Neonatology

ARPA-H logo

Children’s National selected as member of ARPA-H Investor Catalyst Hub spoke network

ARPA-H logoThe hospital will advocate for the unique needs of children as part of nationwide network working to accelerate transformative health solutions.

Children’s National Hospital was selected as a spoke for the Investor Catalyst Hub, a regional hub of ARPANET-H, a nationwide health innovation network launched by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H).

The Investor Catalyst Hub seeks to accelerate the commercialization of groundbreaking and accessible biomedical solutions. It uses an innovative hub-and-spoke model designed to reach a wide range of nonprofit organizations and Minority-Serving Institutions, with the aim of delivering scalable healthcare outcomes for all Americans.

“The needs of children often differ significantly from those of adults. This partnership reflects our commitment to advancing pediatric healthcare through innovation and making sure we’re addressing those needs effectively,” said Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National. “Leveraging the strength of this hub-and-spoke model, we anticipate delivering transformative solutions to enhance the health and well-being of the patients and families we serve.”

Children’s National joins a dynamic nationwide network of organizations aligned to ARPA-H’s overarching mission to improve health outcomes through the following research focus areas: health science futures, proactive health, scalable solutions and resilient systems. Investor Catalyst Hub spokes represent a broad spectrum of expertise, geographic diversity and community perspectives.

“Our spoke network embodies a rich and representative range of perspectives and expertise,” said Mark Marino, vice president of Growth Strategy and Development for VentureWell and project director for the Investor Catalyst Hub. “Our spokes comprise a richly diverse network that will be instrumental in ensuring that equitable health solutions reach communities across every state and tribal nation.”

As an Investor Catalyst Hub spoke, Children’s National gains access to potential funding and flexible contracting for faster award execution compared to traditional government contracts. Spoke membership also offers opportunities to provide input on ARPA-H challenge areas and priorities, along with access to valuable networking opportunities and a robust resource library.

Alliance for Pediatric Device Innovation consortium members

Children’s National awarded nearly $7.5 million by FDA to lead pediatric device innovation consortium

Alliance for Pediatric Device Innovation consortium membersChildren’s National Hospital was awarded nearly $7.5 million in a five-year grant to continue its leadership of an FDA-funded pediatric device consortium. Building upon a decade of previous consortium leadership, the new consortium is Alliance for Pediatric Device Innovation (APDI) and features a new and expanded roster of partners that reflects its added focus on providing pediatric innovators with expert support on evidence generation, including the use of real-world evidence (RWE), for pediatric device development.

Collaborating for success

With the goal of helping more pediatric medical devices complete the journey to commercialization, APDI is led by Children’s National, with Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president and chief innovation officer, serving as program director and principal investigator, and Julia Finkel, M.D., pediatric anesthesiologist and director of Pain Medicine Research and Development in the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, serving as principal investigator.

Consortium members include Johns Hopkins University, CIMIT at Mass General Brigham, Tufts Medical Center, Medstar Health Research Institute and MedTech Color. Publicly traded OrthoPediatrics Corp., which exclusively focuses on advancing pediatric orthopedics, is serving as APDI’s strategic advisor and role model for device innovators whose primary focus is children.

Why we’re excited

Consortium initiatives got underway quickly with the announcement of a special MedTech Color edition of the “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!”competition that focuses on African American and Hispanic innovators. Interested innovators can find details and apply at MedTech Color Pitch Competition. The competition was announced at the recent MedTech Color networking breakfast on Oct. 10,2023 at The MedTech Conference powered by AdvaMed.

“We all benefit from greater equity and inclusion among pediatric MedTech founders, decision-makers, investigators and developers in more effectively addressing the needs of the entire pediatric population,” said Eskandanian. “We need the expertise and insights of innovators from diverse backgrounds, and we want to provide these talented individuals with more opportunities to present their work and share their perspectives on pediatric device development.”

Additional details

APDI is one of five FDA-funded consortia created to provide a platform of services, expertise and funding to help pediatric innovators bring medical devices to the market that specifically address the needs of children.

 

neonate

Documentation of pain assessment after pain management interventions in the NICU

neonate

Timely assessment of pain in neonates continues to be difficult for staff due to high acuity, workload and staffing shortages.

Neonates may experience more than 300 painful procedures and surgeries throughout their hospitalization. A proactive assessment of pain allows the medical team to detect pain early and adequately manage it. At Children’s National, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) team wants to minimize the impact of pain, particularly in preterm nonverbal infants as it has short- and long-term adverse neurodevelopment effects. Smitha Israel, BSN, RN, clinical program coordinator in the Children’s National neonatology department, created a team to increase compliance in pain reassessments and documentation in the NICU using technology to speed up reporting. That compliance increased from 50% to 75% and has been sustained for over two years.

What’s been the hold-up in the field?

Timely assessment of pain in neonates continues to be difficult for staff due to high acuity, workload and staffing shortages. To combat this, Israel’s group partnered with experts from the triggers team to speed up the reporting of pain assessments and to standardize the assessments when administering a pharmacological intervention.

How will this work benefit patients?

This work improves patient care in the NICU by improving pain management and reducing those possible adverse effects in a neonate’s development that pain may contribute to.

How is this work unique?

This study at Children’s National is the first study of pain assessment in the NICU that has shown improvement beyond published rates and has been sustained for six months after implementation.

Read more here.

 

newborn baby with bandaid on heel

JAMA Pediatrics editorial: A better approach for newborn screening

The medical community has an opportunity to update its approach to newborn screening (NBS) to be prepared for emerging technological advancements that will help diagnose children with rare diseases from their first weeks of life, according to an editorial from a leading Children’s National Hospital researcher published in JAMA Pediatrics.

“In health care, we are seeing ways in which we can identify more children who have rare diseases even earlier, in the newborn period, rather than waiting for children to develop symptoms or experience irreversible changes,” said Beth Tarini, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., associate director of the Center for Translational Research. “We have continued innovations in screening technology – with more on the way – that can be added to the screening programs overseen by all 50 states. Updating how we approach newborn screening presents an incredible opportunity for doctors and their patient-families.”

Why it matters

Newborn screening happens before the baby leaves the hospital, generally with a prick of the heel to take a small sample of blood to look for several dozen rare, debilitating disorders such as sickle cell disease, congenital hypothyroidism and cystic fibrosis. The current screening system has grown successfully for roughly 60 years and creates a network of state programs. Along the way, researchers have had extensive debates about which disorders to include, based on whether there are treatments and options for patients.

Dr. Tarini, a pediatrician who has done extensive research on NBS and related policies, said that the existing screening programs across all 50 states should be modernized, with federal research support and funding, to create a unified “learning newborn screening system” that derives information from the 4 million babies born each year and provides feedback to the medical community about best practices for babies who are diagnosed with a rare disease or at risk for developing one.

“A new approach will require resources and infrastructure, but as the technology advances, we should change our system to leverage the experience of doctors, patients, and NBS programs across the country,” Dr. Tarini said. “We have the will, the experience and the ability to transform the care for children with rare disease.”

Read the full editorial in JAMA Pediatrics.

Lenore Jarvis, M.D. participates in congressional briefing on maternal mental health

Lenore Jarvis, M.D. participates in congressional briefing on maternal mental health



Lenore Jarvis, M.D. participates in congressional briefing on maternal mental health

Lenore Jarvis, M.D., M.Ed., recently participated in a congressional briefing about maternal mental health.



Lenore Jarvis, M.D., M.Ed., director of advocacy and health policy for the Division of Emergency Medicine and an affiliate faculty member of the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children’s National Hospital, recently participated in a congressional briefing about maternal mental health. The goal of the briefing was to bring awareness to the devastating impact of untreated perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) on moms, babies and families and to eliminate the pervasive stigma around seeking care, including in communities of color and military populations.

PMADs are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity in the U.S., responsible for nearly one quarter of all maternal deaths. Evidence shows that 1 in 5 women experience a PMAD during pregnancy or the postpartum period. All maternal mental health conditions are treatable, yet over 75% go untreated.

Dr. Jarvis spoke about the importance of screening caregivers for PMADs not just in outpatient settings, but also in emergency departments and NICUs. She said that an emergency department can serve as a safety net for high-risk patient populations who may have limited access to primary or mental health care, or for those who use the emergency department at a time of increased stress, anxiety or depression. Similarly, the NICU population is comprised of caregivers coping with stressful scenarios like traumatic perinatal or birth experiences and life altering diagnoses.

“At Children’s National, our primary care clinics screen for PMADs, but we also provide universal screening by approaching caregivers with infants six months and younger in both the emergency department and the NICU. Our philosophy is that by offering this screening and education to families, we are providing a higher standard of care for the patients seen in these settings,” said Dr. Jarvis. If a caregiver screens positive, meaning they are exhibiting enough symptoms that they could be at risk for experiencing PMADs, a member of our social work team meets with that caregiver to complete an additional assessment and provide further support, including to understand if there are suicidal or infanticidal ideations and intent to act. Our social workers can then make referrals to connect them to more care and follow up with those caregivers to confirm they have connected with the appropriate resource.

Dr. Jarvis was asked how to make it easier to support caregivers and families regarding PMADs. “Caregivers need education regarding PMADs. We need them to know it’s common and it doesn’t make them bad parents. We also need to ensure that providers are screening and that they have increased time for visits that include addressing mental health concerns.” She also stressed that the healthcare system can be difficult to navigate. “We need to decrease barriers to care, like the long wait times to get into mental health care and insurance coverage issues.”

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.

stressed pregnant mom

Pandemic stress reshapes the placentas of expectant moms

stressed pregnant mom

Elevated maternal stress during the COVID-19 pandemic changed the structure, texture and other qualities of the placenta in pregnant mothers.

Elevated maternal stress during the COVID-19 pandemic changed the structure, texture and other qualities of the placenta in pregnant mothers – a critical connection between mothers and their unborn babies – according to new research from the Developing Brain Institute at Children’s National Hospital.

Published in Scientific Reports, the findings spotlight the underappreciated link between the mental health of pregnant mothers and the health of the placenta – a critical organ that develops during pregnancy to nourish and protect babies. The long-term neurodevelopmental impact on their children is under investigation.

“During the pandemic, mothers were exposed to a litany of negative stressors including social distancing, fear of dying, financial insecurity and more,” said Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., chief and director of the Developing Brain Institute, which led the research. “We now know that this vital organ was changed for many mothers, and it’s essential that we continue to investigate the impact this may have had on children who were born during this global public health crisis.”

The big picture

Dr. Limperopoulos’s team compared magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of 165 women who were pregnant before March 2020 to 63 women who became pregnant during the pandemic. Those pregnant during the pandemic were not knowingly exposed to COVID-19, and they collectively scored significantly higher on questionnaires measuring stress and depression. They were recruited at Children’s National as part of a clinical trial aimed at reducing pregnant women’s elevated stress levels during the pandemic.

The placenta is a temporary organ that grows during pregnancy to provide oxygen, nutrients and immunological protection to babies, and its health is vital to the well-being of the developing fetus. The data showed key changes in how the placenta grew and developed among women pregnant during the pandemic, especially when compared to placental growth and development among women who were pregnant before the pandemic. Changes in placental development also were associated with the infant’s birth weight at delivery. Importantly, these changes seem to be connected to maternal stress and depression symptoms.

Taken as a whole, the findings suggest that the disturbances measured on placental development in the womb may influence the placenta’s ability to support fetal health and wellness. “We are continuing to follow up on these mother-baby dyads to determine the long-term functional significance of these placental changes in utero,” Dr. Limperopoulos said.

Studies have shown that the placenta adapts to negative changes in the maternal environment and mental health status, and disruptions in placental function impact infant brain development and children’s neurobehavior and temperament.

The patient benefit

Dr. Limperopoulos’s research studying childbirth amid the pandemic builds on her extensive work investigating the impact of maternal stress on unborn children, including its adverse effect on brain structure and biochemistry. She’s also working on treatments and interventions to better support new families. Her program, DC Mother-Baby Wellness, brings together community partners to provide wrap-around care to expectant and new moms with elevated scores for stress, anxiety and depression.

“When identified early, maternal stress is a modifiable risk factor that can be treated with psychotherapy, social support and other personalized, evidence-based interventions,” Dr. Limperopoulos said. “We look forward to continued research in this area to better understand the mechanisms behind these biological changes and the needs of mothers and children who are born during pandemics, natural disasters and other significantly stressful events.”

Hand holding newborn baby's hand

DC Mother Baby Wellness marks 1,000-referral milestone

Hand holding newborn baby's hand

Launched 18 months ago, the city-wide DC MBW program brings together prenatal care providers, pediatricians, community-based organizations and birthing hospitals to provide essential services to mothers and babies at high risk for adverse health outcomes.

Launched 18 months ago, the city-wide DC MBW program brings together prenatal care providers, pediatricians, community-based organizations and birthing hospitals to provide essential services to mothers and babies at high risk for adverse health outcomes. Using evidence-based screening and evaluation tools, the program provides timely and targeted resources – including mental health care for mothers, developmental screening and treatment for newborns and other support – to ensure that families with the most acute social and medical needs have access to culturally relevant resources.

“Healthy moms are the foundation of healthy families and communities,” says Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., the program’s director and director of the Developing Brain Institute at Children’s National. “Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are among the most common complications of pregnancy. By offering thoughtful, individualized mental health resources – in English and Spanish – we are improving outcomes for local families facing some of the most complex and challenging health needs.”

Dr. Limperopoulos has done extensive research on the profound, negative effects of expectant mothers’ stress on their unborn children. Using advanced fetal MRI technology, her published research continues to show that stress, anxiety or depression in pregnant mothers alters babies’ brain development. These mental health challenges are associated with poor obstetric outcomes and social, emotional and behavioral problems in children.

The DC MBW 1,000-referral milestone comes as Dr. Limperopoulos expands her research role at Children’s National with the creation of a new Center for Prenatal, Neonatal & Maternal Health Research that she will lead. Opened in April, the center will be a research hub for maternal health and prevalent pediatric disorders that may be present in the earliest stages of life.

At DC MBW, Dr. Limperopoulos and her team serve mostly women of color with complex social needs that drive their anxiety, stress, depression and other mental health concerns. More than a third of the mothers referred to the wellness program are experiencing housing insecurity at intake – a number that climbs to more than 75% during their pregnancy and first year postpartum. About 30% of referred women are experiencing food insecurity. One in four are experiencing intimate partner violence, and 10% report contemplating suicide.

Dr. Limperopoulos says the team’s data indicate expectant mothers’ symptoms of depression drop dramatically within as few as six weeks of engagement with the wellness program’s services. These mothers are supported during pregnancy and beyond, as they check in with their providers during primary care visits at various Children’s National locations, participate in interactive, evidence-based play to boost child development and attend prenatal group classes that start this spring.

“It is not an overstatement to say that this program has saved lives,” says Siobhan Burke, M.D., director of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Unity Health Care. “There are so many initiatives and programs that focus on screening for depression in pregnancy, but DC MBW is actually doing the work and getting patients the treatments that they want and need. The team has designed a program that focuses on removing barriers. Whether that’s things like transportation, insurance status or language barriers, they find a way to help.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the U.S maternal death rate continues to climb locally and nationally. The rates for Black mothers are significantly higher than for white and Latina mothers, making early intervention and wrap-around healthcare services even more vital to reverse this sobering trend.

The DC MBW program was underwritten by a $36 million investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and has hired more than a dozen full-time experts who provide care coordination, psychotherapy and patient referrals to a range of community resources. Most often, patients are referred by providers at Unity Health Care, the George Washington University Hospital, MedStar Washington Hospital Center and other leading prenatal care practices in the city.

“I credit our team’s tireless efforts for achieving this milestone so quickly. I have witnessed firsthand the dedication, time and boundless energy that they have devoted to each and every one of these people, walking side by side with them on their journey toward wellness,” Dr. Limperopoulos says. “Our research clearly supports the need for the care and resources we provide through the DC Mother-Baby Wellness initiative. Through our existing referral collaborative, we look forward to welcoming even more patients to this city-wide network as we welcome their babies into the world.”

newborn in incubator

New research center focuses on origins of prenatal and neonatal disease

newborn in incubator

Children’s National Hospital researchers will develop new diagnostic tools and precision medicine for unborn children, babies and young children at the hospital’s newly established Center for Prenatal, Neonatal & Maternal Health Research.

Children’s National Hospital researchers will develop new diagnostic tools and precision medicine for unborn children, babies and young children at the hospital’s newly established Center for Prenatal, Neonatal & Maternal Health Research.

The investment comes as research continues to show the importance of high-quality, evidence-based care at this crucial stage of pediatric development, especially for underserved families. The center is the sixth organization to join the Children’s National Research Institute.

What we hope to discover

“We know that many chronic diseases that crop up during adulthood have their footprint in the womb,” said center Director Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D.  “While this concept has been around for years, our new center will provide a unique opportunity to study such research questions as the role of prenatal stressors on long-term outcomes. And we’ll be able to provide interventions earlier, improving mothers’ outcomes sooner. This benefits the mom, the fetus, the child and has implications for the next generation.”

Limperopoulos’s research will continue the hospital’s longstanding investment in improving the understanding, prevention and treatment of childhood diseases. The center will foster collaborations throughout the hospital by teaming with experts in neuroscience, oncology, genetics and other disciplines that are vital for safeguarding the health of mothers and their babies, even before they’re born.

The big picture

Catherine Limperopoulos

“We know that many chronic diseases that crop up during adulthood have their footprint in the womb,” said center Director Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D.  “While this concept has been around for years, our new center will provide a unique opportunity to study such research questions as the role of prenatal stressors on long-term outcomes.

Limperopoulos will also continue to serve as the director of the Children’s National Developing Brain Institute, which focuses on the brain in utero, after birth and throughout preschool. Her research is paving the way toward understanding how maternal stress impacts fetal brain development and helping to advance perinatal mental health while addressing racial disparities in access to care. The center will also partner with clinical leaders throughout Children’s National and community partners to expand existing efforts, such as the DC Mother-Baby Wellness Initiative, an innovative program that Limperopoulos leads.

“The care of mothers and their young children will change dramatically in the next decade, and the breadth of our research has the power to lead the way in harnessing medical advancements to nurture healthier families,” Limperopoulos said. “Imagine a day when we can identify in utero a biomarker for a disorder such as sickle cell disease and prevent the disease from taking hold with a novel therapy. This is the vision for the groundbreaking research that will happen at the new center.”

 

baby with with bronchopulmonary dysplasia

A team approach to complex bronchopulmonary dysplasia

“By the time a baby is diagnosed with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, families have already had a long journey with prematurity in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU),” says Hallie Morris, M.D., neonatologist and lead of the Complex Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD) Program at Children’s National Hospital. “To be able to have a team that is focused on the holistic health of their child in the context of this diagnosis makes a world of difference to these families.”

The big picture

Some premature infants with BPD experience more severe respiratory disease with comorbidities associated with their underlying disease processes, but also factors related to their lengthened intensive care unit (ICU) stay. This includes delayed development with neurodevelopmental impairment, ICU delirium, pulmonary hypertension, airway disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, feeding difficulties, retinopathy of prematurity and more.

The Complex BPD Program at Children’s National encompasses a group of specialists dedicated to improving the care of infants with BPD and other chronic lung disease of infancy. BPD places extreme demands on families. Education is a critical component for families and our team works to make sure they are well informed, have realistic expectations and understand their care plan.

What they’re saying

  • “Our program is unique in that it has the ability to follow the patient for several months in the NICU as well as after discharge,” says Maria Arroyo, M.D., pulmonologist and co-lead of the Complex BPD Program at Children’s National. “This includes a subacute facility where some of our NICU patients transfer to for continued respiratory weaning and rehabilitation with parent education and outpatient visits once families are home.”
  • “Since this program was created, we have improved patient care and outcomes with this interdisciplinary approach,” says John Berger, M., medical director for the Pulmonary Hypertension Program at Children’s National. “We expect that with our consistent and personalized care, patients will continue have better overall outcomes, less readmissions and improved neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Learn more about the Complex BPD Program.

coronavirus and DNA

Will SARS-CoV-2 during pregnancy impact child’s neurodevelopment?

coronavirus and DNA

Sarah Mulkey, M.D., prenatal-neonatal neurologist at Children’s National, will lead the neurodevelopmental evaluations of the infants born to mothers with SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy to understand any long-term neurological effects in offspring.

Scientists led by the Lieber Institute for Brain Development are studying how a mother’s SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy affects the biology of the placenta and the corresponding trajectory of the child’s brain development, including the risk for neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. The work is made possible by a $3 million, five-year grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The project stems from a collaboration between the Lieber Institute for Brain Development on the Johns Hopkins medical campus in Baltimore, Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and the Women’s Health Integrated Research Center at Inova Health System in Virginia.

The big picture

The group aims for a clearer picture of how a mother’s SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy affects neurodevelopment in utero, the effects of which may manifest early in a child’s life. The researchers hope to understand how the infection interacts with other factors relevant to brain development, including genomic risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, maternal stress and social determinants of health.

The team will study whether the relationship between maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection and offspring brain development is mediated by changes in the biology of the placenta and the activation of the mother’s immune system. They will also gauge any differences in the effects of SARS-CoV-2 between female and male children and in the offspring of vaccinated and unvaccinated mothers.

Why it matters

Preliminary data show that pregnant people with symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections are more likely to have a preterm delivery, abnormalities in the placenta and prenatal and perinatal complications such as preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction. All these complications have been found to increase a child’s risk of neurodevelopmental disorders later in life.

What we hope to discover

Sarah Mulkey, M.D., prenatal-neonatal neurologist at Children’s National, will lead the neurodevelopmental evaluations of the infants born to mothers with SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy to understand any long-term neurological effects in offspring. The researchers will evaluate the children’s neurodevelopment at both 24 and 36 months of age. This work builds upon Dr. Mulkey’s longitudinal neurodevelopmental evaluations in children exposed to Zika virus in utero.

“What we’ve learned is that even when babies don’t have Zika-virus-related birth defects, we still find differences in early child development compared to children who weren’t exposed to Zika virus,” said Dr. Mulkey. “With SARS-CoV-2, there is still so much we don’t know. But by better understanding the long-term impact of COVID exposure during pregnancy, we can ultimately find ways to prevent adverse outcomes.”

woman getting blood draw

Recommendations for management of positive monosomy X on cell-free DNA screening

woman getting blood draw

In a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers provide context and expert recommendations for maternal and fetal evaluation and management when cfDNA screening is positive for monosomy X or Turner Syndrome (TS).

Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) using cell-free DNA (cfDNA) is currently offered to all pregnant women regardless of the fetal risk. While this test has excellent value to screen for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome, the test has a much lower positive predictive value for sex-chromosome abnormalities such as Turner syndrome. In a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers provide context and expert recommendations for maternal and fetal evaluation and management when cfDNA screening is positive for monosomy X or Turner Syndrome (TS).

The manuscript was put together by the Turner Syndrome Special Interest Group (TS SIG) of the Pediatric Endocrine Society, chaired by Roopa Kanakatti Shankar, M.D., endocrinologist at Children’s National Hospital, along with other specialists including a gynecologist, maternal fetal medicine expert, cardiologists and pediatric endocrinologists.

The big picture

The field of NIPT using cfDNA testing has advanced considerably making it routine in the care of pregnant women and more couples are opting for it. This will lead to an increased detection of monosomy X overall — some of which may be true positives, but others may be false positives, or even an indicator of maternal TS rather than an affected fetus. This article discusses the changing landscape and provides an expert opinion on how to manage these scenarios.

How does this work move the field forward?

We hope that this will increase provider knowledge and recognition of the pitfalls of NIPT as a screening test for sex-chromosome disorders such as monosomy X,” says Dr. Kanakatti Shankar. “It will also provide a framework for the next diagnostic steps, management and referrals that a provider may take to optimize care for both mother and child.”

How is Children’s National leading in this space?

Current guidelines for the care of individuals with TS throughout the lifespan do not specifically address management of individuals with a cell-free DNA screen positive for monosomy X.

“As chair of the TS Special Interest Group, I was able to lead this unique collaborative effort which we hope will lead to better understanding of NIPT results in the context of TS and for multispecialty providers to improve prenatal detection and timely care,” says Dr. Kanakatti Shankar.

Read more about the study, Cell-free DNA screening positive for monosomy X: clinical evaluation and management of suspected maternal or fetal Turner syndrome.

newborn in incubator

Neuroprotective effect of Src kinase in neonates affected by HIE

newborn in incubator

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a major cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality worldwide.

In a systematic review published by Frontiers in Neuroscience, and co-authored by Panagiotis Kratimenos, M.D., neonatologist at Children’s National Hospital, Ioannis Koutroulis, M.D., pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children’s National and Javid Ghaemmaghami, M.S., researcher with the Center for Neuroscience Research at Children’s National, it was concluded that Src kinase is an effective neuroprotective target in the setting of acute hypoxic injury.

The paper reviews hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a major cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality worldwide (one in four perinatal deaths is attributed to hypoxic-ischemic). While therapeutic hypothermia has improved neurodevelopmental outcomes for some survivors of HIE, this treatment is only available to a subset of affected neonates. Src kinase, an enzyme central to the apoptotic cascade, is a potential pharmacologic target to preserve typical brain development after HIE. This paper, a product of collaboration for a Master’s Thesis with the Aristotle University School of Medicine, Thessaloniki, Greece, where Dr. Kratimenos holds the appointment of Visiting  Professor,  presents evidence of the neuroprotective effects of targeting Src kinase in preclinical models of HIE.

The systematic review shows that while heterogeneity and risk for bias were limiting factors, the overall results indicate that Src-i neuroprotective properties could be a promising therapeutic strategy for neonates after hypoxic events.

Read more about the full review.

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.

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)

Hyperfine Swoop System

$1.6m grant to boost MRI access globally for maternal, child health

Researchers at Children’s National Hospital are investigating ways to bring more portable and accessible low-field magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to parts of the world that lack access to this critical diagnostic tool, thanks to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The nearly $1.6 million in funding will enable clinicians to better treat pediatric neurological conditions including ischemic brain injury, hydrocephalus, micro- and macrocephaly and more, using analysis tools that are designed to handle the loss in image quality and related challenges inherent to low-field MRI. The research brings together teams at Children’s National and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles — two organizations with extensive experience in designing processing software tools for pediatric brain MRI analysis and data enhancement.

The patient benefit

“For 30 years, MRI has primarily helped patients in high-income countries. Our team is thrilled by the prospect of expanding this powerful tool to patients coming from a wide range of nations, geographies and socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation (SZI). “Low-field MRI comes with great advantages including portability at the point of care of patients, lower clinical costs and the elimination of sedation for young children.”

Linguraru and his long-time collaborator, Natasha Lepore, Ph.D., principal investigator at The Saban Research Institute at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, will analyze data from the brains of children from birth for the maternal and child health studies. The MRI data analyzed will form the basis for future studies of children’s brain anatomy in health and disease.

The big picture

Through the new grant, researchers will develop a suite of tools to help clinicians better analyze data and images from low-field MRI systems. These systems already have been integrated into interventional and observational studies to help characterize early neurodevelopmental patterns and identify drivers of abnormal development. They are also evaluating the efficacy of maternal and infant-focused interventions aimed at improving neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Why we’re excited

At Children’s National, SZI has installed a Hyperfine Swoop system, and Linguraru’s team is creating image enhancement tools tailored to the unique challenges of low-field MRI. Chief among them, conventional processing tools developed over the past several decades remain incompatible with the low-field data and require new software to take full advantage of the diagnostic power of imaging.

The work brings together a prestigious international consortium of scientists and clinicians from around the world to harness the power of computing and expand the reach of diagnostic imaging. Lepore said the team is eager to bring modern medical imaging to parts of the world that have missed its many benefits.

“Children’s brain development in underserved areas can be affected by so many factors, like malnutrition or anemia,” Lepore said. “The software we will design for the Hyperfine scanners will improve research into these factors, so the optimal interventions can be designed. We are excited to bring our expertise to this important and timely project.”

Baby on ventilator

Autonomic markers of extubation readiness in premature infants

Baby on ventilator

Premature infants often require a breathing tube and mechanical ventilation as a mainstay in their therapy. It can be difficult to predict when these patients are ready to come off the ventilator (extubate).

Premature infants often require a breathing tube and mechanical ventilation as a mainstay in their therapy. It can be difficult to predict when these patients are ready to come off the ventilator (extubate). In a study from Pediatric Research, experts from Children’s National Hospital describe a model to predict the success of extubation using markers of autonomic tone (rest and digest versus fight or flight response). This study was led by Suma Hoffman, M.D., neonatologist and co-authored by Adré J. du Plessis, M.B.Ch.B., M.P.H., division chief of Prenatal Pediatrics Institute, Sarah Schlatterer, M.D., prenatal and neonatal neurologist, and Rathinaswamy B. Govindan, Ph.D.

The team deployed a study of 89 infants less than 28 weeks. Heart rate variability (HRV) metrics 24 hours prior to extubation were compared for those with and without extubation success within 72 hours. Receiver-operating curve analysis was conducted to determine the predictive ability of each metric and a predictive model was created.

Conclusions show that extubation success is associated with HRV. The authors demonstrate an autonomic imbalance with low sympathetic and elevated parasympathetic tone in those who failed. α1, a marker of sympathetic tone, was noted to be the best predictor of extubation success especially when incorporated into a clinical model.

Learn more about the study in Pediatric Research.

Illustration of brain and brainwaves

Effective treatment for children with hemimegalencephaly

Illustration of brain and brainwaves

Anatomic or functional hemispherectomy are established neurosurgical treatment options and are recommended for effective seizure control and improved neurodevelopmental outcome in patients with HME.

Endovascular hemispherectomy can be safely used to provide definitive treatment of hemimegalencephaly (HME) related epilepsy in neonates and young infants when intraprocedural events are managed effectively, a new study finds.

The authors of the study, which published in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery, add that this less invasive novel approach should be considered a feasible early alternative to surgical hemispherectomy.

Why it matters

Anatomic or functional hemispherectomy are established neurosurgical treatment options and are recommended for effective seizure control and improved neurodevelopmental outcome in patients with HME. Hemispherectomy in the neonate, however, is associated with high surgical risks and most neurosurgeons defer surgical hemispherectomy until the patient is at least 8 weeks old. This delay comes at a significant neurocognitive cost as the uncontrolled seizures during this time of deferred surgery have a deleterious effect on future neurocognitive outcome.

Why we’re excited

“The procedure we have developed, endovascular hemispherectomy by transarterial embolization, acutely stops seizures and this cessation of seizures has been sustained in each of the treated patients,” says Monica Pearl, M.D., director of the Neurointerventional Radiology Program at Children’s National Hospital and the study’s lead author.

This treatment option – performed early in life – provides hope and a better quality of life for these patients post procedure.

What’s been the hold-up in the field?

Currently, the only effective treatment option is hemispherectomy. With the patient population of neonates and young infants, hemispherectomy has a very high mortality and complication rate resulting in most neurosurgeons deferring treatment until at least 8 weeks. This leaves neonates and young infants without effective treatment options and on multiple antiseizure medications in an effort to control the seizures

How does this work move the field forward?

“Embolization provides a highly effective treatment option that acutely stops seizures during a time period of critical neurodevelopment and one in which traditional open neurosurgical procedures are not viable options,” Dr. Pearl says. “Specifically, we can consider and perform embolization in children as young as one or two weeks of age rather than waiting until at least 8 weeks of age. The impact of earlier intervention – acutely stopping the seizures, reducing the dose and number of antiseizure medications and avoiding more invasive surgical procedures (hemispherectomy, shunt placement) – appears to be dramatic in our recent series. We are conducting long term studies to assess this effect on neurodevelopmental outcome.”

How is Children’s National leading in this space?

Dr. Pearl and the late Taeung Chang, M.D., neurologist at Children’s National, pioneered this concept and treatment pathway. The multidisciplinary team is led by Dr. Pearl, who has performed all the embolization procedures (transarterial embolization/endovascular hemispherectomy) and Tayyba Anwar, M.D., Co-Director, Hemimegalencephaly Program at Children’s National Hospital. Our epilepsy team, neonatology team and neurosurgery team work collaboratively managing the patients before and after each procedure.

pregnant woman

Early SARS-CoV-2 exposure may impact infant development

pregnant woman

The study found that some infants with in utero or early-life exposure to SARS-CoV-2 had borderline to low developmental screening scores.

Early SARS-CoV-2 exposure may impact neurodevelopment, especially among infants exposed in utero to symptomatic parents. This is according to a new study led by Sarah Mulkey, M.D., Ph.D., prenatal-neonatal neurologist in the Prenatal Pediatrics Institute at Children’s National Hospital. Dr. Mulkey and team conclude that vaccination and other precautions to reduce early-in-life infection may protect against neurodevelopmental delays. Children with early SARS-CoV-2 exposure should have additional long-term screening for neurodevelopmental delays.

Children’s National Hospital leads the way

The developing brain is vulnerable to both direct and indirect effects of infection during pregnancy and in the early neonatal period. To chart the impact of this exposure, the team created a clinical follow-up protocol in the Congenital Infection Program at Children’s National to chart the development of 34 infants exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in utero or in the neonatal period.

What we hoped to discover

“We conducted this study because we know that infants, when exposed to maternal COVID-19 infection in utero can be exposed to inflammation, fever and an abnormal intrauterine environment. SARS-CoV-2 can also affect the placenta, and in turn, the developing brain,” Dr. Mulkey shared with Healio.

This study aimed to determine if infants with early SARS-CoV-2 exposure developed abnormal neurodevelopment in infancy and the factors that may impact neurodevelopment differences. The study found that some infants with in utero or early-life exposure to SARS-CoV-2 had borderline to low developmental screening scores, most common among babies born to mothers with symptomatic COVID-19. Researchers followed the infants in their first months of life, gauging how the exposure affected their neurologic development. Results were demonstrated using a screening test called the Ages & Stages Questionnaires (ASQ), and those whose scores were borderline or low were most often born to mothers with symptomatic COVID-19.

Why it matters

In conducting this study, the team found that babies born during the pandemic, specifically under these conditions, do, in fact, require additional follow-up in the early stages of life. We may also see more differences in developmental outcomes as children get older.

“Any measure we can take to help prevent infections for mothers in their pregnancy can improve long-term developmental outcomes for children,” says Dr. Mulkey.

Other members of the Children’s National team that contributed to this work include Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., M.S.; Meagan E. Williams, M.S.P.H.; Nadia Jadeed, R.N.C.; Anqing Zhang, Ph.D.; and Smitha Israel, B.S.N.

Dr. Mulkey also published a recent article in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology that found the COVID-19 vaccine may protect pregnant women from SARS-CoV-2 placentitis and stillbirth. This work builds upon Dr. Mulkey’s longitudinal studies on Zika virus infection in pregnancy and long-term impacts on the child, funded by the Thrasher Research Fund and the National Institutes of Health.

Sarah Mulkey

Exposure to Zika in utero may produce neurodevelopmental differences

Sarah Mulkey

“There are still many unanswered questions about the long-term impacts of Zika on children exposed in utero,” says Sarah Mulkey, M.D., Ph.D., a prenatal-neonatal neurologist in the Prenatal Pediatrics Institute at Children’s National Hospital.

Children who are exposed to the Zika virus while in the womb, but who are not subsequently diagnosed with Zika-related birth defects and congenital Zika syndrome (CZS), may still display differences in some aspects of cognitive development, mood and mobility compared to unexposed children, reports a study published in Pediatric Research. These findings suggest that Zika-exposed children may need some additional support and monitoring as they get older.

“There are still many unanswered questions about the long-term impacts of Zika on children exposed in utero,” says Sarah Mulkey, M.D., Ph.D., a prenatal-neonatal neurologist in the Prenatal Pediatrics Institute at Children’s National Hospital and the study’s first author. “These findings are another piece of the puzzle that provides insight into the long-term neurodevelopment of children with prenatal Zika virus exposure. Further evaluation is needed as these children get older.”

It has not been clear how children who were exposed to the Zika virus in the womb during the 2015–2017 epidemic, but who did not develop CZS and serious neurological complications, will develop as they get older.

Dr. Mulkey and colleagues examined the neurodevelopment of 55 children aged 3-5 years who were exposed to Zika in the womb in Sabanalarga, Colombia, and compared them to 70 control children aged 4-5 years who had not been exposed to Zika. Assessments occurred between December 2020 and February 2021. Health professionals tested the children’s motor skills (such as manual dexterity, aiming and catching, and balance) and their readiness for school (including knowledge of colors, letters, numbers and shapes). Parents completed three questionnaires providing information about their child’s cognitive function (such as memory and emotional control), behavioral and physical conditions (such as responsibility and mobility), and their parenting experience (including whether they felt distress).

Parents of Zika-exposed children reported significantly lower levels of mobility and responsibility compared to control children, although differences in cognitive function scores were not significant. Additionally, parents of 6 (11%) Zika-exposed children reported mood problems compared to 1 (1%) of control children, and Zika-exposed parents were significantly more likely to report parental distress.

Professional testing revealed no significant differences in the Zika-exposed children’s manual dexterity, such as their ability to catch an object or post a coin through a slot, compared to the control children. Both Zika-exposed and control children also scored lowly on readiness for school.

The authors highlight that parental responses may have been influenced by the Zika-exposed children’s parents’ perceptions or increased worry about the development of their child. Some differences in results may also have been caused by the age – and therefore developmental – differences between the groups of children.

The authors conclude that while these Zika-exposed children are making progress as they develop, they may need additional support as they prepare to start school.

Dr. Mulkey is committed to studying the long-term neurodevelopmental impacts that viruses like Zika and SARS-CoV-2 have on infants born to mothers who were infected during pregnancy through research with the Congenital Infection Program at Children’s National and in collaboration with colleagues in Colombia.