News Briefs

Fetal medicine update: fetal brain development, zika virus

May 2, 2016 Impaired global and tissue-specific brain development in the growth-restricted fetus.
A team of researchers applied an advanced imaging technique, three-dimensional MRI, to study brain development in high-risk pregnancies and are the first to report regional, tissue-specific volume delays for the developing fetal brain in FGR-affected pregnancies. The team compared overall fetal brain volume as well as regional brain volumes for a control group of healthy young pregnant women with a group of young women whose pregnancies were complicated by FGR. While fetuses in both groups grew exponentially as pregnancies progressed, the researchers began to see dramatic differences when they compared the volumes of specific regions of the brain, including the cerebellum, which coordinates balance and smooth movement; the deep gray matter, which also is involved in complex functions, such as memory and emotion; and the white matter, which is made up of millions of nerve fibers that connect to neurons in different regions.

March 30, 2016Congenital Zika viral infection linked to significant fetal brain abnormalities, despite ‘normal’ ultrasounds.
Infectious Zika virus was isolated from the brain of a 21-week-old fetus after causing extensive damage to brain tissue – despite ultrasounds that showed no sign of microcephaly at weeks 13, 16, and 17, according to a report published online in The New England Journal of Medicine. “While this is a single case, it poses troubling questions that could inform future research,” says the study’s co-senior author, Adre du Plessis, M.B.Ch.B., Director of the Fetal Medicine Institute and Chief of the Fetal and Transitional Medicine Division at Children’s National Health System. “Evidence is mounting that the Zika virus can persist in pregnant women’s bloodstreams weeks after their initial infection, arguing for changes to how these pregnancies are monitored,” Dr. du Plessis said. Six of the named authors are affiliated with Children’s National, where the pregnant woman sought more thorough assessment after testing positive for the Zika virus herself following international travel.

Neonatology updates: U.S. News ranking, skin-to-skin snuggling

June 21, 2016Children’s National ranked in top 20 in every specialty
U.S. News & World Report 2016-17 Best Children’s Hospital Survey ranks Children’s National Health System in the top 20 in every specialty, which makes Children’s one of just four pediatric hospitals in the country—and the only one in the region—to earn this recognition. Children’s ranked among the top 10 in three specialties: Neonatology (No. 3), neurology/neurosurgery (No. 8), and orthopaedics (No. 9).

Oct. 23, 2015Parental stress before and after skin-to-skin contact in the NICU
While stable parent-child bonds are key to healthy child development, achieving such bonding can be complicated for parents of babies born prematurely. Interim results from an ongoing study conducted in the neonatal intensive care unit indicate that skin-to-skin “snuggling” between mothers and babies can lower maternal stress levels.

Allergy and immunology update: asthma care, microbial signatures

June 16, 2016 – Increased identification of the primary care provider as the main source of asthma care among urban minority children
The research team used electronic communication between an asthma specialty clinic and short-term care coordination to encourage parents of urban youth with asthma to identify their primary care provider as the key source for episodic asthma care – rather than the emergency department. Guardians of 50 children were enrolled in the prospective cohort study, whose findings were published in Journal of Asthma. The youths’ median age was 5.8 years; 64 percent were male, 98 percent were African American. At three and six months after the intervention, 85 percent and 83 percent, respectively, reported that the primary care provider was their child’s primary asthma healthcare provider, compared with 70 percent at baseline. 

June 16, 2016 – Two sampling methods yield distinct microbial signatures in the nasopharynges of asthmatic children
The nasopharynx acts as an anatomical reservoir from which pathogenic microbes spread to the lower and upper respiratory airways, causing respiratory infections. A team led by Children’s National researchers used targeted 16S rRNA MiSeq sequencing and two techniques – nasal washes and nasal brushes – to characterize the nasopharyngeal microbiota in 30 children with asthma aged 6 to 17. The authors report in Microbiome that the children’s nasopharyngeal microenvironments contain microbiotas with different diversity and structure.

Nov. 30, 2015 – Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation grant to develop immune-based therapy
Physician-scientist Conrad Russell Y. Cruz, MD, PhD, was awarded a $450,000, grant from the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to develop novel cell-based therapies to combat pediatric cancer. The “A” grant encourages scientists to develop innovative treatments and cures that impact children with cancer and will provide Dr. Cruz and his team funding for three years.

Feasibility of home-based computerized working memory training with sickle cell disease patients

Children with sickle cell disease are at heightened risk for neurocognitive deficits. The research team sought to fill a gap in the research by evaluating the feasibility of using a home-based computerized working memory (WM) training intervention for children aged 7 to 16 years with sickle cell disease. Study participants used loaner iPads and were asked to work on Cogmed five days a week for five weeks – or a maximum of 25 sessions. According to research published by Pediatric Blood and Cancer, girls were more likely to complete the assignments, compared with boys. The mean number of sessions completed was 15.83.

Cardiology and heart surgery update: fetal magnetic resonance imaging, chest pain

July 20, 2016Utility of fetal magnetic resonance imaging in assessing the fetus with cardiac malposition
Abnormal cardiac axis and/or malposition can trigger an evaluation of fetuses for congenital heart disease. A research team led by Mary T. Donofrio, MD, director of the Fetal Heart Program at Children’s National Health System, sought to examine how fetal magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – might complement obstetrical ultrasound or fetal echocardiography (echo) – in defining etiology. The team reviewed 42 fetuses identified as having abnormal cardiac axis and/or malposition by fetal ultrasound and echo. While 55 percent of cases (23) had extracardiac anomalies, 29 percent (12) were reassigned by fMRI. fMRI findings were confirmed in 8 of these 12 cases postnatally.

June 13, 2016 – Targeted echocardiographic screening for latent rheumatic heart disease in Northern Uganda
Echocardiographic screening to detect latent rheumatic heart disease (RHD) has the potential to reduce the burden of disease, however additional research is needed to develop sustainable public health strategies. Some 33 million people, many living in low-resource environments, have RHD. What’s more, relatives of children with latent RHD may be at risk for developing the chronic heart condition. The research team found that siblings of children who were RHD-positive were more likely to have RHD, underscoring the importance of screening brothers and sisters of a child with confirmed RHD.

April 3, 2016 – Chest pain in children – the charge implications of unnecessary referral
While pediatricians are responsible for triaging chest pain complaints, questions linger about the best approach to reassure patients whose conditions are benign as well as how to best identify patients whose chest pain warrants further evaluation and testing. The study sought to assess how many patients with chest pain were inappropriately referred and found that chest pain due to cardiac disease is very rare in children. Thus, children whose chest pain is not accompanied by cardiac red flags can be managed safely by their pediatrician.

April 2, 2016Hemodynamic consequences of a restrictive ductus arteriosus and foramen ovale in fetal transposition of TGA
Dextro-transposition of the great arteries (d-TGA) occurs when the position of the main pulmonary artery and the aorta – the two main arteries that carry blood out of the heart – are switched. Newborns with d-TGA are at risk for compromise due to foramen ovale (FO) closure and pulmonary vascular abnormalities. One such fetus seen at 22 weeks of gestational age had a hypermobile, unrestrictive FO and small ductus arteriosus (DA) with bidirectional flow. By the 32 week, however, the DA was small with restrictive bidirectional flow. Doppler imaging showed reversed flow in the left pulmonary artery. By the 38th gestational week, the FO was closed, the left atrium/ventricle were dilated, and the DA was tiny. Within 30 minutes after birth, a balloon atrial septostomy was performed, and the infant later underwent surgical repair.