Infectious Disease

coronavirus

Children’s National Hospital and NIAID launch large study on long-term impacts of COVID-19 and MIS-C on kids

coronavirus

Up to 2,000 children and young adults will be enrolled in a study from Children’s National Hospital in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) that will examine the long-term effects of COVID-19 and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) after these patients have recovered from a COVID-19 infection.

This $40 million multi-year study will provide important information about quality of life and social impact, in addition to a better understanding of the long-term physical impact of the virus, including effects on the heart and lung. The researchers hope to detail the role of genetics and the immune response to COVID-19, so-called “long COVID” and MIS-C, including the duration of immune responses from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It is fully funded by a subcontract with the NIH-funded Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research operated by Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc.

“We don’t know the unique long-term impact of COVID-19 or MIS-C on children so this study will provide us with a critical missing piece of the puzzle,” says Roberta DeBiasi, M.D., M.S., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National and lead researcher for this study. “I am hopeful that the insights from this enormous effort will help us improve treatment of both COVID-19 and MIS-C in the pediatric population both nationally and around the world.”

Over the past year, more than 3.6 million children have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and over 2,800 cases of MIS-C have been reported throughout the U.S. While the vast majority of children with primary SARS-CoV-2 infection may have mild or no symptoms, some develop severe illness and may require hospitalization, including life support measures. In rare cases, some children who have previously been infected or exposed to someone with SARS-CoV-2 have developed MIS-C, a serious condition that may be associated with the virus. MIS-C symptoms can include fever, abdominal pain, bloodshot eyes, trouble breathing, rash, vomiting, diarrhea and neck pain, and can progress to shock with low blood pressure and insufficient cardiac function. Long COVID is a wide range of symptoms that can last or appear weeks or even months after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

The study is designed to enroll at least 1,000 children and young adults under 21 years of age who have a confirmed history of symptomatic or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection or MIS-C. Participants who enroll within 12 weeks of an acute infection will attend study visits every three months for the first six months and then every six months for three years. Participants who enroll more than 12 weeks after acute infection will attend study visits every six months for three years. The study will also enroll up to 1,000 household contacts to serve as a control group, and up to 2,000 parents or guardians (one parent per participant) will complete targeted questionnaires.

“The large number of patients who will be enrolled in this study should provide us with a truly comprehensive understanding of how the virus may continue to impact some patients long after the infection has subsided,” says Dr. DeBiasi.

The study primarily aims to determine incidence and prevalence of, and risk factors for, certain long-term medical conditions among children who have MIS-C or a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection. The study will also evaluate the health-related quality of life and social impacts for participants and establish a biorepository that can be used to study the roles of host genetics, immune response and other possible factors influencing long-term outcomes.

Children’s National was one of the first U.S. institutions to report that children can become very ill from SARS-CoV-2 infection, despite early reports that children were not seriously impacted. In studies published in the Journal of Pediatrics in May of 2020 and June of 2021, Children’s National researchers found that about 25% of symptomatic COVID patients who sought care at our institution required hospitalization. Of those hospitalized, about 25% required life support measures, and the remaining 75% required standard hospitalization. Of patients with MIS-C, 52% were critically ill.

Study sites include Children’s National Hospital inpatient and outpatient clinics in the Washington, D.C. area, and the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Those interested in participating should submit this form. You will then be contacted by a study team member to review the study details and determine whether you are eligible to participate.

You can find more information about the study here.

little boy at doctor

Demographic, clinical and biomarker features of MIS-C

little boy at doctor

In a new observational study, researchers provide insight into key features distinguishing MIS-C patients to provide a more realistic picture of the burden of disease in the pediatric population and aid with the early detection of disease and treatment for optimal outcomes.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) significantly affected more Black and Latino children than white children, with Black children at the highest risk, according to a new observational study of 124 pediatric patients treated at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. Researchers also found cardiac complications, including systolic myocardial dysfunction and valvular regurgitation, were more common in MIS-C patients who were critically ill. Of the 124 patients, 63 were ultimately diagnosed with MIS-C and were compared with 61 patients deemed controls who presented with similar symptoms but ultimately had an alternative diagnosis.

In the study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers provide insight into key features distinguishing MIS-C patients to provide a more realistic picture of the burden of disease in the pediatric population and aid with the early detection of disease and treatment for optimal outcomes. The COVID-linked syndrome has affected nearly 4,000 children in the United States in the past year. Early reports showed severe illness, substantial variation in treatment and mortality associated with MIS-C. However, this study demonstrated that with early recognition and standardized treatment, short-term mortality can be nearly eliminated.

“Data like this will be critical for the development of clinical trials around the long-term implications of MIS-C,” says Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, M.D., lead author and chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National. “Our study sheds light on the demographic, clinical and biomarker features of this disease, as well as viral load and viral sequencing.”

Of the 63 children with MIS-C, 52% were critically ill, and additional subtypes of MIS-C were identified including those with and without still detectable virus, those with and without features meeting criteria for Kawasaki Disease, and those with and without detectable cardiac abnormalities. While median age (7.25 years) and sex were similar between the MIS-C cohort and control group, Black (46%) and Latino (35%) children were overrepresented in the MIS-C group, especially those who required critical care. Heart complications were also more frequent in children who became critically ill with MIS-C (55% vs. 28%). Findings also showed MIS-C patients demonstrated a distinct cytokine signature, with significantly higher levels of certain cytokines than those of controls. This may help in the understanding of what drives the disease and which potential treatments may be most effective.

In reviewing viral load and antibody biomarkers, researchers found MIS-C cases with detectable virus had a lower viral load than in primary SARS-CoV-2 infection cases, but similar to MIS-C controls who had alternative diagnoses, but who also had detectable virus. A larger proportion of patients with MIS-C had detectable SARS-CoV-2 antibodies than controls. This is consistent with current thinking that MIS-C occurs a few weeks after a primary COVID-19 infection as part of an overzealous immune response.

Viral sequencing was also performed in the MIS-C cohort and compared to cases of primary COVID-19 infection in the Children’s National geographic population. 88% of the samples analyzed fell into the GH clade consistent with the high frequency of the GH clade circulating earlier in the pandemic in the U.S. and Canada, and first observed in France.

“The fact that there were no notable sequencing differences between our MIS-C and primary COVID cohorts suggests that variations in host genetics and/or immune response are more likely primary determinants of how MIS-C presents itself, rather than virus-specific factors,” says Dr. DeBiasi. “As we’ve seen new variants continue to emerge, it will be important to study their effect on the frequency and severity of MIS-C.”

Researchers are still looking for consensus on the most efficacious treatments for MIS-C. In a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. DeBiasi calls for well-characterized large prospective cohort studies at single centers, and systematic and long-term follow-up for cardiac and non-cardiac outcomes in children with MIS-C. Data from these studies will be a crucial determinant of the best set of treatment guidelines for immunotherapies to treat MIS-C.

boy in hospital bed

Long-term, controlled studies needed to chart optimal MIS-C immunotherapy

boy in hospital bed

Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Hospital, cautions that two new studies in the New England Journal of Medicine present seemingly conflicting findings about which treatments for MIS-C are optimal.

Multisystem inflammatory disease in children (MIS-C) has affected nearly 4,000 children in the United States in the last year. Two major studies appearing in the June edition of the New England Journal of Medicine seek to better define which immunotherapy treatments or combinations of treatments — intravenous immune globulin (IVIG), glucocorticoids or biologics — do the best job of combating the syndrome’s effects.

But Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Hospital, cautions that though these two studies present seemingly conflicting findings about which treatments are optimal, neither study can provide a complete picture of efficacy, in part due to their retrospective and observational study design and population made up of patients from many different centers. True consensus will likely be found, she writes in an editorial that accompanies the studies in the journal, through single-center prospective cohort studies with standardized treatment approaches and long-term follow-up on outcomes.

“While there is a diagnostic criterion and an agreed upon need to induce a rapid therapy for MIS-C, the scientific community has not been able to agree on specific and optimal forms of immunomodulatory therapy,” she writes.

Despite efforts by the study authors to use statistical methods and modeling to control for variations in treatment applications from center to center, the study data is limited by the fact that the therapies have already been administered, in various combinations, based on conditions at each center where a  child was treated and not on a common set of treatment criteria.

Another challenge for generalizing from the findings of these studies is a mismatch in time. The data collected from the two published studies have two different time frames: before and after variants emerged or at various points during different waves of COVID-19 circulation in the U.S.

“Depending on the strain of initial infection and/or subsequent exposure, the dysregulated hyperimmune response of MIS-C could change,” Dr. DeBiasi says. And along with it, how patients respond to a particular treatment or combination of treatments.

Also, she notes it is too soon for any consortia to assess the impact of these therapies on longer-term outcomes, “specifically, comparative efficacy for progression or resolution of coronary abnormalities and prolonged or permanent cardiac dysfunction or scarring.”

Dr. DeBiasi concludes her editorial with a call for well-characterized large prospective cohort studies at single centers, and systematic and long-term follow-up for cardiac and non-cardiac outcomes in children with MIS-C. Data from these studies will be a crucial determinant of the best set of treatment guidelines for immunotherapies to treat MIS-C. Without findings from these types of studies, the selection of the most efficacious treatments is still unknown.

Read the full editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine: Immunotherapy for MIS-C: IVIG, Glucocorticoids, and Biologics

US News badges

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.

coronavirus

Children have more COVID-19 antibodies than previously thought, study finds

coronavirus

Seroprevalence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in healthy children and children with chronic diseases is higher than researchers previously believed, according to a new study published in The Pediatric Infectious Diseases Journal. The study, which included 385 children in the Washington metropolitan area, found a 9.46% SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence among this group. Researchers from Children’s National Hospital also identified predictive factors such as specific symptoms, race and ethnicity, that are associated with the antibodies’ presence in the blood, also known as seropositivity.

The 9.46% seroprevalence in healthy children and children with chronic diseases is higher than previously reported. However, this rate remains below the theoretical herd immunity threshold, estimated between 50% and 67% for the general population in the absence of any interventions — like vaccination — and assuming possible lasting immunity.

“We believe our estimate is a close approximation of seroprevalence for the diverse pediatric population in our region,” said the study authors, including Burak Bahar, M.D., lead author and director of Laboratory Informatics at Children’s National.

Since most symptomatic individuals are adults and they have been the main focus for seroprevalence studies, there is still a lack of information about SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence for pediatric patients and healthy kids. With this study, researchers wanted to shed light on the knowledge gap in COVID-19 pediatric research.

“Parents are key allies who can help scientists better understand the virus’ behavior in children,” said Dr. Bahar.

Until now, it was also unknown if children with chronic diseases had less evidence of antibodies due to underlying conditions, particularly illnesses that cause weakened immune systems. The study showed no notable difference in the association with seropositivity among chronic illness groups, including immunocompromised children.

“Our findings offer important information as all children, with chronic illness or not, could be considered for ‘back to school’ transitions, because they have the same levels of protection. This means they all can have access to social, emotional and behavioral development,” said the authors.

The researchers explored co-existing conditions, symptomatology and demographics as predictors of antibody presence. The analysis showed that children with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes and cancer were not predictors. This means that these sick kids, when introduced to the virus, make antibodies at the same levels as kids without these diseases.

While most participants were asymptomatic, in those who tested positive for anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, fever, headache and cough were the most common symptoms.

Among the demographics, Hispanic children had a higher seropositive rate than white children. However, median household income based on reported zip code and state of residency were not found to be associated with having antibodies or not.

To determine the impact of continued infections in the community, future studies are needed to identify possible changes in the seroprevalence over a more extended period and to assess seropositivity with vaccination implementation, as that may influence the current rate.

The study is a snapshot in time from July to October 2020. The sample size of 385 patients included both healthy children and those with chronic diseases (69.7%) ranging from 2 months to 22 years old. From the sample pool, 38 individuals were found to have antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. To assess demographic characteristics, symptoms and co-existing conditions associated with seropositivity the researchers used a survey.

A related SARS-CoV-2 antibody production study published on Sept. 3, 2020 in the Journal of Pediatrics, also led by Bahar et al., found that antibodies are detected 18 days after a positive COVID-19 test in children. The authors further noted that the virus and antibodies can co-exist in young patients, so even if seropositivity is detected, they may still transmit the virus.

HIV Viruses

New pre-clinical model could hold the key to better HIV treatments

HIV Viruses

A team led by researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine and Children’s National Hospital has developed a unique pre-clinical model that enables the study of long-term HIV infection, and the testing of new therapies aimed at curing the disease.

A team led by researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine and Children’s National Hospital has developed a unique pre-clinical model that enables the study of long-term HIV infection, and the testing of new therapies aimed at curing the disease.

Ordinary subjects in this model cannot be infected with HIV, so previous HIV pre-clinical models have used subjects that carry human stem cells or CD4 T cells, a type of immune cell that can be infected with HIV. But these models tend to have limited utility because the human cells soon perceive the tissues of their hosts as “foreign,” and attack—making the subject gravely ill.

By contrast, the new pre-clinical model, described in a paper in the Journal of Experimental Medicine on 14 May, avoids this problem by using a subset of human CD4 cells that mostly excludes the cells that would attack the subject’s tissue. The researchers showed that the subject can usefully model the dynamics of long-term HIV infection, including the virus’s response to experimental therapies.

“We expect this to be a valuable and widely used tool for studying the basic science of HIV infection, and for speeding the development of better therapies,” said co-first author Dr. Chase McCann. During the study, Dr. McCann was a Weill Cornell Graduate School student in the laboratory of senior author Dr. Brad Jones, associate professor of immunology in medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. McCann, who was supported at Weill Cornell by a Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) TL1 training award, is now the Cell Therapy Lab Lead in the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. The other co-first authors of the study are Dr. Christiaan van Dorp of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Dr. Ali Danesh, a senior research associate in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The invention of the new pre-clinical model is part of a wider effort to develop and test cell therapies against HIV infection. Cell therapies, such as those using the patient’s own engineered T cells, are increasingly common in cancer treatment and have achieved some remarkable results. Many researchers hope that a similar strategy can work against HIV and can potentially be curative. But the lack of good pre-clinical models has hampered the development of such therapies.

Drs. Jones and McCann and their colleagues showed in the study that the cell-attacks-host problem found in prior pre-clinical models is chiefly due to so-called “naïve” CD4 cells. These are CD4 cells that have not yet been exposed to targets, and apparently include a population of cells that can attack various proteins. When the researchers excluded naïve CD4 cells and instead used only “memory” CD4 cells, which circulate in the blood as sentinels against infection following exposure to a specific pathogen, the cells survived indefinitely in the subject without causing major damage to their hosts.

The researchers observed that the human CD4 cells also could be infected and killed by HIV, or protected by standard anti-HIV drugs, essentially in the same way that they are in humans. Thus, they showed that the subject, which they termed “participant-derived xenograft” or PDX, served as a workable model for long-term HIV infection. This term is akin to the “patient-derived xenograft” PDX models used to study cancer therapies, while recognizing the contributions of people with HIV as active participants in research.

Lastly, the researchers used the new model to study a prospective new T-cell based therapy, very similar to one that is now being tested against cancers. They put memory CD4 T cells from a human donor into the subject to permit HIV infection, and then, after infection was established, treated the subject with another infusion of human T cells, these being CD8-type T cells, also called “killer T cells.”

The killer T cells were from the same human donor and could recognize a vulnerable structure on HIV — so that they attacked the virus wherever they found it within the subject. To boost the killer T cells’ effectiveness, the researchers supercharged them with a T cell-stimulating protein called IL-15.

The treatment powerfully suppressed HIV in the subject. And although, as often seen in human cases, the virus ultimately evolved to escape recognition by the killer T cells, the ease of use of the pre-clinical model allowed the researchers to monitor and study these long-term infection and viral escape dynamics in detail.

“I think that the major impact of this model will be its acceleration of the development of T cell-based therapies that can overcome this problem of viral escape,” Dr. Jones said.

He and his laboratory are continuing to study such therapies using the new pre-clinical model, with engineered T cells from Dr. McCann’s laboratory and others.

A version of this story appeared on the Weill Cornell Medicine newsroom.

antibodies attacking t-cell

Immunocompromised pediatric patients show T-cell activity against SARS-CoV-2

antibodies attacking t-cell

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology, suggests that patients with antibody deficiency disorders, including inborn errors of immunity (IEI) and common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), can mount an immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and proposes that vaccination may still be helpful for this population.

According to data from a cohort of adult and pediatric patients with antibody deficiencies, patients that often fail to make protective immune responses to infections and vaccinations showed robust T-cell activity and humoral immunity against SARS-CoV-2 structural proteins. The new study, led by researchers at Children’s National Hospital, is the first to demonstrate a robust T-cell response against SARS-CoV-2 in immunocompromised patients.

“If T-cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 are indeed protective, then it could suggest that adoptive T-cell immunotherapy might benefit more profoundly immunocompromised patients,” said Michael Keller, M.D., director of the Translational Research Laboratory in the Program for Cell Enhancement and Technologies for Immunotherapy (CETI) at Children’s National. “Through our developing phase I T-cell immunotherapy protocol, we intend to investigate if coronavirus-specific T-cells may be protective following bone marrow transplantation, as well as in other immunodeficient populations.”

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Immunology, showed that patients with antibody deficiency disorders, including inborn errors of immunity (IEI) and common variable immunodeficiency (CVID), can mount an immune response to SARS-CoV-2. The findings propose that vaccination may still be helpful for this population.

“This data suggests that many patients with antibody deficiency should be capable of responding to COVID-19 vaccines, and current studies at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere are addressing whether those responses are likely to be protective and lasting,” said Dr. Keller.

The T-cell responses in all the COVID-19 patients were similar in magnitude to healthy adult and pediatric convalescent participants.

Kinoshita et al. call for additional studies to further define the quality of the antibody response and the longevity of immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 in immunocompromised patients compared with healthy donors. Currently, there is also very little data on adaptive immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 in these vulnerable populations.

The study sheds light on the antibody and T-cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 protein spikes based on a sample size of six patients, including a family group of three children and their mother. All have antibody deficiencies and developed mild COVID-19 symptoms, minus one child who remained asymptomatic. Control participants were the father of the same family, who tested positive for COVID-19, and another incidental adult (not next of kin) experienced mild COVID-19 symptoms. The researchers took blood samples to test the T-cell response in cell cultures and provided comprehensive statistical analysis of the adaptive immune responses.

“This was a small group of patients, but given the high proportion of responses, it does suggest that many of our antibody deficient patients are likely to mount immune responses to SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. Keller. “Additional studies are needed to know whether other patients with primary immunodeficiency develop immunity following COVID-19 infection and will likely be answered by a large international collaboration organized by our collaborators at the Garvan Institute in Sydney.”

Francis Collins

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

Kurt Newman and Francis Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Hahn

Pediatric Research names Andrea Hahn, M.D., M.S., early career investigator

Andrea Hahn

“I am honored to be recognized by Pediatric Research and the Society of Pediatric Research (SPR) at large,” said Dr. Hahn. “SPR is an amazing organization filled with excellent scientists, and to be highlighted by them for my work is truly affirming.”

For her work on the impact of bacterial functional and metabolic activity on acute episodes of cystic fibrosis, the journal Pediatric Research recognized Andrea Hahn, M.D., M.S., as Pediatric Research’s Early Career Investigator.

Cystic fibrosis is an autosomal recessive genetic disease, affecting more than 70,000 people worldwide. The condition’s morbidity and mortality are recurrent and result in a progressive decline of lung function.

“I am honored to be recognized by Pediatric Research and the Society of Pediatric Research (SPR) at large,” said Dr. Hahn. “SPR is an amazing organization filled with excellent scientists, and to be highlighted by them for my work is truly affirming.”

The exact mechanisms of the bacteria that chronically infect the airway triggering acute cystic fibrosis episodes, also known as pulmonary exacerbations, remain unclear. Dr. Hahn’s research is one of the few to explore this gap and found an association with long-chain fatty acid production in cystic fibrosis inflammation.

“As a physician-scientist, there are many competing priorities between developing and executing good science — including writing manuscripts and grants — and providing excellent patient care both directly and through hospital-wide quality improvement initiatives,” said Dr. Hahn. “It is often easier to have successes and feel both effective and appreciated on the clinical side. This recognition of my scientific contributions to the medical community is motivating me to continue pushing forward despite the setbacks that often come up on the research side.”

The exposure to many programs and institutions gave Dr. Hahn the foundation to create a research program at Children’s National that helps decipher the complexities of antibiotic treatment and how it changes the airway microbiome of people with cystic fibrosis. The program also explores the impacts of antibiotic resistance and beta-lactam pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics (PK/PD) — the oldest class of antibiotics used to treat infections.

Dr. Hahn believes that the people and environment at Children’s National Hospital allowed her to grow and thrive as a physician-scientist.

“I was initially funded through an internal K12 mechanism, which was followed up by Foundation support, which was only possible because of the strong mentorship teams I have been able to build here at Children’s National,” said Dr. Hahn. “My division chief has also been very supportive, providing me with both protected time as well as additional resources to build my research lab.”

She is particularly appreciative of Robert Freishtat, M.D., M.P.H, senior investigator at the Center for Genetic Medicine Research, and Mary Callaghan Rose (1943-2016).

“Robert Freishtat has been a great advocate for me, and I am indebted to him for my success thus far in my career,” said Dr. Hahn. “Likewise, I want to specifically recognize Mary Rose. She was a great scientist at Children’s National until her death in 2016. She gave me the initial opportunity and support to begin a career studying cystic fibrosis, and she is missed dearly.”

You can learn more about Dr. Hahn’s research in this Pediatric Research article.

coronavirus

An analysis of articles on pediatric COVID-19 cases

coronavirus

In a recent editorial, Dr. Briony Varda commented on a systematic review and meta-analysis of articles reporting on pediatric cases of COVID-19.

In a recent editorial, Children’s National Hospital Pediatric Urologist Briony Varda, M.D., M.P.H., and Emilie K. Johnson, M.D., M.P.H., from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, comment on a systematic review and meta-analysis of articles reporting on pediatric cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) due to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection.

Their take home messages were that although COVID-19 is typically milder in children than in adults, children (particularly infants) do appear to have cardiac damage from COVID-19 which may be a consideration for preoperative evaluation among surgeons. They also note the MIS-C is another emerging concern for children following an infection with COVID-19.

Read the full editorial in the Journal of Pediatric Urology.

girl with cystic fibrosis getting breathing treatment

The role of long-chain fatty acids in cystic fibrosis inflammation

girl with cystic fibrosis getting breathing treatment

A recent study sheds light on the microbiologic triggers for lung inflammation and pulmonary exacerbations in cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis is an autosomal recessive disease that affects more than 70,000 people worldwide and results in a progressive decline of lung function. Patients with cystic fibrosis experience intermittent episodes of acute worsening of symptoms, commonly referred to as pulmonary exacerbations. While Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa are thought to contribute to both lung inflammation and pulmonary exacerbations, the microbiologic trigger for these events remains unknown. Andrea Hahn, M.D., M.S., and her colleagues at Children’s National Hospital recently shed light on this matter by studying the changes in bacterial metabolic pathways associated with clinical status and intravenous (IV) antibiotic exposure in cystic fibrosis patients.

The researchers found increased levels of long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) after IV antibiotic treatment in patients with cystic fibrosis. LCFAs have previously been associated with increased lung inflammation in asthma, but this is the first report of LCFAs in the airway of people with cystic fibrosis. This research indicates that bacterial production of LCFAs may be a contributor to inflammation in people with cystic fibrosis and suggests that future studies should evaluate LCFAs as predictors of pulmonary exacerbations.

Additional authors from Children’s National include: Hollis Chaney, M.D., Iman Sami Zakhari, M.D., Anastassios Koumbourlis, M.D., M.P.H. and Robert Freishtat, M.D., M.P.H.

Read the full study in Pediatric Research.

illustration of lungs with coronavirus inside

Pediatric asthma exacerbations during the COVID-19 pandemic

illustration of lungs with coronavirus inside

The authors found that in 2020, the District of Columbia did not experience the typical “September asthma epidemic” of exacerbations seen in past years.

In the United States, pediatric asthma exacerbations typically peak in the fall due to seasonal factors such as increased spread of common respiratory viruses, increased exposure to indoor aeroallergens, changing outdoor aeroallergen exposures and colder weather. In early 2020, measures enacted to reduce spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) — such as social distancing, quarantines and school closures — also reduced pediatric respiratory illnesses and asthma morbidity. Children’s National Hospital immunologist and allergist William J. Sheehan, M.D., and colleagues sought to determine if these measures also affected the 2020 fall seasonal asthma exacerbation peak in Washington, D.C.

The authors found that in 2020, the District of Columbia did not experience the typical “September asthma epidemic” of exacerbations seen in past years. Emergency department visits, hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions for asthma during the 2020 fall season were significantly reduced compared to previous years.

The authors conclude that, “this is likely due to social distancing, quarantines and school closures enacted during the pandemic. This is a small silver lining in a very difficult year. As 2021 brings optimism for gradual improvements of the pandemic, careful monitoring is necessary to recognize and prepare for childhood asthma morbidity to return to pre-pandemic levels.”

Additional study authors include: Shilpa J. Patel, M.D., M.P.H., Rachel H.F. Margolis, Ph.D., Eduardo R. Fox, M.D., Deborah Q. Shelef, M.P.H., Nikita Kachroo, B.S., Dinesh Pillai, M.D. and Stephen J. Teach, M.D., M.P.H.

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

Asthma-Related Healthcare Utilization by Month

Asthma-Related Healthcare Utilization by Month (2016-2020). Asthma-related emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations and pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admissions over time by month between 2016 and 2020. The p-values are for comparisons of mean monthly numbers for fall seasons of 2016-2019 to fall season of 2020. Image courtesy of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

coronavirus molecules with DNA

Novel SARS-CoV-2 spike variant found in a newborn in Washington, D.C.

coronavirus molecules with DNA

Researchers at Children’s National Hospital found a new SARS-CoV-2 spike variant in a neonatal patient, according to a study that genetically sequenced the virus in 27 pediatric patients. The newborn presented with a viral load of 50,000 times more particles than the average patient, which led to identifying the N679S spike protein variant — the earliest known sample of this coronavirus lineage in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region.

While the paper is posted to the preprint server medRxiv and has not been peer-reviewed, it represents an early step towards establishing better surveillance of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new variant helps understand the process of viral adaptation, potentially informing treatment development and vaccine design for any viral variants in the future.

All genomes change and evolve. Additional viral variants are expected to emerge as more patients are infected. The data analysis recognized eight other cases in Washington, D.C., with the N679S variant, pointing toward a European origin due to the genetic similarity between of SARS-CoV-2 strains in the U.S. and United Kingdom.

“We need to sequence more cases to identify variants and stay ahead of the virus,” said Drew Michael, Ph.D., molecular geneticist at Children’s National and senior author of the study. “The United States sequences a tiny fraction of all cases, and because we are not sequencing enough, we are not aware of the variants in SARS-CoV-2 that may be spreading in our community.”

“Novel SARS-CoV-2 spike variant identified through viral genome sequencing of the pediatric Washington D.C. COVID-19 outbreak,” was published on the preprint server medRxiv. Additional authors include Jonathan LoTempio, Erik Billings, Kyah Draper, Christal Ralph, Mahdi Moshgriz, Nhat Duong, Jennifer Dien Bard, Xiaowu Gai, David Wessel, M.D., Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., M.S., Joseph M. Campos, Ph.D., Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D. and Meghan Delaney, D.O., M.P.H.

You can read the full preprint on medRxiv.

Nurse comforting patient

End-of-life-care goals for adults living with HIV

Nurse comforting patient

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness with the goal of improving quality of life. HIV is one illness where studies have shown that palliative care for persons living with HIV (PLWH) can improve pain and symptom control as well as psychological well-being.

There are about 1.2 million people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the U.S., according to the CDC. In 2018, more than 37,000 people were newly diagnosed.

Integrating culturally sensitive palliative care services as a component of the HIV care continuum may improve health equity and person-centered care.

In a recent article published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., clinical health psychologist at Children’s National Hospital, and her colleagues examined factors influencing end-of-life care preferences among PLWH. Researchers conducted a survey of 223 adults living with HIV from five hospital-based clinics in Washington, DC. Participants completed an end-of-life care survey at as part of the FACE™-HIV Advance Care Planning clinical trial. Two distinct groups of patients were identified with respect to end-of-life care preferences: (1) a Relational class (75%) who prioritized family and friends, comfort from church services and comfort from persons at the end-of-life; and (2) a Transactional/Self-Determination class (25%) who prioritized honest answers from their doctors and advance care plans over relationships. African Americans had three times the odds of being in the Relational class versus the Transactional/Self-determination class, Odds ratio=3.30 (95% CI, 1.09, 10.03), p=0.035.

Those who prioritized relationships if dying were significantly more likely to be females and African Americans; while those who prioritized self-determination over relationships were significantly more likely to be males and non-African Americans. The four transgendered participants prioritized relationships.

Survey results show that most PLWH receiving care in Washington, D.C., preferred to die at home, regardless of race. Yet in the United States, most persons who die of HIV related causes die in the hospital. Sexual minorities feared dying alone, consistent with the stigma and discrimination which places many at risk of social isolation. Non-heterosexuals were less likely to find the church as a source of comfort, which may reflect feelings of discrimination, due to homophobic messages. However, if the church community is affirming of sexual minority status, religion could serve as a protective factor. Study findings may generate interventions to decrease social isolation and increase palliative care services for non-heterosexual PLWH.

These results fill a gap in our understanding of the self-reported goals and values of adults living with HIV with respect to end-of-life care. Findings contribute specificity to previous research about the importance of family, relationships and religiousness/spirituality with respect to end-of-life issues for ethnic and racial minorities.

Researchers from Children’s National involved in this study include Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., Jichuan Wang, Ph.D. and Lawrence D’Angelo, M.D., M.P.H.

The full study can be found in the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine.

boy checking his blood glucose

There’s still more to learn about COVID-19 and diabetes

boy checking his blood glucose

Researchers have learned a lot about COVID-19 over the past year and are continuing to learn and study more about this infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There have been many questions about whether COVID-19 affects people with diabetes differently than those without and why this might occur.

Diabetes experts, like Brynn Marks, M.D., M.S.H.P.Ed., endocrinologist at Children’s National Hospital, have been studying the relationship between COVID-19 and diabetes, especially in the pediatric population. Dr. Marks tells us more about what we know so far and further research that needs to be done when it comes to COVID-19 and diabetes.

1.      What do we know about COVID-19 and its effect on people with known diabetes?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently lists type 2 diabetes (T2D) as a high risk condition for severe illness related to COVID-19 infection, while stating that adults with type 1 diabetes (T1D) might be at increased risk. A recent study from Vanderbilt University found that people with T1D and T2D were at approximately equal risk for complications of COVID-19 infection. As compared to adults without diabetes, adults with T1D and T2D were 3-4 times more likely to be hospitalized and to have greater illness severity. Given these comparable risks, both the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation are lobbying for adults with T1D to be given the same level or priority for COVID-19 vaccines as adults with T2D.

However, as pediatricians, we all know to be wary of extrapolating adult data to pediatrics. Children are less likely to be infected with COVID-19 and if they are, the clinical course is typically mild. To date, there have not been any studies of the impact of COVID-19 on youth with known T2D. Our clinical experience at Children’s National Hospital and reports from international multicenter studies indicate that youth with T1D are not at increased risk for hospitalization from COVID-19 infection. However, paralleling ongoing disparities in T1D care, African Americans with known T1D and COVID-19 infection were more likely to be develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) than their White counterparts.

With the increased use of diabetes technologies, including continuous glucose monitors, insulin pumps and automated insulin delivery systems, diabetes care lends itself well to telemedicine. Studies from Italy during the period of lockdown showed better glycemic control among youth with T1D. Further studies are needed to better understand the implications of telehealth on diabetes care, particularly among those in rural areas with limited access to care.

Brynn Marks

Diabetes experts, like Brynn Marks, M.D., M.S.H.P.Ed., endocrinologist at Children’s National Hospital, have been studying the relationship between COVID-19 and diabetes, especially in the pediatric population.

2.      What do we know about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children with newly diagnosed diabetes?

Nationwide studies from Italy and Germany over the first few months of the pandemic found no increase in the incidence of pediatric T1D during the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to the year before; in fact, the Italian study found that fewer children were diagnosed with T1D during the pandemic. However, many centers are seeing higher rates of DKA and more severe DKA at diagnosis during the pandemic, possibly due to decreased primary care visits and/or fears of contracting COVID-19 while seeking care.

To date, no studies have been published exploring the incidence of T2D in youth. A group from Children’s National, including myself, Myrto Flokas, M.D., Abby Meyers, M.D., and Elizabeth Estrada, M.D., from the Division of Endocrinology and Randi Streisand, Ph.D., C.D.C.E.S. and Maureen Monaghan, Ph.D., C.D.C.E.S., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Health, are gathering data to compare the incidence of T1D and T2D during the pandemic as compared to the year before.

3.      Can COVID-19 cause diabetes to develop?

This has been area of great interest, but the jury is still out. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 infection, binds the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor which is located in many tissues throughout the body, including the pancreas. SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to infect pancreatic tissue leading to impaired glucose stimulated insulin secretion. Although the SARS-CoV-2 virus could plausibly cause diabetes, assessment has been complicated by many confounders that could be contributing to hyperglycemia in addition to or rather than the virus itself. Stress-induced hyperglycemia from acute illness, the use of high dose steroids to treat COVID-19 infection, and the disproportionate rates of infection among those already at high risk for T2D, as well as weight gain due to changes in day-to-day life as a result of social distancing precautions are all likely contributing factors.

patient talking to doctor

Advance care planning and the trajectory of end-of-life treatment preference

patient talking to doctor

Advance care planning is a process that helps patients define their goals, values and preferences for future medical care. This information is shared with a surrogate decision maker who will make decisions for the patient if/when they are unable to make decisions for themselves. While ongoing conversations with the surrogate about goals of care are recommended, the optimal timing has not been empirically determined, until now.

Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., and her colleagues at Children’s National Hospital found that adults living with HIV and their chosen surrogate decision makers, who participated in a FAmily CEntered (FACE) advance care planning intervention, had seven times the odds of being on the same page about end of life decisions compared with controls. The researchers’ 5-year randomized clinical trial conducted in Washington, D.C., highlights a critical period 3 months after the intervention which might be optimal to schedule a booster session. FACE advance care planning had a significant effect on both surrogates’ longitudinal preparedness and confidence in decision-making and understanding of the patients’ end of life treatment preferences, compared to controls. These findings confirm advance care planning is beneficial and support African Americans’ desire to have family participate in decision making.

Children’s National researchers who contributed to this study include Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., Lawrence D’Angelo, M.D., MPH, Jichuan Wang, Ph.D., and Isabella Greenberg, MPH.

Read the full study in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care.

Coronavirus and lungs with world map in the background

Top AI models unveiled in COVID-19 challenge to improve lung diagnostics

Coronavirus and lungs with world map in the background

The top 10 results have been unveiled in the first-of-its-kind COVID-19 Lung CT Lesion Segmentation Grand Challenge, a groundbreaking research competition focused on developing artificial intelligence (AI) models to help in the visualization and measurement of COVID specific lesions in the lungs of infected patients, potentially facilitating more timely and patient-specific medical interventions.

Attracting more than 1,000 global participants, the competition was presented by the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital in collaboration with leading AI technology company NVIDIA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The competition’s AI models utilized a multi-institutional, multi-national data set provided by public datasets from The Cancer Imaging Archive (National Cancer Institute), NIH and the University of Arkansas, that originated from patients of different ages, genders and with variable disease severity. NVIDIA provided GPUs to the top five winners as prizes, as well as supported the selection and judging process.

“Improving COVID-19 treatment starts with a clearer understanding of the patient’s disease state. However, a prior lack of global data collaboration limited clinicians in their ability to quickly and effectively understand disease severity across both adult and pediatric patients,” says Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National, who led the Grand Challenge initiative. “By harnessing the power of AI through quantitative imaging and machine learning, these discoveries are helping clinicians better understand COVID-19 disease severity and potentially stratify and triage into appropriate treatment protocols at different stages of the disease.”

The top 10 AI algorithms were identified from a highly competitive field of participants who tested the data in November and December 2020. The results were unveiled on Jan. 11, 2021, in a virtual symposium, hosted by Children’s National, that featured presentations from top teams, event organizers and clinicians.

Developers of the 10 top AI models from the COVID-19 Lung CT Lesion Segmentation Grand Challenge are:

  1. Shishuai Hu, et al. Northwestern Polytechnical University, China. “Semi-supervised Method for COVID-19 Lung CT Lesion Segmentation”
  2. Fabian Isensee, et al. German Cancer Research Center, Germany. “nnU-Net for Covid Segmentation”
  3. Claire Tang, Lynbrook High School, USA. “Automated Ensemble Modeling for COVID-19 CT Lesion Segmentation”
  4. Qinji Yu, et al. Shanghai JiaoTong University, China. “COVID-19-20 Lesion Segmentation Based on nnUNet”
  5. Andreas Husch, et al. University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg. “Leveraging State-of-the-Art Architectures by Enriching Training Information – a case study”
  6. Tong Zheng, et al. Nagoya University, Japan. “Fully-automated COVID-19-20 Segmentation”
  7. Vitali Liauchuk. United Institute of Informatics Problems (UIIP), Belarus. “Semi-3D CNN with ImageNet Pretrain for Segmentation of COVID Lesions on CT”
  8. Ziqi Zhou, et al. Shenzhen University, China. “Automated Chest CT Image Segmentation of COVID-19 with 3D Unet-based Framework”
  9. Jan Hendrik Moltz, et al. Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Medicine MEVIS, Germany. “Segmentation of COVID-19 Lung Lesions in CT Using nnU-Net”
  10. Bruno Oliveira, et al. 2Ai – Polytechnic Institute of Cávado and Ave, Portugal. “Automatic COVID-19 Detection and Segmentation from Lung Computed Tomography (CT) Images Using 3D Cascade U-net”

Linguraru added that, in addition to an award for the top five AI models, these winning algorithms are now available to partner with clinical institutions across the globe to further evaluate how these quantitative imaging and machine learning methods may potentially impact global public health.

“Quality annotations are a limiting factor in the development of useful AI models,” said Mona Flores, M.D., global head of Medical AI, NVIDIA. “Using the NVIDIA COVID lesion segmentation model available on our NGC software hub, we were able to quickly label the NIH dataset, allowing radiologists to do precise annotations in record time.”

“I applaud the computer science, data science and image processing global academic community for rapidly teaming up to combine multi-disciplinary expertise towards development of potential automated and multi-parametric tools to better study and address the myriad of unmet clinical needs created by the pandemic,” said Bradford Wood, M.D., director, NIH Center for Interventional Oncology and chief, Interventional Radiology Section, NIH Clinical Center. “Thank you to each team for locking arms towards a common cause that unites the scientific community in these challenging times.”

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.

Acute flaccid myelitis concept illustration

Causes, diagnosis and management of acute flaccid myelitis

Acute flaccid myelitis concept illustration

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a disabling, polio-like illness mainly affecting children. Outbreaks of AFM have occurred across multiple global regions since 2012, and the disease appears to be caused by non-polio enterovirus infection, posing a major public health challenge. Children’s National Hospital was part of a multi-center study focused on AFM and published in The Lancet.

Children’s National authors include Elizabeth Wells, M.D., director of Inpatient Neurology; Jessica Carpenter, M.D., director of the Neonatal and Childhood Stroke Program and co-director of the Neurocritical Care Program; and Roberta DeBiasi, M.D., M.S., chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases.

This review describes the epidemiology, clinical features, course and outcomes of AFM to help to guide diagnosis, management and rehabilitation. Future research directions include further studies evaluating host and pathogen factors, including investigations into genetic, viral and immunological features of affected patients, host-virus interactions and investigations of targeted therapeutic approaches to improve the long-term outcomes in this population.

child receiving COVID test

COVID testing results highlight importance of understanding virus in children

child receiving COVID test

A new study looking at the results of testing children for COVID-19 through a Children’s National Hospital community-based testing site found that one in four patients had a positive test.

A new study looking at the results of testing children for COVID-19 through a Children’s National Hospital community-based testing site found that one in four patients had a positive test. The findings, reported online Dec. 18 in The Journal of Pediatrics, reinforce that children and young adults are impacted by the virus more than originally believed, and that the continued understanding of their role in transmitting COVID-19 is essential to getting the virus under control.

Of the 1,445 patients tested at the specimen collection site for SARS-CoV-2 virus between March 21 and May 16, 2020, the median age was 8 years old, and more than 34% of positive patients were Hispanic, followed by non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic white. The daily positivity rate increased over the study period, from 5.4% during the first week to a peak of 47.4% in May. Children and adolescents were referred to the testing site because of risk of exposure or mild symptoms.

“We knew that community-based testing sites were key in minimizing exposure risk to other patients and health care workers, preserving PPE, centralizing specimen collection services, mitigating acute care site overcrowding and informing our community of the burden caused by this disease,” says Joelle Simpson, M.D., medical director of Emergency Preparedness at Children’s National.

Drive-through/walk-up testing sites outside of a traditional acute care setting have emerged around the world to meet the need for testing mildly ill or asymptomatic individuals. In March, Children’s National Hospital opened a drive-up/walk-up location — one of the first exclusively pediatric testing sites for the virus in the U.S. — where primary care doctors in the Washington, D.C., region could refer young patients for COVID-19 specimen collection and testing.

“At first, children were not the target of testing initiatives, but it is clear that making testing available to pediatric patients early was a very important part of the pandemic response,” says Meghan Delaney, D.O., M.P.H., chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Children’s National. “Not only can children get severe disease, they can be part of positive clusters with the adults they live with. The knowledge we have gained by testing many thousands of children over the pandemic has provided key information.”

Compared with non-Hispanic white children and after adjustments for age, sex and distance of residence from specimen collection site, minority children had a higher likelihood of infection.

“We wanted to identify the features of children tested at this site who did not require acute medical care and be able to compare demographic and clinical differences between patients who tested positive and negative for COVID-19,” says Dr. Simpson.

Patients with COVID-19 exposure and symptoms were more likely to have a positive test than patients without symptoms. This supports contact tracing for symptomatic cases and testing as an important tool in detecting and containing community spread, according to the study’s findings. Although most patients were referred because they lived with a family member with high risk for exposure or infection, this was not associated with positive test results.

“The impact of this virus is broad and affects planning for children, especially as schools and childcare centers work to reopen,” Dr. Simpson says. “In order to guide the development of measures to control the ongoing pandemic, we need better understand the transmission potential of these mildly symptomatic or well children and young adults.”