Genetics & Rare Diseases

two balls -- one with a sad face and one with a happy face

Understanding quality of life for children with hypochondroplasia

two balls -- one with a sad face and one with a happy face

Children with hypochondroplasia have low parent-reported quality of life (QOL) scores, according to findings from researchers at Children’s National Hospital.

Children with hypochondroplasia have low parent-reported quality of life (QOL) scores, according to findings from researchers at Children’s National Hospital. The data, presented as part of a poster presentation at the Pediatric Endocrine Society (PES) annual meeting, also found older age and shorter height may further exacerbate effects on QOL.

Hypochondroplasia is a skeletal dysplasia that has an estimated prevalence of 1 in 15,000-40,000 births and is characterized by short stature and disproportionately short arms, legs, hands and feet.

Participants of the study were 13 prepubertal boys ages 3-11 and 13 prepubertal girls ages 3-10, all with height z-scores < -2.25 SD and genetically proven hypochondroplasia.

Moving the field forward

Effective medications for growth in patients with hypochondroplasia are limited. Children’s National is participating in an ongoing study of a new drug, vosoritide, used to treat children in this population and will compare pre- and post-intervention QOL scores.

How will this work benefit patients?

Understanding QOL of children with hypochondroplasia will help clinicians provide better care and support.

“Knowing how a medication affects QOL will help guide counseling about use of this medication,” says Nicole Rangos, M.D., pediatric resident at Children’s National and lead author of the study.

Dr. Rangos received the Human Growth Foundation Award for best growth-related abstract at the PES annual meeting in May 2023. The award was established in 2007 to encourage fellows training in pediatric endocrinology to pursue clinical and bench investigations that may lead to a better understanding of human growth.

 

Attendees at the inaugural symposium on AI in Pediatric Health and Rare Diseases

AI: The “single greatest tool” for improving access to pediatric healthcare

Attendees at the inaugural symposium on AI in Pediatric Health and Rare Diseases

The daylong event drew experts from the Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer, Oracle Health, NVIDIA, AWS Health and elsewhere to start building a community aimed at using data for the advancement of pediatric medicine.

The future of pediatric medicine holds the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) that can help diagnose rare diseases, provide roadmaps for safer surgeries, tap into predictive technologies to guide individual treatment plans and shrink the distance between patients in rural areas and specialty care providers.

These and dozens of other innovations were contemplated as scientists came together at the inaugural symposium on AI in Pediatric Health and Rare Diseases, hosted by Children’s National Hospital and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech. The daylong event drew experts from the Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer, Oracle Health, NVIDIA, AWS Health and elsewhere to start building a community aimed at using data for the advancement of pediatric medicine.

“AI is the single greatest tool for improving equity and access to health care,” said symposium host Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation. “As a population, kids are vastly underrepresented in scientific research and resulting treatments, but pediatric specialties can use AI to provide medical care to kids more efficiently, more quickly and more effectively.”

What they’re saying

Scientists shared their progress in building digital twins to predict surgical outcomes, enhancing visualization to increase the precision of delicate interventions, establishing data command centers to anticipate risks for fragile patients and more. Over two dozen speakers shared their vision for the future of medicine, augmented by the power of AI:

  • Keynote speaker Subha Madhavan, Ph.D., vice president and head of AI and machine learning at Pfizer, discussed various use cases and the potential to bring drugs to market faster using real-world evidence and AI. She saw promise for pediatrics. “This is probably the most engaging mission: children’s health and rare diseases,” she said. “It’s hard to find another mission that’s as compelling.”
  • Brandon J. Nelson, Ph.D., staff fellow in the Division of Imaging, Diagnostics and Software Reliability at the Food and Drug Administration, shared ways AI will improve diagnostic imaging and reduce radiation exposure to patients, using more advanced image reconstruction and denoising techniques. “That is really our key take-home message,” he said. “We can get what … appear as higher dose images, but with less dose.”
  • Daniel Donoho, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Children’s National, introduced the audience to the potential of “Smart ORs”: operating rooms where systems can ingest surgery video and provide feedback and skill assessments. “We have to transform the art of surgery into a measurable and improvable scientific practice,” he said.
  • Debra Regier, M.D., chief of Genetics and Metabolism at Children’s National, discussed how AI could be used to diagnose and treat rare diseases by conducting deep dives into genetics and studying dysmorphisms in patients’ faces. Already, Children’s National has designed an app – mGene – that measures facial features and provides a risk score to help anyone in general practice determine if a child has a genetic condition. “The untrained eye can stay the untrained eye, and the family can continue to have faith in their provider,” she said.

What’s next

Linguraru and others stressed the need to design AI for kids, rather than borrow it from adults, to ensure medicine meets their unique needs. He noted that scientists will need to solve challenges, such as the lack of data inherent in rare pediatric disorders and the simple fact that children grow. “Children are not mini-adults,” Linguraru said. “There are big changes in a child’s life.”

The landscape will require thoughtfulness. Naren Ramakrishnan, Ph.D., director of the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence & Analytics at Virginia Tech and symposium co-host, said that scientists are heading into an era with a new incarnation of public-private partnerships, but many questions remain about how data will be shared and organizations will connect. “It is not going to be business as usual, but what is this new business?” he asked.

DNA molecule

New genetic cause of overgrowth syndrome caused by SPIN4 variant

DNA molecule

A researcher at Children’s National Hospital identified a new genetic cause of overgrowth syndrome in Spindlin Family Member 4 (SPIN4), an epigenetic reader, in which a loss-of-function variant in SPIN4 causes a prenatal onset of extreme tall stature in a male individual, inherited in an X-linked semi-dominant fashion.

Overgrowth syndrome is a rare genetic childhood disorder commonly caused by pathogenic genetic variants in epigenetic writers, such as DNA or histone methyltransferases. A researcher at Children’s National Hospital identified a new genetic cause of overgrowth syndrome in Spindlin Family Member 4 (SPIN4), an epigenetic reader, in which a loss-of-function variant in SPIN4 causes a prenatal onset of extreme tall stature in a male individual, inherited in an X-linked semi-dominant fashion.

The study, published in JCI Insight, reported Spin4 knockout pre-clinical models recapitulating human phenotype and found evidence that SPIN4 normally binds specific modified histone peptides, promotes canonical WNT signaling and inhibits cell proliferation in vitro and that the identified frameshift variant lost all of these functions.

How does this work move the field forward?

“These findings prove that SPIN4 negatively regulates mammalian body growth, and loss of SPIN4 causes an overgrowth syndrome in humans and pre-clinical models, expanding our knowledge of the epigenetic regulation of human growth and development,” says Youn Hee Jee, M.D., endocrinologist at Children’s National and co-senior author of the study.

What did you find that excites you?

SPIN4 is the first epigenetic reader gene identified to cause overgrowth syndrome in humans.

“Understanding the full characteristics of the phenotype caused by SPIN4 variants will greatly advance our knowledge in epigenetic regulation of childhood growth and SPIN4-associated disorders,” Dr. Jee says.

How is Children’s National leading in this space?

Dr. Jee is leading a follow-up translational study to dissect the precise underlying pathobiology of overgrowth syndrome due to SPIN4 mutations. Using the knowledge, the ultimate goal of her work is to develop novel interventional approaches to treat childhood growth disorders.

U.S. News Badges

Children’s National Hospital ranked #5 in the nation on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll

U.S. News BadgesChildren’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., was ranked #5 in the nation on the U.S. News & World Report 2023-24 Best Children’s Hospitals annual rankings. This marks the seventh straight year Children’s National has made the Honor Roll list. The Honor Roll is a distinction awarded to only 10 children’s hospitals nationwide.

For the thirteenth straight year, Children’s National also ranked in all 10 specialty services, with eight specialties ranked in the top 10 nationally. In addition, the hospital was ranked best in the Mid-Atlantic for neonatology, cancer, neurology and neurosurgery.

“Even from a team that is now a fixture on the list of the very best children’s hospitals in the nation, these results are phenomenal,” said Kurt Newman, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Children’s National. “It takes a ton of dedication and sacrifice to provide the best care anywhere and I could not be prouder of the team. Their commitment to excellence is in their DNA and will continue long after I retire as CEO later this month.”

“Congratulations to the entire Children’s National team on these truly incredible results. They leave me further humbled by the opportunity to lead this exceptional organization and contribute to its continued success,” said Michelle Riley-Brown, MHA, FACHE, who becomes the new president and CEO of Children’s National on July 1. “I am deeply committed to fostering a culture of collaboration, empowering our talented teams and charting a bold path forward to provide best in class pediatric care. Our focus will always remain on the kids.”

“I am incredibly proud of Kurt and the entire team. These rankings help families know that when they come to Children’s National, they’re receiving the best care available in the country,” said Horacio Rozanski, chair of the board of directors of Children’s National. “I’m confident that the organization’s next leader, Michelle Riley-Brown, will continue to ensure Children’s National is always a destination for excellent care.”

The annual rankings are the most comprehensive source of quality-related information on U.S. pediatric hospitals and recognizes the nation’s top 50 pediatric hospitals based on a scoring system developed by U.S. News.

“For 17 years, U.S. News has provided information to help parents of sick children and their doctors find the best children’s hospital to treat their illness or condition,” said Ben Harder, chief of health analysis and managing editor at U.S. News. “Children’s hospitals that are on the Honor Roll transcend in providing exceptional specialized care.”

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.

The eight Children’s National specialty services that U.S. News ranked in the top 10 nationally are:

The other two specialties ranked among the top 50 were cardiology and heart surgery, and urology.

Germ cell tumor of testicle under microscopy

New research: Genes that drive testicular cancer identified

In the largest sequencing study to date on testicular cancer, researchers at Children’s National Hospital have identified genes that contribute to testicular germ cell tumors (TGCT), the most common cancer among young, white men.

The findings, published in European Urology, provide direction for future screening and treatment of this disease, which can strike during the teen years and often runs in families. While treatable when identified early, testicular cancer leads to infertility, mental health issues and sometimes death, making its identification crucial for young adults.

“Testicular cancer is really a young person’s disease,” said Louisa Pyle, M.D., Ph.D. , a pediatrician, medical geneticist and research geneticist at the Children’s National Rare Disease Institute. “Most folks who have testicular cancer are between the ages of 15 and 45. Even though testicular cancer is relatively rare in the cancer world, it results in the greatest number of years lost among all adult cancers.”

What we hope to discover

Dr. Pyle led a research team that included experts at the National Cancer Institute and the University of Pennsylvania to study families with multiple members diagnosed with testicular cancer. They used whole exome sequencing to identify variants in many genes that predisposed patients to TGCT. Their work suggests that multiple variants – inherited together – increased the risk for the disease and provides potential routes for drugs that could be used for prevention and treatment.

“We found many genes that help us understand how testicular cancer happens,” Dr. Pyle said. “Our hope is that we can use that to try to come up with better treatments or better ways to preserve fertility for people with testicular cancer or gonadal differences.”

The patient benefit

Testicular cancer most often strikes men of European ancestry. It is also more common among intersex patients and those with differences in sex development, which is a clinical and research focus for Dr. Pyle. Medically, these are children who have a change in the biological characteristics of sex, including their chromosomes, hormones, gonads or physical body parts.

By studying a more common version of testicular cancer, the team learned about the underlying genetics in a way that will benefit intersex patients.

“One of the things we do in medicine is study a common version of the rare thing,” Dr. Pyle said.  “Through this research, we learned that the same genes that cause intersex traits in some patients are also changed in subtle ways for people with testicular cancer. This is a way to study something that could improve care for those kids, by studying a group that has greater numbers.”

Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus

Research campus joins Global Network of Innovation Districts

Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus

At the RIC’s 12-acre campus in Northwest Washington, D.C., experts from Children’s National work alongside public and private partners in industry, universities, federal agencies, start-up companies and academic medical centers to find solutions to some of science’s most vexing challenges.

The Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus (RIC) has become the first science ecosystem dedicated to pediatric health to join a network of over three dozen innovation districts worldwide that integrate research space with sustainable communities to create models for urban work and living.

Known as the Global Network of Innovation Districts (GNID), the community was conceived to unlock the design of campuses like the RIC to create collaborations among highly trained professionals. At the RIC’s 12-acre campus in Northwest Washington, D.C., experts from Children’s National work alongside public and private partners in industry, universities, federal agencies, start-up companies and academic medical centers to find solutions to some of science’s most vexing challenges. The campus is surrounded by mass transit, open spaces, retail and housing, and it’s built on deep historic roots in the city as the former home of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Kerstin Hildebrandt, vice president of research administration at the Children’s National Research Institute, said the team at the Research & Innovation Campus is excited to maximize its potential by joining this global network of economic drivers that are enhancing their communities and cities.

“We look forward to sharing our best practices, and we want to learn about how our national and international colleagues are tackling complex issues,” she said. “For example, we can learn how others are leveraging their assets to improve their communities and their response to health crises, climate change and other significant challenges.”

The GNID was launched in March of last year by The Global Institute on Innovation Districts (GIID), an international nonprofit focused on the advancement of innovation districts. With an initial group of 23 districts. GIID is now expanding the network to include approximately 20 additional districts that extend across Europe, North America, Latin America, Australia and Asia.

GIID’s Founder Julie Wagner said innovation districts have become a worldwide phenomenon. She said their leaders are recognizing that working and collaborating with their peers — from Melbourne to Medellin — is a powerful strategy to help these complex geographies leverage their assets in new ways.

“We are finding that innovation districts are willing to execute impactful strategies after holding highly curated exchanges with their peers,” Wagner said. “These are the places armed to solve some of the world’s most vexing challenges. From where I sit, we all need to give them as many tools as possible to help them get there.”

RNA molecule

New deep learning system helps scientists edit RNA

RNA molecule

The Children’s National team built DeepCas13 on a newer and less studied CRISPR platform, called CRISPR-Cas13d, which instead focuses on RNA.

Children’s National Hospital scientists have created a revolutionary machine-learning system that predicts the effects of changing ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules using a gene-editing tool built on CRISPR technology.

Called DeepCas13, the system is among the world’s first deep-learning frameworks to recognize the challenges of editing RNA – and then applying data science and machine learning to solve the intricate problems that stem from modifying biological code. Details of the DeepCas13 system were published recently in Nature Communications.

Born from an international collaboration, DeepCas13 could provide the backbone for treatments for diseases based on errors in RNA, including debilitating neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease and muscular dystrophy.

“I am an optimistic person, so I expect to have treatments within five to 10 years,” said Wei Li, Ph.D., principal investigator at the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National. “Of course, there are going to be lots of obstacles. If we have a very good system, like DeepCas13, with very good performance that can generate treatments, the next problem is how we deliver the system to the right tissue in the patients.”

The big picture

Most research in this space has focused on a version of CRISPR – or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats – that edits DNA, called CRISPR-Cas9. The Children’s National team built DeepCas13 on a newer and less studied CRISPR platform, called CRISPR-Cas13d, which instead focuses on RNA. In doing so, researchers are opening the door to treating a host of disorders of RNA, given its biological role in coding, decoding, regulating and supporting gene expression.

DeepCas13 combines hundreds of thousands of data points with considerable computing power to help scientists target errant pieces of RNA, while minimizing any off-target changes that could damage the health of cells.

“We only want to target the RNA molecule that is causing diseases, and we don’t want the system to edit normal RNA,” said Xiaolong Cheng, Ph.D., a member of the Li lab and the first author of the study. “With DeepCas13, we can design highly efficient, and highly specific, rules.”

What’s ahead

The FDA has approved one method for delivering RNA treatments to cells, using a virus known as AAV or adeno-associated virus. So far, the gene therapy method has had limited applications. But Li and other researchers see the potential for life-changing treatments in the coming years, built on DeepCas13 and other advances.

The system was developed with partners from around the world, including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Northeastern University in Shenyang, China. It is open source and available for free to researchers looking for targets to treat RNA-related diseases.

Li says this international partnership is leading the way: “We tested our DeepCas13 model over other methods, and we confirmed that our method has the highest prediction accuracy.”

DeepCas13 was funded by grants from NIH and the Children’s National Research Institute.

illustration of cancer cell with target on it

Cancer Genetics Program growth: Q&A with Joyce Turner, M.S., C.G.C.

illustration of cancer cell with target on it

The Children’s National Cancer Genetics Program has witnessed a 57% increase in total number of patients seen in the past 4 years.

The Children’s National Cancer Genetics Program, established to identify individuals with a greater likelihood for certain types of cancer and provide early detection and treatment, has seen immense growth in the past few years. Joyce Turner, M.S., C.G.C., director of the Cancer Genetics Program, shares insights on the program and her vision for what’s next.

Q: How would you describe the recent growth of the program?

A: We’re extremely proud of the growth in the Cancer Genetics Program! Our program has witnessed a 57% increase in terms of the total number of patients seen (both new patients and patients seen for follow-up) in the past 4 years. A portion of this growth may be related to the COVID-19 pandemic as we were able to continue seeing patients in the comfort of their home. Our team has also expanded with the addition of a nurse coordinator in 2022.

Q: How does the work in this program benefit patients?

A: If we’re able to find a change, also known as a mutation, in a gene that explains a patient’s cancer diagnosis, we can support the care team with a better plan for how to screen the child moving forward. Since different genes can put patients at risk for specific types of cancers, knowing which gene mutation is present allows us to put a certain set of screening guidelines in place for long-term medical management.

Our goal with regular surveillance is to identify a tumor prior to becoming symptomatic when treatment is optimal for the patient and suffering is minimized. If we can identify a gene mutation in a patient, we can also test family members for the known gene change, so that they can benefit from screening as well if need be. After all, gene mutations can run in families. This also allows our team to share information with the patient’s family about the chance of recurrence in another child.

Q: What are you looking forward to in the future regarding advancements in the field of cancer genetics?

A: I am most looking forward to the newer technologies that will become the standard of care in the future.

Right now, we predominantly look at the ‘coding’ portions of our DNA, which are known as the exons. We are just beginning to learn about what lies within the introns, the genetic information between our exons, and we are finding that these regions are more important than we originally thought. RNA sequencing allows us to take a closer look at the effects of genetic changes within the introns. Right now, this technology is available on a limited basis from certain labs and for only a fraction of genes, but I see this becoming part of standard genetic testing in the near future.

Additionally, paired germline/somatic tumor testing (which looks for changes in cancer genes with which one is born and alterations in cancer genes within a tumor) has primarily been available in recent years on a research basis. However, the benefit of this technology is becoming more appreciated as it begins to move into mainstream practice. We have had to prove its feasibility and show that this type of testing can be performed in a timely manner. In doing so, this technology allows us to potentially determine the cause of a cancer, how to personalize one’s chemotherapeutic treatment based on molecular changes in the tumor and what we need to consider for screening purposes long-term. This type of genetic testing allows us to optimize overall patient treatment from the start. It’s an exciting time to be working in this field!

illustration of a brain

Inducing strokes in newborns to treat hemimegalencephaly

“The number one thing people are perplexed by is how well these babies recover and how they can only live with half a brain,” said Tayyba Anwar, M.D., neonatal neurologist and co-director of the Hemimegalencephaly Program at Children’s National Hospital. “People think if a child has half a brain that’s damaged or dysplastic, how are they functioning? But babies are so resilient. It still amazes me.”

The big picture

Children’s National experts have pioneered a novel approach of inducing strokes to stop seizures and improve neurodevelopmental outcomes in newborns under three months old with hemimegalencephaly (HME).

The procedure, called an endovascular embolic hemispherectomy, can be safely used to provide definitive treatment of HME-related epilepsy in neonates and young infants, according to a study in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery.

Prior to this approach, the standard treatment was an anatomic hemispherectomy — surgical removal of the affected half of the brain. But infants had to be at least three months old to undergo such a complex surgery. Delaying surgery meant the persistent seizures compromised the development of the healthy half of the brain.

What they’re saying

In this video, Dr. Anwar and Panagiotis Kratimenos, M.D., Ph.D., neonatologist and co-director of Research in Neonatology at Children’s National, discuss the critically important neonatal care provided to babies who undergo endovascular embolic hemispherectomy and how protocols have evolved with each case to make this less invasive approach a feasible early alternative to surgical hemispherectomy.

Drs. Anwar and Kratimenos are part of the multidisciplinary team of neonatal neurologists, neurointerventional radiologistsneonatologists and neurosurgeons performing endovascular hemispherectomies.

photo of muscle collagen

New model to treat Becker Muscular Dystrophy

Researchers at Children’s National Hospital have developed a pre-clinical model to test drugs and therapies for Becker Muscular Dystrophy (BMD), a debilitating neuromuscular disease that is growing in numbers and lacks treatment options.

Their work – recently published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle – provides scientists with a much-needed method to identify, develop and de-risk drugs for patients with BMD.

“The impact of having a model to test pharmaceutical options cannot be overstated,” said Alyson Fiorillo, Ph.D., principal investigator at the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National. “We have patients coming up to us at conferences offering muscle biopsies – on the spot – because they are so excited and relieved that treatments can be investigated.”

Caused by mutations in a gene that produces a protein called dystrophin, Becker is part of a collection of disorders known as muscular dystrophies that cause a progressive loss of muscle strength and increasing disability, starting in childhood. The FDA has approved four drugs to help mitigate the impact of the most common and severe subtype, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). In some cases, these drugs convert the Duchenne form of the disease into Becker, which is less severe but still greatly affects quality of life.

As a result, the population of BMD patients is growing, but patients lack treatments for this incredibly impactful disorder. Currently, the FDA has not approved any drugs for BMD. Only two drugs are in clinical trials, compared to 30 trials underway for DMD.

To address this, Children’s National researchers used CRISPR gene editing to create the first preclinical model of X-linked BMD, called the bmx model. This novel advancement will help researchers better understand BMD and eventually create the first drugs for BMD patients.

“Patients with Becker need therapeutic treatments, and we are excited to start working with the model to someday provide options,” said Christopher Heier, Ph.D., principal investigator at the Center for Genetic Medicine Research and co-author of the study. “Most patients with Becker eventually develop cardiomyopathy, and roughly half die from it. This model is the first step on a path to change that and other heartbreaking outcomes from this genetic disorder.”


blood cells

Half-matched cells – not identical – can help patients live longer, study finds

blood cells

Severe aplastic anemia (SAA) is a rare but serious blood disorder. Children and adults with SAA get very sick with low blood counts, infections or bleeding.

A new study, published in The Lancet Haematology, finds that patients of all races and ethnicities can get successful transplants for severe aplastic anemia (SAA) through haploidentical, or half-matched, bone marrow transplantation (BMT).

The big picture

SAA is a rare but serious blood disorder. Children and adults with SAA get very sick with low blood counts, infections or bleeding.

Relapsed SAA is a marrow failure disorder with high morbidity and mortality. Although this is often treated with BMT at relapse post-immunosuppressive therapy, historically under-represented minorities often struggle finding a suitably matched donor.

“If SAA does not respond to the first choice of therapy or comes back after a period of health, then we call this relapsed and refractory SAA,” says Blachy J. Dávila Saldaña, M.D., Blood and Marrow Transplant Specialist at Children’s National Hospital and corresponding author of the study. “BMT is the only cure for relapsed and refractory SAA.”

Moving the field forward

Many diagnosed patients do not have a fully matched donor to have a successful BMT. However, the study’s findings show that a haploidentical BMT from a family member can help people live longer.

“This especially helps people who are American Indian or Alaska native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander, more than one race or Hispanic,” Dr. Dávila adds. “It’s easier for people in these communities to find a related half-matched than a fully matched unrelated BMT donor.”

The patient benefit

Haploidentical BMT will greatly expand the ability of experts to safely treat patients of non-Caucasian ancestry that suffer from this condition.

“The half-matched transplant is becoming more standard and as safe as those with a fully matched donor,” Dr. Dávila says.

Children’s National was one of a handful of pediatric hospitals in the United States to participate in this open trial. Our experts will now provide the framework to expand these services to pediatric patients across the world.

Abstract Happy 2022 New Year greeting card with light bulb

The best of 2022 from Innovation District

Abstract Happy 2022 New Year greeting card with light bulbA clinical trial testing a new drug to increase growth in children with short stature. The first ever high-intensity focused ultrasound procedure on a pediatric patient with neurofibromatosis. A low dose gene therapy vector that restores the ability of injured muscle fibers to repair. These were among the most popular articles we published on Innovation District in 2022. Read on for our full top 10 list.

1. Vosoritide shows promise for children with certain genetic growth disorders

Preliminary results from a phase II clinical trial at Children’s National Hospital showed that a new drug, vosoritide, can increase growth in children with certain growth disorders. This was the first clinical trial in the world testing vosoritide in children with certain genetic causes of short stature.
(2 min. read)

2. Children’s National uses HIFU to perform first ever non-invasive brain tumor procedure

Children’s National Hospital successfully performed the first ever high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) non-invasive procedure on a pediatric patient with neurofibromatosis. This was the youngest patient to undergo HIFU treatment in the world.
(3 min. read)

3. Gene therapy offers potential long-term treatment for limb-girdle muscular dystrophy 2B

Using a single injection of a low dose gene therapy vector, researchers at Children’s National restored the ability of injured muscle fibers to repair in a way that reduced muscle degeneration and enhanced the functioning of the diseased muscle.
(3 min. read)

4. Catherine Bollard, M.D., M.B.Ch.B., selected to lead global Cancer Grand Challenges team

A world-class team of researchers co-led by Catherine Bollard, M.D., M.B.Ch.B., director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at Children’s National, was selected to receive a $25m Cancer Grand Challenges award to tackle solid tumors in children.
(4 min. read)

5. New telehealth command center redefines hospital care

Children’s National opened a new telehealth command center that uses cutting-edge technology to keep continuous watch over children with critical heart disease. The center offers improved collaborative communication to better help predict and prevent major events, like cardiac arrest.
(2 min. read)

6. Monika Goyal, M.D., recognized as the first endowed chair of Women in Science and Health

Children’s National named Monika Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., associate chief of Emergency Medicine, as the first endowed chair of Women in Science and Health (WISH) for her outstanding contributions in biomedical research.
(2 min. read)

7. Brain tumor team performs first ever LIFU procedure on pediatric DIPG patient

A team at Children’s National performed the first treatment with sonodynamic therapy utilizing low intensity focused ultrasound (LIFU) and 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) medication on a pediatric patient. The treatment was done noninvasively through an intact skull.
(3 min. read)

8. COVID-19’s impact on pregnant women and their babies

In an editorial, Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., M.S., provided a comprehensive review of what is known about the harmful effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection in pregnant women themselves, the effects on their newborns, the negative impact on the placenta and what still is unknown amid the rapidly evolving field.
(2 min. read)

9. Staged surgical hybrid strategy changes outcome for baby born with HLHS

Doctors at Children’s National used a staged, hybrid cardiac surgical strategy to care for a patient who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) at 28-weeks-old. Hybrid heart procedures blend traditional surgery and a minimally invasive interventional, or catheter-based, procedure.
(4 min. read)

10. 2022: Pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery today

In a review article in Seminars in Pediatric Surgery, Marc Levitt, M.D., chief of the Division of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Children’s National, discussed the history of pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery and described the key advances that have improved patients’ lives.
(11 min. read)

RFP collage of logos

Healthcare leaders join to advance pediatric innovation

RFP collage of logosChildren’s National Hospital and the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation (NCC-PDI) have opened a request for proposal to solicit companies interested in obtaining pediatric labeling for medical devices that may address an unmet need in the pediatric population and that already have clearance or approval for adult use by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The objective of this program is to generate the real-world evidence (RWE) needed to facilitate the pediatric regulatory pathway for U.S. market clearance. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. EST on Feb. 9. To learn more and apply, visit http://www.innovate4kids.org.

Instead of assessing medical devices based on data derived from clinical trials, this pioneering initiative is focused on leveraging real-world data (RWD) that can be translated into RWE to gain FDA clearance or approval for use with children.

Convening a coalition of healthcare leaders

The new partnership aims to address the significant gap that exists between devices labeled for adults and children. Additional coalition partners include:

  • CobiCure
  • MedStar Health Research Institute
  • Center for Technology Innovation in Pediatrics (CTIP)
  • UCSF-Stanford Pediatric Device Consortium
  • Pennsylvania Pediatric Device Consortium
  • Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium

Funded by the FDA and facilitated through NCC-PDI and the Office of Innovation Ventures at Children’s National, this program will provide winning companies with technical expertise, including but not limited to regulatory, study design and data science services.

“We are delighted to partner with this coalition of trusted healthcare leaders that share our vision for advancing pediatric health. We know all too well that pediatric device development presents several unique challenges and that children have medical device needs that are considerably different from adults,” says 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. “There are already a number of medical devices on the market that have been FDA cleared or approved and proven viable, and this partnership will help provide important evidence generation and other wraparound services to guide device creators through the regulatory path for pediatric labeling.”

Using RWE to facilitate the regulatory pathway

While Randomized Clinical Trials (RCT) have traditionally been the gold standard when investigating a medical product’s efficacy and safety, many important populations, including children, are excluded from RCTs for ethical reasons. This means that pediatric researchers must make safety and efficacy decisions in the absence of data from such trials. RWE, including data from electronic health records (EHRs), healthcare claims data, disease registries and data gathered through other health applications, can close this gap in pediatric studies. She said that MedStar Health’s capabilities in applying RWE will be a formidable asset to the chosen applicants.

Proposals for companies seeking pediatric labeling for their medical device will be reviewed by an esteemed panel of judges specializing in data science, medical device development, evidence generation, post-market surveillance and the FDA’s regulatory pathway. Children’s National and members of the coalition will provide selected companies with technical expertise in support of their effort to achieve pediatric labeling. This will include:

  • Access to mentors
  • A design study protocol implementing RWE generation best practices
  • Facilitation of IRB submission and study implementation
  • Data science support
  • Regulatory, reimbursement and supply chain consultation

About NCC-PDI

NCC-PDI is one of five consortia in the FDA’s Pediatric Device Consortia Grant Program created to support the development and commercialization of medical devices for children. NCC-PDI is led by the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, with support from partners MedTech Innovator and design firm Archimedic.

DNA strands

Whole genome sequencing solves precocious puberty case

DNA strands

By conducting whole-genome sequencing, doctors were able to discover the cause of a patient’s severe precocious puberty.

A true medical anomaly — a patient with severe precocious puberty starting in infancy later developed bilateral testicular tumors. Despite extensive testing at multiple other hospitals, no one had been able to understand the underlying cause of his precocious puberty. That is until now, through a study led by Andrew Dauber, M.D., M.M.Sc., chief of Endocrinology at Children’s National Hospital.

The hold-up in the field

Before receiving care at Children’s National, the patient’s diagnostic workup was limited by genetic testing modalities and the ability to enroll him in an innovative research protocol.

Moving the field forward

“We were able to enroll the patient in a research protocol that allowed them to sequence his whole genome,” says Dr. Dauber. “Both in a DNA sample from his blood as well as in a sample from one of his testicular tumors, which was being removed surgically.”

Dr. Dauber then performed an analysis of the genome data and found that the patient had a mutation in the luteinizing hormone receptor (LHR), which was present in the testicle but not in his blood. This is called a somatic mutation. The LHR receives the signal from the pituitary gland, which tells the testicle to make testosterone. In this case, the LHR is always turned on, which makes him develop Leydig cell tumors in his testes, overproducing testosterone, causing him to have very early puberty.

By conducting whole-genome sequencing of the tumor and blood samples, the patient was confirmed to have bilateral, diffuse Leydig cell tumors harboring the somatic gain-of-function p.Asp578His variant in the LHCGR gene.

This mutation had been identified before in patients with isolated tumors but never in someone with diffuse bilateral tumors.

The patient benefit

By using cutting-edge genomic approaches, medical providers can identify unknown causes of endocrine disorders. It also stresses the importance of the clinical team working with translational researchers to determine answers for patients.

“With a more definitive diagnosis and understanding of what these tumors are, researchers can better counsel the family about the treatment options,” says Dr. Dauber. Other members of the Children’s National team that contributed to this work include Seth Berger, M.D., Ph.D.; Daniel Casella, M.D.; and Emmanuèle C Délot, Ph.D.

You can read the full study, Precocious Puberty in a Boy With Bilateral Leydig Cell Tumors due to a Somatic Gain-of-Function LHCGR Variant, in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Robert J. Freishtat

Robert Freishtat, M.D., M.P.H., named as Connor Family Professor in Research and Innovation

Robert J. Freishtat

“The Connor Family Professorship will allow my team to act rapidly upon potential transformative discoveries for children’s health” said Dr. Freishtat. “There is no greater honor than to carry the Connor family name as we follow in Dr. Edward Connor’s footsteps to drive breakthroughs that will benefit all children. I am eternally grateful for their support.”

Children’s National Hospital named Robert Freishtat, M.D., M.P.H., as the first Connor Family Professor in Research and Innovation at Children’s National Hospital.

Dr. Freishtat serves as Chief Biotechnology Officer and Senior Investigator, Center for Genetic Medicine Research in the Children’s National Research Institute. He is also a Professor with Tenure in Pediatrics, Emergency Medicine, Genomics and Precision Medicine at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

About the award

Dr. Freishtat joins a distinguished group of 42 Children’s National physicians and scientists who hold an endowed chair. Professorships at Children’s National support groundbreaking work on behalf of children and their families and foster new discoveries and innovations in pediatric medicine. These appointments carry prestige and honor that reflect the recipient’s achievements and donor’s forethought to advance and sustain knowledge.

Dr. Freishtat is an internationally recognized translational researcher. He is the principal investigator for multiple international collaboratives studying intercellular communication in organ injury/repair. He has authored or co-authored more than 140 articles and book chapters in the fields of lung injury, asthma, obesity, exosomes and emergency medicine.

In 2020, Dr. Freishtat founded the Office of Biotechnology at Children’s National to fast-track novel ideas and forge industry partnerships so solutions can reach patients sooner.

“The Connor Family Professorship will allow my team to act rapidly upon potential transformative discoveries for children’s health” said Dr. Freishtat. “There is no greater honor than to carry the Connor family name as we follow in Dr. Edward Connor’s footsteps to drive breakthroughs that will benefit all children. I am eternally grateful for their support.”

The Connor family, through their vision and generosity, are ensuring that Dr. Freishtat and future holders of this professorship will launch bold, new initiatives to rapidly advance the field of pediatric research and innovation, elevate our leadership and improve the lifetimes of children.

About the donors

Dr. and Mrs. Connor are longtime donors and members of the Children’s National community. Dr. Connor previously served as Director of the Office of Innovation Development and a member of the executive team at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. His institutional involvement continues through service, formerly as a board member for the Children’s National Research Institute and more recently as a member of the Research, Education, and Innovation Advisory Board. Mrs. Connor, a clinical microbiologist and educator, has worked throughout her career creating a legacy of young people in science.

“We strongly believe in the power of academic entrepreneurship to improve the health and wellbeing of children. This endowment is our way of supporting Children’s National’s work in research and innovation and recognizing Dr. Freishtat’s leadership as an outstanding physician-scientist and role model in clinical and translational pediatrics.”

 

Marshall and Karen Summar

Marshall Summar, M.D., receives Lifetime Achievement Award for rare disease work

Marshall Summar

For making strides to improve the lives of the rare disease community, the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD®) recognized Marshall Summar, M.D., with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

For making strides to improve the lives of the rare disease community, the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD®) recognized Marshall Summar, M.D., chief of the Division of Genetics and Metabolism and the director of the Rare Disease Institute at Children’s National Hospital, with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

This award honors individuals for outstanding career-long achievement on behalf of the rare disease community and commitment to improving the lives of those affected by rare diseases. It has been presented only a few times over NORD’s nearly 40-year history, most recently to former NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in 2015 and to clinician and researcher Robert Campbell, M.D., of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2018.

“I am honored to receive this award from NORD. It is so special to be recognized by the leading rare disease organization. This award comes from the work of so many people over the years, particularly our great team at Children’s National,” said Dr. Summar. “This acknowledgement of what we have done to date just gets me more excited about the future!”

Dr. Summar developed and launched the world’s first Rare Disease Institute at Children’s National in 2017, which is now located on the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, a first-of-its-kind pediatric research and innovation hub in Washington, D.C.

The institute, which includes the largest clinical group of pediatric geneticists in the nation, focuses on developing the clinical care field of the more than 8,000 rare diseases currently recognized and advancing the best possible treatments for children with these diseases.

Marshall and Karen Summar

Marshall and Karen Summar.

“Dr. Summar’s passion for serving patients is at the core of everything he does,” said Debra Regier, M.D., medical director of the Rare Disease Institute. “His mentorship for the next generation of medical and biochemical geneticists has become his legacy.”

The work Dr. Summar has done over the course of his career has resulted in new drugs in FDA trials for patients with congenital heart disease and premature birth. He also holds more than 60 patents and has published more than 160 peer-reviewed research studies.

“Beginning with his work as a clinician in the 1980s, Dr. Marshall Summar has spent a career forging partnerships, advocating at the highest level and developing new ways to treat rare disease patients,” said Peter L. Saltonstall, president and CEO of NORD.

“Dr. Summar served on the NORD Board of Directors for nine years, including six years as Chairman, and so we at NORD have been lucky enough to have years of firsthand experience with his leadership, community-building and innovation efforts in the rare disease field. This award is a recognition and appreciation for sustained excellence, including critical work with organizations such as the American College of Medical Genetics, the National Institutes of Health, NORD, and the Rare Disease Institute at Children’s National. For decades of commitment to families and organizations combating rare diseases, NORD is thrilled to present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Marshall Summar at the 2022 Rare Impact Awards,” Saltonstall added.

Learn more about the Rare Disease Institute at Children’s National.

DNA

New research on genetic evaluation of short stature, discussed by Andrew Dauber, M.D., M.M.Sc.

DNA

In this study, the authors at Shanghai Children’s Medical Center utilized next-generation sequencing (NGS) to analyze the data of patients with short stature to better understand the etiologies of short stature.

Andrew Dauber, M.D., M.M.Sc., division chief of Endocrinology at Children’s National Hospital, shared expert commentary on a recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism that explores associated risk factors of short stature as identified by exome sequencing in children.

In this study, the authors at Shanghai Children’s Medical Center utilized next-generation sequencing (NGS) to analyze the data of patients with short stature to better understand the etiologies of short stature.

The big picture

“This was a large-scale study looking at 814 children with short stature and at least one more clinical feature suggestive of a genetic condition who underwent comprehensive genetic testing at Shanghai Children’s Medical Center,” explains Dr. Dauber. In this study, the authors identified a potential genetic etiology in 361 of the patients, which is 44% of the cohort.

“It is important to note that the yield of genetic testing was highly variable depending on the clinical presentation of the child,” said Dr. Dauber. “For example, patients with associated congenital anomalies or a suspected skeletal dysplasia had a diagnostic yield of 56% and 65% respectively, while patients with isolated severe short stature (defined as a height below -3 SDS) only had a yield of 11%.”

Dr. Dauber noted that the overall high yield is reflective of the types of patients who are referred to this specialty center, and the expected yield in a more general pediatric setting is likely much lower.

The patient benefit

“This study helps shed light on the prevalence of those patients in a large cohort of children presenting for evaluation of short stature,” shared Dr. Dauber. “I am hopeful that targeted treatments will improve growth in these children.”

While this study provides new insights into the underlying causes behind short stature in patients with differing phenotypes, the authors indicate that additional large-scale studies on short stature exome sequencing are warranted.

Moving the field forward

Dr. Dauber also pointed to the fact that the authors note a large number of the patients in this study had undiagnosed Rasopathies, such as Noonan syndrome. “There were also 31 patients with FGFR3 mutations, 6 patients found with ACAN (Aggrecan) mutations and 2 with NPR2 mutations,” said Dr. Dauber.

“At Children’s National, we are currently conducting a clinical trial of vosoritide, a novel growth promoting agent which targets the growth plate in children with selected genetic conditions including Noonan syndrome and patients with mutations in FGFR3, ACAN, and NPR2,” included Dr. Dauber. Preliminary results from this clinical trial were recently presented by Dr. Dauber at the Pediatric Endocrine Society annual meeting.

You can read the full study Clinical Profiles and Genetic Spectra of 814 Chinese Children With Short Stature in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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.”

Microscopic visual of a diseased muscle section

Gene therapy offers potential long-term treatment for limb-girdle muscular dystrophy 2B

Microscopic visual of a diseased muscle section

Microscopic visual of a diseased muscle section. Credit: Daniel Bittel.

Children’s National Hospital experts developed a new pre-clinical gene therapy for a rare disorder, known as limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD) 2B, that addresses the primary cellular deficit associated with this disease. Using a single injection of a low dose gene therapy vector, researchers restored the ability of injured muscle fibers to repair in a way that reduced muscle degeneration and enhanced the functioning of the diseased muscle. The treatment was safe, attenuated fibro-fatty muscle degeneration, and restored myofiber size and muscle strength, according to the study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

With an incidence of less than 1 in 100,000, LGMD2B is a rare disorder caused by a genetic mutation in a large gene called dysferlin. This faulty gene leads to muscle weakness in the arms, legs, shoulder and pelvic girdle. Affected children and adults face trouble walking, climbing stairs and getting out of chairs. Individuals typically lose the ability to walk within years after the onset of symptoms, and often need assistance with everyday tasks such as showering, dressing and transferring.

This study described a new approach that avoids the need for packaging a large gene, like dysferlin, or giving a large vector dose to target the muscles, which are bottlenecks faced in ongoing gene therapy efforts aimed at muscular dystrophies.

“Currently, patients with LGMD2B have no gene or drug-based therapies available to them, and we are amongst the few centers developing therapeutic approaches for this disease,” said Jyoti K. Jaiswal, M.Sc. Ph.D., senior investigator of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National. “We are working to further enhance the efficacy of this approach and perform a longer-term safety and efficacy study to enable the clinical translation of this therapy.”

The genetic defect in dysferlin that is associated with LGMD2B causes the encoded protein to be truncated or degraded. This hinders the muscle fiber’s ability to heal, which is required for healthy muscles. In recessive genetic disorders, like LGMD2B, common pre-clinical gene therapy approaches usually target the mutated gene in the muscle, making them capable of producing the missing proteins.

“The large size of the gene mutated in this disease, and impediments in body-wide delivery of gene therapy vectors to reach all the muscles, pose significant challenges for developing gene therapies to treat this disease,” said Jaiswal.

To overcome these challenges, the researchers found another way to slow down the disease’s progression. The authors built upon their previous discovery that acid sphingomyelinase (hASM) protein is required to repair injured muscle cells. In this current work, the research team administered a single in vivo dose of an Adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector that produces a secreted version of hASM in the liver, which then was delivered to the muscles via blood circulation at a level determined to be efficacious in repairing LGMD2B patient’s injured muscle cells.

“Increased muscle degeneration necessitates greater muscle regeneration, and we found that improved repair of dysferlin-deficient myofibers by hASM-AAV reduces the need for regeneration, causing a 2-fold decrease in the number of regenerated myofibers,” said Daniel Bittel, D.P.T., PhD., research postdoctoral fellow of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National and a lead author of this study.

Sreetama Sen Chandra, Ph.D., who was a research postdoctoral fellow at Children’s National at the time of this study and served as co-lead author, also added that “these findings are also of interest to patients with Niemann-Pick disease type A since the pre-clinical model for this disease also manifests poor sarcolemma repair.”

Children’s National researchers of the Center for Genetic Medicine Research and the Rare Disease Institute (RDI) are constantly pursuing high-impact opportunities in pediatric genomic and precision medicine. Both centers combine its strengths with public and private partners, including industry, universities, federal agencies, start-up companies and academic medical centers. They also serve as an international referral site for rare disorders.

Gene therapy Schematic

Gene therapy Schematic. Credit: Daniel Bittel.

Rare Diseases Institute sign

Children’s National Rare Disease Institute named a Center of Excellence

Rare Diseases Institute sign

RDI, which includes the largest clinical group of pediatric geneticists in the nation, focuses on developing the clinical care field of more than 8,000 rare diseases currently recognized and advancing the best possible treatments for children with these diseases.

The Rare Disease Institute (RDI) at Children’s National Hospital announced its designation as a NORD Rare Disease Center of Excellence, joining a highly select group of 31 medical centers nationwide. This new, innovative network seeks to expand access and advance care and research for rare disease patients in the United States. The program is being led by the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), with a goal to foster knowledge sharing between experts across the country, connect patients to appropriate specialists regardless of disease or geography, and to improve the pace of progress in rare disease diagnosis, treatment and research.

“Children’s National has worked closely with NORD to move this program forward and is very proud to be amongst the first group of recognized centers,” said Marshall Summar, M.D., chief of the Division of Genetics and Metabolism and the director of RDI at Children’s National. “This is a recognition of the institutional efforts, as we take care of patients with the rare disease and help set the standard for the field.”

RDI, which includes the largest clinical group of pediatric geneticists in the nation, focuses on developing the clinical care field of more than 8,000 rare diseases currently recognized and advancing the best possible treatments for children with these diseases.

In February 2021, RDI became the first occupant of the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, a first-of-its-kind pediatric research and innovation hub. The campus now also houses the Center for Genetic Medicine Research, and together researchers are constantly pursuing high-impact opportunities in pediatric genomic and precision medicine. Both centers combine its strengths with public and private partners, including industry, universities, federal agencies, start-up companies and academic medical centers. They also serve as an international referral site for rare disorders.

People living with rare diseases frequently face many challenges in finding a diagnosis and quality clinical care. In establishing the Centers of Excellence program, NORD has designated clinical centers across the U.S. that provide exceptional rare disease care and have demonstrated a deep commitment to serving rare disease patients and their families using a holistic, state of the art approach.

“Right now, far too many rare diseases are without an established standard of care. The Centers of Excellence program will help set that standard – for patients, clinicians, and medical centers alike,” said Ed Neilan, chief scientific and medical officer of NORD. “We are proud to announce Children’s National as a NORD Rare Disease Center of Excellence and look forward to their many further contributions as we collectively seek to improve health equity, care and research to support all individuals with rare diseases.”

Each center was selected by NORD in a competitive application process requiring evidence of staffing with experts across multiple specialties to meet the needs of rare disease patients and significant contributions to rare disease patient education, physician training and research.