinal viability.”

Intraoperative imaging techniques for the precise monitoring of blood flow, hemorrhage and oxygen saturation are needed to minimize errors caused by blood vessel ligation to reduce surgical blood loss and successfully isolate and resect ischemic regions.

When the blood flow, hemorrhage and oxygen are not monitored properly, anastomotic leak (AL) is a serious complication of intestinal surgery that can occur due to a technical error, and most frequently because of poorly vascularized intestine.

This complication of intestinal surgery carries with it a reported mortality ranging from 6 to 39%. The best time to prevent a possible AL is during its creation in the operating room.

Creating a healthy and safe intestinal anastomosis requires a good blood supply to the two ends of bowel to be joined. The tools for diagnosing well-perfused bowel intraoperatively are limited and often rely on the subjective evaluation of the surgeon.

“We are hoping that the use and application of multimodal LSCI/HSI imaging, capable of both non-invasive and quantitative gross tissue perfusion assessment, will provide colorectal/general surgeons with a convenient and objective method for assessment of bowel perfusion characteristics and facilitate surgical transection in tissues requiring colorectal anastomosis,” Cha said.

Recently, indocyanine green fluorescence angiography (ICG-FA) was introduced for intraoperative assessment of anastomotic perfusion. Preliminary evidence suggests that ICG-FA may reduce the rate of anastomotic leakage in gastrointestinal surgery.

Perfusion assessment at the site of anastomosis may alter surgical strategy and possibly reduce anastomotic leakage rates. However, ICG-FA evaluation requires an exogenous fluorophore and the surgeon must subjectively assess the quality of perfusion. For an ideal intestinal viability test, it is essential that the technique is easily performed by the surgeon, minimally invasive, objective and reproducible—which is what Lee et al. demonstrate with their new approach.

multimodal imaging system

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For fifth year in a row, Children’s National Hospital nationally ranked a top 10 children’s hospital

US News badges

Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., was ranked in the top 10 nationally in the U.S. News & World Report 2021-22 Best Children’s Hospitals annual rankings. This marks the fifth straight year Children’s National has made the Honor Roll list, which ranks the top 10 children’s hospitals nationwide. In addition, its neonatology program, which provides newborn intensive care, ranked No.1 among all children’s hospitals for the fifth year in a row.

For the eleventh straight year, Children’s National also ranked in all 10 specialty services, with seven specialties ranked in the top 10.

“It is always spectacular to be named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals, but this year more than ever,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National. “Every member of our organization helped us achieve this level of excellence, and they did it while sacrificing so much in order to help our country respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“When choosing a hospital for a sick child, many parents want specialized expertise, convenience and caring medical professionals,” said Ben Harder, chief of health analysis and managing editor at U.S. News. “The Best Children’s Hospitals rankings have always highlighted hospitals that excel in specialized care. As the pandemic continues to affect travel, finding high-quality care close to home has never been more important.”

The annual rankings are the most comprehensive source of quality-related information on U.S. pediatric hospitals. The rankings recognize the nation’s top 50 pediatric hospitals based on a scoring system developed by U.S. News. The top 10 scorers are awarded a distinction called the Honor Roll.

The bulk of the score for each specialty service is based on quality and outcomes data. The process includes a survey of relevant specialists across the country, who are asked to list hospitals they believe provide the best care for patients with the most complex conditions.

Below are links to the seven Children’s National specialty services that U.S. News ranked in the top 10 nationally:

The other three specialties ranked among the top 50 were cardiology and heart surgerygastroenterology and gastro-intestinal surgery, and urology.

sick child in palliative care hospital bed

How POEM may change the standard of care for pediatric achalasia

sick child in palliative care hospital bed

Today, Drs. Petrosyan and Kane have performed over 35 POEM procedures for children to resolve esophageal achalasia symptoms.

In 2016, pediatric surgeons Mikael Petrosyan, M.D., and Timothy Kane, M.D., published an article in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery reviewing their experience with the surgical treatment of achalasia and how peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM) was a new technique being used at Children’s National Hospital to treat esophageal achalasia in children.

The procedure, first used in adults to treat esophageal achalasia, uses a different approach than the current minimally invasive standard of care for children, the Heller myotomy. At the time of the initial study, the team had performed only a few POEM procedures for children but was already starting to see the promise this procedure could offer if done correctly.

While esophageal achalasia affects only about one in every 1 million kids (versus one in 100,000 for adults), the condition, which occurs when the esophagus muscles fail to function properly and the lower sphincter of the esophagus doesn’t relax enough to allow food into the stomach, can have serious impacts on daily life. The tight sphincter may cause food backup, heartburn, chest pain, and many other painful symptoms. Unfortunately, medical interventions including balloon endoscopy or Botox injections, are only temporary fixes that don’t last longer than a month or so before further treatment is needed. For kids who have long lives ahead of them, a surgical solution is the best hope for permanent symptom relief.

At the time of the 2016 study, Dr. Kane said that, “Heller myotomy works very well for most kids — that’s why it’s the standard of care. Our study found that patients who underwent the POEM procedure experienced the same successful outcomes as Heller patients, and we already knew from adult data that POEM patients reported less pain following surgery — a win-win for children.”

Today, Drs. Petrosyan, the associate chief, and Kane, the chief, of General and Thoracic Surgery at Children’s National, have performed over 35 POEM procedures for children to resolve esophageal achalasia symptoms. Increasingly, they find themselves recommending the POEM for many reasons, including, of course, the faster recovery. Kids who have a POEM procedure also often go home in one to two days following surgery and report less pain — typically a sore throat from the endoscopy and the anesthesia, but very little pain at the surgical site.

The surgeons say that the while it takes a steep learning curve to perfect the technique of using POEM in children due to the size of the available instruments to perform the procedure coupled with the challenge of a child’s tiny esophagus, the benefits for patients are well worth it.

“There’s only a single incision in the esophagus, and no incision in the abdomen,” says Dr. Petrosyan. “Kids tolerate the surgery really well, report very little pain, and recover very quickly with minimal complications.”

Even better, he continues, unlike the Heller myotomy, POEM can be performed at any point in treatment, even if other therapies or surgical interventions (including a Heller myotomy) have been previously performed. It can also be repeated if needed — though so far, they haven’t needed to do any further revisions in the population at Children’s National.

Drs. Petrosyan and Kane have performed successful POEM procedures for children with esophageal achalasia between the ages of four and 12. Younger children, (under a year of age) with smaller anatomy, continue to be treated using the Heller procedure due to the limitations in size of the surgical instruments.

Children’s National Hospital is one of the only children’s hospitals in the country to offer the option of POEM for treatment of these conditions — and Drs. Kane and Petrosyan combined perform more of these procedures than any other pediatric surgeon in the United States.

A forthcoming peer-reviewed study will highlight the use of POEM for this population and weigh its success against the current standards of care for treating children with esophageal achalasia.

In the meantime, the surgeons at Children’s National continue to offer POEM as a primary intervention for children with esophageal achalasia and are also applying the same approach for pediatric gastroparesis as well.

Shikib Mostamand

Functional GI Disorders Clinic helps patients with complex GI conditions

Shikib Mostamand

Shikib Mostamand, M.D., pediatric gastroenterologist at Children’s National Hospital, shares what makes the FGID clinic model unique.

Children’s National Hospital has started a multi-disciplinary Functional GI Disorders (FGID) Clinic to treat patients with complex gastroenterology disorders and illnesses that are unique to children. Shikib Mostamand, M.D., pediatric gastroenterologist at Children’s National shares what makes this clinic model unique.

What is the purpose of this clinic?

The purpose of this clinic is to establish a multi-disciplinary clinic to diagnose and treat functional GI Disorders (FGIDs) using a comprehensive, multi-modal approach to chronic abdominal pain and sensory predominant FGIDs (functional abdominal pain/visceral hyperalgesia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic nausea, etc.). These are complex patients with various biopsychosocial and pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying their abdominal pain.

The clinic endeavors to serve as a unified home for their care. It strives to be the ideal venue to utilize diverse primary care, subspecialty and therapeutic offerings for managing chronic abdominal pain and related FGIDs.

How will this work benefit patients?

We have adopted a multi-disciplinary approach where the pediatric gastroenterologist, GI psychologist, psychiatrist and a pain medicine specialist work together to comprehensively take care of patients and improve their quality of life. This clinic model will allow us to capture valuable data and generate research questions and data to help us better understand pediatric FGIDs and improve care. Additionally, this will minimize the number of visits patients will have to make, as they will see multiple specialties in the same visit at the same time.

How is Children’s National leading in this space? How unique is this work? 

There are only a few other institutions that provide a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach like this. These programs focus only on functional abdominal pain and not other functional GI disorders.

This model and approach to FGID is unique to Children’s National and not offered at many leading pediatric institutions. Thus, we are working towards innovating the care and creating a future standard for taking care of children with FGIDs.

common food allergens

Psychotherapeutic treatment for psychosocial concerns related to food allergy

common food allergens

Pediatric food allergy is a growing public health concern, with 8 percent of children in the United States affected. Although new treatments for food allergies are being developed, the vast majority of cases are currently managed by daily evaluation of food safety and vigilance for accidental allergen exposure and allergic reactions. This often impacts patients’ and caregivers’ quality of life and overall psychosocial functioning.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, Linda Herbert, Ph.D., and Audrey DunnGalvin, Ph.D., provide a review of mental health concerns related to food allergy. The authors present two cases in which patients received psychological services for food allergy-related anxiety. For both cases, treatment resulted in decreased anxiety and improved food allergy management/oral immunotherapy treatment engagement.

The authors also discuss unmet food allergy-related psychosocial needs, including the lack of food allergy-specific anxiety measures, psychosocial domains that warrant investigation, development of supportive interventions for patients engaging in allergen immunotherapy and the lack of adequate mental health providers with food allergy expertise.

Read the full article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

foods that cause allergies

Patients’ perspectives and needs on novel food allergy treatments

foods that cause allergies

Food allergy is a major public health concern in many countries around the world. In the United States, studies suggest that it affects up to 8% of children and 10% of adults and is responsible for an emergency room admission every three minutes. Historically, the only treatment for food allergy has been complete allergen avoidance combined with rescue medications when accidental exposures occur. Fortunately, advances in food allergy research over the past decade have yielded new treatments, but with these new treatments come new stressors.

In a recent study published in the journal Current Treatment Options in Allergy, Linda Herbert, Ph.D., and colleagues provide an overview of the current state of the literature regarding patients’ and caregivers’ food allergy experiences and needs within the United States. The authors also put forth a set of recommendations regarding how best to proceed with patient-centered development and evaluation of new food allergy treatments.

Read the full study in Current Treatment Options in Allergy.

NASPGHAN meeting logo

Children’s National Gastroenterology team presents virtually at NASPGHAN conference

NASPGHAN meeting logo

The North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) conference provides experts with an advanced understanding of the normal pediatric development and physiology of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver.

The Children’s National Hospital gastroenterology team was due to present in-person at the conference but were unable to as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead they presented educational sessions virtually to gastroenterology experts across the country. The presentations spanned a variety of topics and are listed below:

  • Trisomy 21: Not all duodenal abnormalities are Celiac Disease
  • Celiac Kids Research Consortium (CeliacKIDS)
  • Postoperative complications in pediatric IBD patients on biologic therapy undergoing intra-abdominal surgery
  • 6 week infliximab trough levels as predictor of therapeutic maintenance infliximab trough levels and patient outcomes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease characteristics in pediatric patients of South Asian origin in the United States
  • Investigating treatment response rates in pediatric inflammatory bowel disease patients after switching biologics
  • Severely elevated fecal calprotectin in a pediatric patient with persistent giardiasis
  • Persistent hypoglycemia after treatment of gestational alloimmune liver disease (GALD)

The 2021 annual conference will be held on November 4-6 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Lee Beers

Lee Beers, M.D., F.A.A.P, begins term as AAP president

Lee Beers

“The past year has been a stark reminder about the importance of partnership and working together toward common goals,” says Dr. Beers. “I am humbled and honored to be taking on this role at such a pivotal moment for the future health and safety of not only children, but the community at large.”

Lee Savio Beers, M.D., F.A.A.P., medical director of Community Health and Advocacy at the Child Health Advocacy Institute (CHAI) at Children’s National Hospital, has begun her term as president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is an organization of 67,000 pediatricians committed to the optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being for all children – from infancy to adulthood.

“The past year has been a stark reminder about the importance of partnership and working together toward common goals,” says Dr. Beers. “I am humbled and honored to be taking on this role at such a pivotal moment for the future health and safety of not only children, but the community at large.”

Dr. Beers has pledged to continue AAP’s advocacy and public policy efforts and to further enhance membership diversity and inclusion. Among her signature issues:

  • Partnering with patients, families, communities, mental health providers and pediatricians to co-design systems to bolster children’s resiliency and to alleviate growing pediatric mental health concerns.
  • Continuing to support pediatricians during the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on education, pediatric practice support, vaccine delivery systems and physician wellness.
  • Implementation of the AAP’s Equity Agenda and Year 1 Equity Workplan.

Dr. Beers is looking forward to continuing her work bringing together the diverse voices of pediatricians, children and families as well as other organizations to support improving the health of all children.

“Dr. Beers has devoted her career to helping children,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Children’s National. “She has developed a national advocacy platform for children and will be of tremendous service to children within AAP national leadership.”

Read more about Dr. Beer’s career and appointment as president of the AAP.

feeding tubes

NIH grant funds development of pediatric feeding tube placement device

feeding tubes

A new grant will help to finalize development of the Pediatric PUMA-G System, the world’s first and only ultrasound-based procedure for placing feeding tubes into the stomach.

Researchers at Children’s National Hospital have received grant funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to finalize development of the Pediatric PUMA-G System, the world’s first and only ultrasound-based procedure for placing feeding tubes into the stomach. The funding will also support the first clinical trial of this technology in pediatric patients.

“Children’s National was chosen because we have a strong record of innovating pediatric devices and surgical procedures through the Sheikh Zayed Institute and we have a busy clinical interventional radiology service,” says Karun Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., director of Interventional Radiology and associate director of clinical translation at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation (SZI) at Children’s National. “We are proud to be a part of this collaboration that will potentially help improve care of pediatric patients who cannot tolerate feeding by mouth.”

The feeding tubes are vital for children who cannot eat or swallow and require liquid nutrition (known as enteral feeding). Common feeding tube placement procedures for children may expose them to risks from invasive surgical tools or from ionizing radiation, which may lead to cancer in young patients at elevated rates. The PUMA-G System is less invasive and uses ultrasound to help physicians image the body during the procedure.

The grant, totaling $1.6M, will clinically evaluate the Pediatric PUMA-G System in collaboration with CoapTech, a biotechnology medical device company and two other premier pediatric medical centers — New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Research & Innovation Campus

Boeing gives $5 million to support Research & Innovation Campus

Research & Innovation Campus

Children’s National Hospital announced a $5 million gift from The Boeing Company that will help drive lifesaving pediatric discoveries at the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus.

Children’s National Hospital announced a $5 million gift from The Boeing Company that will help drive lifesaving pediatric discoveries at the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus. The campus, now under construction, is being developed on nearly 12 acres of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Children’s National will name the main auditorium in recognition of Boeing’s generosity.

“We are deeply grateful to Boeing for their support and commitment to improving the health and well-being of children in our community and around the globe,” said Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National “The Boeing Auditorium will help the Children’s National Research & Innovation campus become the destination for discussion about how to best address the next big healthcare challenges facing children and families.”

The one-of-a-kind pediatric hub will bring together public and private partners for unprecedented collaborations. It will accelerate the translation of breakthroughs into new treatments and technologies to benefit kids everywhere.

“Children’s National Hospital’s enduring mission of positively impacting the lives of our youngest community members is especially important today,” said Boeing President and CEO David Calhoun. “We’re honored to join other national and community partners to advance this work through the establishment of their Research & Innovation Campus.”

Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus partners currently include Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS, Virginia Tech, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Food & Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), Cerner, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, National Organization of Rare Diseases (NORD) and local government.

The 3,200 square-foot Boeing Auditorium will be the focal point of the state-of-the-art conference center on campus. Nationally renowned experts will convene with scientists, medical leaders and diplomats from around the world to foster collaborations that spur progress and disseminate findings.

Boeing’s $5 million commitment deepens its longstanding partnership with Children’s National. The company has donated nearly $2 million to support pediatric care and research at Children’s National through Chance for Life and the hospital’s annual Children’s Ball. During the coronavirus pandemic, Boeing fabricated and donated 2,000 face shields to help keep patients and frontline care providers at Children’s National safe.

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

Reoperation of anorectal malformation repair restores continence, improves quality of life

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

Dr. Levitt has performed over 10,000 surgeries to address the wide spectrum of problems involving the colon and rectum — more than any other full time practicing pediatric surgeon in the world.

Patients with a previously repaired anorectal malformation (ARM) can suffer from complications which lead to incontinence. Reoperation can improve the anatomic result, but its impact on functional outcomes has previously been unclear.

Marc Levitt, M.D., chief of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Children’s National, and Richard Wood, M.D., chief of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, co-led the study when they worked together in Columbus. They performed a retrospective cohort study, from 2014 to 2019, of patients with a previously repaired ARM who underwent another posterior sagittal anorectoplasty (PSARP) procedure, essentially redoing their first procedure. When results from the initial assessment were compared to 12 months after the redo surgery, they found that patients with fecal incontinence after an ARM repair can, with a reoperation, have their anatomy corrected, restoring continence for many and also improving their quality of life.

The study, published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, found that at one-year post-redo operation, 50 percent of the patients were on laxatives only, and 75 percent of those patients were completely continent. Overall, 77 percent of the patients were clean (1 or fewer accident per week) after their redo surgery and complication rates were low. Strictures were the most common complication seen after reoperations, as no dilations were performed, but were easily managed with a minor procedure. Surprisingly, 20 percent of patients with expected poor continence potential became fully continent on a laxative-based regimen after redo surgery. Traditionally, many of these children would not even be offered a redo surgery, given their perceived poor potential for bowel control.

The Division of Colorectal & Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Children’s National is the first in the mid-Atlantic region to fully integrate surgery, urology, gynecology and gastroenterology into one cohesive program for children. Dr. Levitt is a world-renowned surgeon who has performed over 10,000 surgeries to address the wide spectrum of problems involving the colon and rectum — more than any other full time practicing pediatric surgeon in the world.

This study shows that redo surgeries are a safe and effective option for patients with fecal incontinence after an anorectal malformation repair. The authors hope that the findings will lead to the ability to help more patients who suffer from complications and/or incontinence after a prior repaired ARM and who can benefit from an improvement in their colorectal anatomy.  After a reoperation, patients can expect to have improved quality of life because the outcome gives them more freedom and less worry about soiling accidents.

To access the full article published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery click here.

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Children’s National ranked a top 10 children’s hospital and No. 1 in newborn care nationally by U.S. News

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Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., was ranked No. 7 nationally in the U.S. News & World Report 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals annual rankings. This marks the fourth straight year Children’s National has made the list, which ranks the top 10 children’s hospitals nationwide.

In addition, its neonatology program, which provides newborn intensive care, ranked No.1 among all children’s hospitals for the fourth year in a row.

For the tenth straight year, Children’s National also ranked in all 10 specialty services, with seven specialties ranked in the top 10.

“Our number one goal is to provide the best care possible to children. Being recognized by U.S. News as one of the best hospitals reflects the strength that comes from putting children and their families first, and we are truly honored,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National Hospital.

“This year, the news is especially meaningful, because our teams — like those at hospitals across the country — faced enormous challenges and worked heroically through a global pandemic to deliver excellent care.”

“Even in the midst of a pandemic, children have healthcare needs ranging from routine vaccinations to life-saving surgery and chemotherapy,” said Ben Harder, managing editor and chief of Health Analysis at U.S. News. “The Best Children’s Hospitals rankings are designed to help parents find quality medical care for a sick child and inform families’ conversations with pediatricians.”

The annual rankings are the most comprehensive source of quality-related information on U.S. pediatric hospitals. The rankings recognize the nation’s top 50 pediatric hospitals based on a scoring system developed by U.S. News. The top 10 scorers are awarded a distinction called the Honor Roll.

The bulk of the score for each specialty service is based on quality and outcomes data. The process includes a survey of relevant specialists across the country, who are asked to list hospitals they believe provide the best care for patients with the most complex conditions.

Below are links to the seven Children’s National specialty services that U.S. News ranked in the top 10 nationally:

The other three specialties ranked among the top 50 were cardiology and heart surgery, gastroenterology and gastro-intestinal surgery, and urology.

ARM index webinar

Colorectal team presents virtual conference sessions

The 6th Annual Alex Pediatric Surgery Congress and 1st Nile of Hope Hospital Congress conference, in cooperation with Colorectal Team Overseas (CTO), provides updates in colorectal, urogenital disorders and pelvic reconstructions in pediatrics. The Children’s National Hospital colorectal team was due to present at the conference in Alexandria, Egypt, in April 2020, but due to the global COVID-19 pandemic the event was indefinitely postponed. Despite this, Marc Levitt, M.D., Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgeon at Children’s National, and Founder and Head of the CTO, presented educational sessions virtually to Egyptian surgeons throughout the month of April.

Anorectal malformation case presentation

Surgeons assemble in a virtual Zoom session for a case presentation on anorectal malformations by Marc Levitt, M.D., and the Children’s National colorectal team.

The video conferences allowed surgeons and experts to come together and foster the global collaboration that benefits colorectal teams and patients worldwide. The first session included 70 pediatric surgeons from Egypt and grew to over 128 attendees in the last session. The presentations spanned a variety of topics and can be accessed at the links below:

Joining Dr. Levitt in the discussion were members of the Children’s National colorectal nursing team, including Julie Choueiki, Program Manager, Justine Garofalo, CPNP, Meghan Mesa, Tara Garbarino, CPNP, and Katherine Worst, CPNP-AC. The integrated Children’s National colorectal team elevates the significance of the nursing role in caring for complex patients. For example, cases in the Bowel Management Program require hours of ongoing nursing care. The team demonstrated the partnership that benefits children when surgeons include and value nursing presence in the care of colorectal patients.

Moving forward, the team will bring continued virtual, telehealth collaboration and education. Doing so will expand the potential for more colorectal patients to receive the care they need.

Vittorio Gallo and Mark Batshaw

Children’s National Research Institute releases annual report

Vittorio Gallo and Marc Batshaw

Children’s National Research Institute directors Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D., and Mark Batshaw, M.D.

The Children’s National Research Institute recently released its 2019-2020 academic annual report, titled 150 Years Stronger Through Discovery and Care to mark the hospital’s 150th birthday. Not only does the annual report give an overview of the institute’s research and education efforts, but it also gives a peek in to how the institute has mobilized to address the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our inaugural research program in 1947 began with a budget of less than $10,000 for the study of polio — a pressing health problem for Washington’s children at the time and a pandemic that many of us remember from our own childhoods,” says Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D., chief research officer at Children’s National Hospital and scientific director at Children’s National Research Institute. “Today, our research portfolio has grown to more than $75 million, and our 314 research faculty and their staff are dedicated to finding answers to many of the health challenges in childhood.”

Highlights from the Children’s National Research Institute annual report

  • In 2018, Children’s National began construction of its new Research & Innovation Campus (CNRIC) on 12 acres of land transferred by the U.S. Army as part of the decommissioning of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus. In 2020, construction on the CNRIC will be complete, and in 2012, the Children’s National Research Institute will begin to transition to the campus.
  • In late 2019, a team of scientists led by Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo to collect samples from 60 individuals that will form the basis of a new reference genome data set. The researchers hope their project will generate better reference genome data for diverse populations, starting with those of Central African descent.
  • A gift of $5.7 million received by the Center for Translational Research’s director, Lisa Guay-Woodford, M.D., will reinforce close collaboration between research and clinical care to improve the care and treatment of children with polycystic kidney disease and other inherited renal disorders.
  • The Center for Neuroscience Research’s integration into the infrastructure of Children’s National Hospital has created a unique set of opportunities for scientists and clinicians to work together on pressing problems in children’s health.
  • Children’s National and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are tackling pediatric research across three main areas of mutual interest: primary immune deficiencies, food allergies and post-Lyme disease syndrome. Their shared goal is to conduct clinical and translational research that improves what we know about those conditions and how we care for children who have them.
  • An immunotherapy trial has allowed a little boy to be a kid again. In the two years since he received cellular immunotherapy, Matthew has shown no signs of a returning tumor — the longest span of time he’s been tumor-free since age 3.
  • In the past 6 years, the 104 device projects that came through the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation accelerator program raised $148,680,256 in follow-on funding.
  • Even though he’s watched more than 500 aspiring physicians pass through the Children’s National pediatric residency program, program director Dewesh Agrawal, M.D., still gets teary at every graduation.

Understanding and treating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

In a short period of time, Children’s National Research Institute has mobilized its scientists to address COVID-19, focusing on understanding the virus and advancing solutions to ameliorate the impact today and for future generations. Children’s National Research Institute Director Mark Batshaw, M.D., highlighted some of these efforts in the annual report:

  • Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research, is looking at whether or not the microbiome of bacteria in the human nasal tract acts as a defensive shield against COVID-19.
  • Catherine Bollard, M.D., MBChB, director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research, and her team are seeing if they can “train” T cells to attack the invading coronavirus.
  • Sarah Mulkey, M.D., Ph.D., an investigator in the Center for Neuroscience Research and the Fetal Medicine Institute, is studying the effects of, and possible interventions for, coronavirus on the developing brain.

You can view the entire Children’s National Research Institute academic annual report online.

Colorectal Textbook cover

Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery textbook now available

Colorectal Textbook cover

The cover of the new Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery textbook, edited by Marc A. Levitt, M.D., and Alejandra Vilanova-Sánchez, M.D.

The first edition of the Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery textbook, edited by Marc A. Levitt, M.D., and Alejandra Vilanova-Sánchez, M.D., is now available.

The textbook provides comprehensive coverage of the anatomical and physiological aspects of complex colorectal and pelvic malformations presented in a practical and clinically focused way. Some of the topics explored include surgical protocols, the benefits of high-level collaboration between surgical services when treating these anomalies, treatment algorithms and care of complications.

The book also includes content on:

  • Evaluation and management of the newborn
  • Surgical interventions of the newborn, and when a primary repair versus a staged approach is required
  • The value of laparoscopy and when to use it
  • The importance of a transition program to adulthood

The Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery, 1st edition textbook can be purchased here, and will benefit colorectal teams worldwide.

About the Editors

Marc Levitt

Marc Levitt, M.D., leads the colorectal program at Children’s National Hospital and is editor of the new Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery textbook.

Marc Levitt, M.D., currently leads the colorectal program at Children’s National Hospital, the first in the mid-Atlantic region to fully integrate surgery, urology, gynecology and gastroenterology into one cohesive program for children. He has been the driving force around the world in enhancing the care of children with colorectal and pelvic reconstructive needs through the development of specialized, integrated and collaborative surgical centers. He is internationally recognized as specializing in conditions affecting the newborn, pediatric and adolescent population affected with anorectal malformations (imperforate anus), cloacal malformations, Hirschsprung disease, as well as a variety of conditions leading to fecal incontinence, such as spinal conditions and functional constipation. Dr. Levitt has written three textbooks, and has authored over 200 scientific articles on these subjects.

Dr. Levitt is the founder of the Colorectal Team Overseas (CTO), which is a group of international providers that travel to the developing world to provide care and teaching for patients with colorectal needs. He co-founded the creation of the Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Learning Consortium (PCPLC), which is an organization of collaborating colorectal centers across the globe.

Alejandra Vilanova-Sánchez, M.D., is a pediatric surgeon in the urogenital and colorectal unit at the University Hospital La Paz, Madrid. After finishing her training, she completed a fellowship in Pelvic Reconstruction Surgery at the Center for Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Her focus was on complex colorectal and pelvic surgery involving the gynecological and urological systems. Dr. Vilanova-Sánchez is a member of the Spanish Association of Pediatric Surgeons, European Pediatric Surgical Association (EUPSA) and ARM-net. She is a frequent speaker in international meetings and she has organized several national and international meetings on the topic of pediatric colorectal care. She participates annually in surgical brigades collaborating with nonprofit organizations, Colorectal Team Overseas and Helping Hands for Anorectal Malformations International, where she helps patients with colorectal conditions around the world.

child writing question marks on chalkboard

Test your knowledge of pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery!


gluten free cupcakes

Celiac disease linked to psychosocial distress

gluten free cupcakes

A recent study found elevated rates of psychosocial distress among children with celiac disease compared to the general population.

Shayna Coburn, Ph.D., assistant professor and psychologist at Children’s National Hospital, is the lead author of a recent article on the first study to report mental health disorders (MHD) in North American children with celiac disease (CeD). The study found elevated rates of psychosocial distress among the children compared to the general population.

The study is based on electronic surveys of patients’ MHD history, psychological symptoms and experiences with the gluten-free diet (GFD) as well as follow-up visits to the Multidisciplinary Celiac Disease Clinic at Children’s National between spring 2017 and spring 2018. The survey participants included 73 parents of children ages 3 to 18 attending the clinic. The researchers calculated rates of MHD in the children and compared them to National Institute of Mental Health population-level data.

Thirty-four percent of the children had at least one MHD. Their rates of anxiety disorders (16%) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, 16%,) were more common than general population rates. More than one-quarter of parents reported current psychosocial distress in their child (28-39%), and approximately half reported their own stress (51%) and worry about the financial burden (46%) associated with the GFD – the only treatment for the disease.

The findings are detailed in an article titled “Mental Health Disorders and Psychosocial Distress in Pediatric Celiac Disease,” which appears on the website of the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. The article is scheduled to appear in the May 2020 print edition of the journal, which will be available April 24.

Coburn and her co-authors also compared the experiences of children diagnosed with CeD less than three months prior to the study with those diagnosed more than three months prior. They were surprised to find that patients’ rates of comorbid CeD and MHD didn’t differ depending on the time of diagnosis, says Coburn.

Parents of children with new CeD diagnoses were less confident in the GFD, but the timing of a CeD diagnosis did not affect the rates of MHD, stress and financial burden. Children with MHD had more anxiety, anger and overall distress as well as parents who were suffering with distress than those without MHD.

The researchers’ findings about the timing of diagnosis “seemed to indicate that perhaps there’s a chronic stress burden on families that doesn’t necessarily improve with time and might be exacerbated in children who have mental health disorders,” says Coburn, who directs psychosocial services for the hospital’s Celiac Disease Program.

Overall, the findings emphasize the importance of ongoing routine screening and treatment for psychosocial distress associated with CeD and the GFD.

The start of the study coincided with the establishment of the clinic, where Coburn and her colleagues were seeing patients with comorbid CeD and MHD. At the clinic, patients and their families are treated by a gastroenterologist as well as the clinic’s nutritionist, education team, psychologist, neurologist and neuropsychologist during an integrative multidisciplinary appointment.

Coburn notes that generally the psychosocial impact on patients with CeD has been overlooked or viewed as a minor condition. “Our work is showing that there are a lot of psychosocial vulnerabilities in children and adults with celiac disease.”

As she continues her research, Coburn sees a need “to advocate for incorporating psychological screening into routine medical treatment of patients with celiac disease. We’d like this to be part of best practices and want to develop behavioral treatments for patients so they’re succeeding with the gluten-free diet.”

“With ADHD there are problems with impulse control, which can make it extra hard to maintain a gluten-free diet,” says Coburn. The co-principal investigators want to study in-depth some of the families who participated in the earlier study to gauge how effectively they’re able to manage ADHD symptoms in order to maintain a gluten-free diet.

Coburn and Maegan Sady, a neuropsychologist at Children’s National, have received a $25,000 grant from the Lambert Family Foundation to study comorbid ADHD and CeD and how they affect a patient’s ability to adhere to the GFD.