Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine

woman writing data to medical form and glucometer for checking sugar level

New grant to assess screening tools for cystic fibrosis-related diabetes

woman writing data to medical form and glucometer for checking sugar level

A grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will help Children’s National researchers assess the feasibility and accuracy of two new cystic fibrosis-related diabetes screening tools.

Cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD) is the most common non-pulmonary manifestation of cystic fibrosis (CF), affecting up to 30% of adolescents and 50% of adults living with CF, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF). CFRD is often asymptomatic and so the CFF recommends that people living with CF be screened for CFRD annually starting at 10 years of age using an oral glucose tolerance test.

Although early detection and treatment of CFRD can lead to significant clinical improvements and prolong life, rates of screening are poor, likely due to the burdensome nature of oral glucose tolerance testing (OGTT). Rates of OGTT screening in patients 10-17 years of age vary widely among CF care centers, ranging 5.9% to 100% with a median of 61.3% of patients at a given center completing screening. At Children’s National, only 46.4% of pediatric CF patients without CFRD completed the OGTT in 2019.  The most commonly cited reason for failure to complete recommended OGTT screening is the additional burden that this time-consuming fasting test, requiring three blood draws, places upon patients who already contend with multiple medical interventions.

“People living with CF face tremendous medical burdens.,” says Brynn Marks, M.D., MSHPEd, pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s National Hospital. “Novel, more convenient approaches to CFRD screening that can provide both diagnostic and therapeutic information are urgently needed.”

Dr. Marks and Carol Chace, MSW, a social worker at Children’s National, have collaborated to receive a $160,000 Pilot and Feasibility Award from the CFF that will allow researchers to assess the feasibility and accuracy of two new CFRD screening tools, the Dexcom G6 Pro, a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), and the Digostics GTT@home, a home-based OGTT kit. The Dexcom G6 Pro is the first unblinded professional CGM that enables patients to see their glucose values and trends in real-time. The GTT@home uses a built-in timer and audio-visual cues to guide users to collect capillary blood samples through finger sticks.

“While the idea of home-based testing is exciting in general, it is particularly important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many are limiting preventative health care visits,” says Dr. Marks. “This research will hopefully inform future larger studies that could one day allow for this screening to be done at home.”

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.”

illustration of human lungs

The need for more nuanced definitions of asthma

illustration of human lungs

Asthma, which is the most common chronic pediatric lung disease, has traditionally been defined as a syndrome of airway inflammation characterized by clinical symptoms of cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The complex and diverse nature of asthma has led to its classification as a syndrome or a constellation of symptoms and signs rather than a single diagnosis.

A review article published last month in Pediatric Research summarizes recent advances in defining asthma as a disease in children and demonstrates the need for even more nuanced definitions of an illness that affects an estimated 6 million youngsters in the United States.

More precise definitions of asthma will lead to more accurate diagnoses, better care for patients, and thereby fewer visits to the emergency department, says senior author Deepa Rastogi, M.D., M.S., co-director of Children’s National Hospital’s Severe Asthma Program and Associate Professor, Pediatrics and Genomics and Precision Medicine, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The review — “Defining pediatric asthma: phenotypes to endotypes and beyond” — details current knowledge of asthma phenotypes and endotypes and recommends an approach to endotyping asthma that may be useful for defining asthma for clinical care as well as for future research studies in the realm of personalized medicine for asthma.

Asthma, which is the most common chronic pediatric lung disease, has traditionally been defined as a syndrome of airway inflammation characterized by clinical symptoms of cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The complex and diverse nature of asthma has led to its classification as a syndrome or a constellation of symptoms and signs rather than a single diagnosis.

The review summarizes key biomarkers that distinguish childhood asthma subtypes. While atopy and its severity are important features of childhood asthma, there is evidence to support the existence of a childhood asthma endotype distinct from the atopic endotype.

The article also summarizes a clinical approach that includes existing measures of airway-specific and systemic measures of atopy, coexisting morbidities, and disease severity and control, in the definition of childhood asthma, to empower health care providers to better characterize the disease burden in children.

“For health care providers, asking the right set of questions and doing the right testing will define the disease severity and control, which may get 90% of the disease under control,” says Rastogi. “This approach will allow health care providers to identify those children with severe asthma who would benefit from specialty intervention by a pediatric allergist or pulmonologist.”

At the Children’s National IMPACT DC Asthma Clinic, a team of providers that includes Rastogi, is practicing cutting-edge medicine that incorporates several concepts summarized in the review. The award-winning pediatric program is improving care and outcomes for children with severe asthma who have recently been to the emergency room, have been hospitalized for asthma, or generally have trouble controlling the disease.

When a child and their parents visit the clinic, they meet with clinicians who conduct a detailed medical consultation and provide a unique care plan for the patient. The team then coordinates treatment with the child’s primary care provider, school nurse and others involved in their care.

“Identifying the labile child using the endotyping tools allows us to intervene in a timely manner,” says Rastogi. “The article highlights the need to define asthma at the clinical level utilizing tools that already exist while also detailing areas where more research is needed.”

In its examination of how the definition of asthma has evolved over time, the review notes that the 2007 National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma introduced severity and control classifications. But in 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified the lack of standardized use of the classifications, noting that the terms were being used interchangeably.

The WHO also emphasized the need for a uniform definition for severe asthma that would differentiate treatment-resistant severe asthma from difficult-to-treat severe asthma, based on the high doses of inhaled corticosteroids and systemic corticosteroids required to achieve asthma control.

In 2019, the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) report included umbrella definitions of asthma — “a heterogeneous disease, usually characterized by chronic airway inflammation defined by the history of respiratory symptoms such as wheeze, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and cough that vary over time and in intensity, together with variable expiratory airflow limitations.”

While these definitions of asthma account for the varied disease presentation, they are again limited in defining early childhood asthma, since tests of airflow obstruction, such as spirometry (which measures lung function) cannot be reliably performed prior to the age of 5.

In the review, Rastogi and her co-authors encourage clinicians to uniquely define asthma for each child based on:

  • the age of onset (early vs. late)
  • the severity and control of disease (per the latest NHLBI guidelines as intermittent, mild, moderate or severe persistent)
  • the predominant form of immune response (allergic vs. nonallergic)
  • the inciting trigger (exercise vs. viral induced)
  • the pattern of pulmonary function deficits and
  • the presence of comorbidities

Better controlling childhood asthma could lead to reduced rates of adult asthma, says Rastogi.

“I’d love to be in a place where we can phenotype pediatric asthma with genetic, molecular, and biomarker details that directly guide targeted therapy,” says Rastogi. “That’s where oncology is now. That’s where I’d like to be with childhood asthma.”

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.

person holding vape and cigarette

E-cigarettes can be a gateway to conventional cigarette smoking

person holding vape and cigarette

A new study finds that e-cigarette use is associated with a higher risk of cigarette smoking among adolescents who had no prior intention of taking up conventional smoking.

Cigarette smoking remains a leading preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. And while adolescent cigarette smoking has declined over the past several decades, e-cigarette use presents a new risk for nicotine use disorder. A new study, published Nov. 9 in the journal Pediatrics, finds that e-cigarette use is associated with a higher risk of cigarette smoking among adolescents who had no prior intention of taking up conventional smoking. These findings have strong implications for practice and policy, researchers say.

“Research is showing us that adolescent e-cigarette users who progress to cigarette smoking are not simply those who would have ended up smoking cigarettes anyway,” says Olusegun Owotomo, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., the study’s lead author and a pediatric resident at Children’s National Hospital. “Our study shows that e-cigarettes can predispose adolescents to cigarette smoking, even when they have no prior intentions to do so.”

In one of the first theory-guided nationally representative studies to identify which adolescent e-cigarette users are at most risk of progressing to cigarette smoking, Researchers looked at data of more than 8,000 U.S. adolescents, ages 12-17, who had never smoked. The data was collected by the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, an NIH and FDA collaborative nationally representative prospective cohort study of tobacco use, from 2014-2016. Among adolescents who did not intend to smoke cigarettes in the future, those who used e-cigarettes were more than four times more likely to start smoking cigarettes one year later compared to those who did not use e-cigarettes.

E-cigarette use constitutes a relatively new risk factor for nicotine use disorder among U.S. adolescents. A 2019 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 28% of high school students and 11% of middle school students were current e-cigarette users. With the recent emergence of newer and potentially highly addictive e-cigarette products, adolescents who use e-cigarettes are at increased risk of developing nicotine use disorder and progressing to smoke conventional cigarettes.

“Abstinence from e-cigarettes can protect teens from becoming future smokers and should be framed as a smoking prevention strategy by all concerned stakeholders,” says Dr. Owotomo. “Pediatricians are best positioned to educate patients and families on the clinical and psychosocial consequences of e-cigarette use and should support education campaigns and advocacy efforts geared to discourage adolescent e-cigarette use.”

doctor helping child with asthma

New guidelines advance treatment approach for children with asthma

doctor helping child with asthma

Patients with asthma will benefit from new recommendations from a team of national asthma experts.

Patients with asthma will benefit from new recommendations from a team of national asthma experts that includes Stephen Teach, M.D., M.P.H., director and principal investigator of the IMPACT DC Asthma Clinic at Children’s National HospitalThe new guidance, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, represents the first update to federal comprehensive asthma management and treatment guidelines in more than a decade.

The new recommendations are based on systematic reviews conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, input from National Asthma Education Prevention Program participant organizations and a 19-member expert panel consisting of medical experts and the public.

“The updated guidelines touch on several management issues of critical importance to children, families, and clinicians struggling with the most common chronic disease of childhood,” says Dr. Teach. “Being a part of this expert panel allowed me to advocate for the unique needs of pediatric patients, especially those from under-resourced environments.”

The focused updates provide new guidance for six areas:

  • Using inhaled corticosteroids when needed for recurrent wheezing or persistent asthma.
  • Using long-acting antimuscarinic antagonists (LAMAs) with inhaled corticosteroids for long-term asthma management. A LAMA is a bronchodilator, a medicine that helps to keep airway muscles relaxed.
  • Using allergy shots that contain very small amounts of allergen to treat some people with allergic asthma.
  • Using one or more methods to reduce exposure to indoor asthma triggers.
  • Using a fractional exhaled nitric oxide test to help manage asthma or help confirm a diagnosis in some patients when the diagnosis is unclear. This test involves breathing into a tube connected to a machine that measures the amount of nitric oxide, which can increase when there is airway inflammation.
  • Using bronchial thermoplasty to treat selected adults with persistent asthma. During this procedure heat is used to reduce the muscle around the airways.

“The new and updated recommendations help to better control asthma in children and adolescents through the use of existing medicines, allergy shots and control of environmental triggers,” says Dr. Teach. “Taken together, application of these guidelines will significantly improve care and outcomes for kids of all ages.”

Research & Innovation Campus

Boeing gives $5 million to support Research & Innovation Campus

Research & Innovation Campus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

illustration of lungs with virus

Segmenting viral bronchiolitis patients to better predict clinical outcomes

illustration of lungs with virus

By evaluating viral bronchiolitis patients at first presentation and categorizing them based on clinical phenotype, the researchers were able to better predict outcomes and disease progression patterns.

Researchers from Children’s National Hospital have recently published a pilot study of children with viral bronchiolitis. By evaluating viral bronchiolitis patients at first presentation and categorizing them based on clinical phenotype, the researchers were able to better predict outcomes and disease progression patterns. Nasal airway cytokine levels were also measured to assess the underlying airway immunobiology of different clinical phenotypes. The researchers believe this novel subdivision of viral bronchiolitis patients based on a robust combination of clinical and molecular assessment can help lead to more individualized care and better patient outcomes.

Viral bronchiolitis is broadly used to group together infants with first-time severe viral respiratory infection, which is the most common cause of early life sick visits and hospitalizations worldwide. However, viral respiratory infections can vary significantly in clinical manifestations, which has raised concern among experts that the use of viral bronchiolitis as a catchall term may be compromising patient care. Children’s National researchers hypothesized that a novel segmentation technique of viral bronchiolitis patients by phenotype at first episode could provide better outcome prediction. In addition, lung X-rays and nasal cytokine profiles could help illuminate the underlying airway disease processes that drive the phenotypical differences observed at bedside.

The study examined 50 children ≤ 2 years old, including 41 patients admitted at Children’s National with PCR-confirmed viral respiratory infection and 9 controls. Researchers examined clinical features at presentation by reviewing each patient’s electronic medical record. Key parameters served as the basis for patient segmentation into three phenotypical groups: hypoxemia, wheezing and mild phenotypes. Patients in the hypoxia group (n = 16) were characterized by their need for supplemental oxygen; patients in the wheezing phenotype (n = 16) were distinguished by wheezing or subcostal retractions and patients in the mild phenotype (n = 9) displayed persistent respiratory symptoms but not hypoxia, wheezing or subcostal retractions. Chest x-rays further revealed that patients in the hypoxia phenotype displayed significantly more lung opacities than the other phenotypes.

As hypothesized, the three phenotype groups displayed distinct clinically relevant outcomes. Patients in the hypoxia group had more severe clinical symptoms at presentation and were significantly more likely to require prolonged hospitalization and pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) settings for treatment. Patients in the wheezing phenotype had shorter hospital stays but were significantly more likely to make a respiratory sick visit after initial discharge, with 69% coming back to the hospital with the same symptoms. Patients in the mild phenotype had the shortest hospital stays and did not require transfer to the PICU.

Nasal cytokine profiles were also assessed for all study subjects. Controls had lower cytokine levels than patients, with no significant difference between phenotype groups. However, wheezing patients with ≥1 recurrent respiratory sick visit had higher nasal levels of type 2 cytokines IL-13 and IL-4, consistent with the pathobiology of allergic asthma. This result adds support for the potential of initial sub-setting in guiding timely intervention.

The researchers hope that the strong results of their pilot study will guide clinicians to revise current practices regarding viral bronchiolitis and personalize care of viral respiratory illnesses from first presentation in order to improve outcomes. Study author and Children’s National pulmonologist Maria Arroyo, M.D., says, “if we can prevent these patients from coming [back] to the hospital just by doing a clinical evaluation the first time that they present with [viral respiratory infection]…that would be very impactful.”

The associated article, “Phenotypical Sub-setting of the First Episode of Severe Viral Respiratory Infection Based on Clinical Assessment and Underlying Airway Disease: A Pilot Study,” was published April 2, 2020 in Frontiers in Pediatrics. Notable authors include Maria Arroyo, M.D., Kyle Salka, M.S., and Gustavo Nino, M.D., M.S.H.S., D.A.B.S.M.

illustration of lungs surrounded by virus

COVID-19: First comprehensive review of pediatric lung imaging features

illustration of lungs surrounded by virus

A systematic review and meta-analysis by Children’s National Hospital researchers, published in Pediatric Pulmonology, provides the first comprehensive review of the findings of published studies describing COVID-19 lung imaging data in children.

The number COVID-19 studies focused on children have been small and with limited data. This has prevented the identification of specific pediatric lung disease patterns in COVID-19. Although children make up around 9.5% of COVID-19 infections, less than 2% of the literature on the virus, its symptoms and effects, have focused on kids.

A systematic review and meta-analysis by Children’s National Hospital researchers, published in Pediatric Pulmonology, provides the first comprehensive review of the findings of published studies describing COVID-19 lung imaging data in children. The analysis concludes that chest CT manifestations in children with COVID‐19 could potentially prompt intervention in the pediatric population.

Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator in the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National, discusses the importance of this work.

Q: What findings stand out to you?

A: We found that more than a third of children with COVID-19 had normal imaging. The lung imaging findings in these children were overall less frequent and less severe than in adult patients, but they were also more heterogeneous than in adults. Importantly, children with COVID-19 were three times more likely to have a normal exam than adults.

Several common lung imaging findings reported in adults were extremely rare or not found in the pediatric studies. These discoveries, and other recent reports in this space, support the fact that children’s symptoms may be less obvious than adults or even absent, but they still carry the virus and may be at risk for serious and life-threatening illness.

Marius George Linguraru

Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator in the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National.

Q: How will the findings of this study benefit pediatric care?

A: In our study, we showed how the health of the lungs of these children is impacted. Our results from data from 1,026 children (from newborns to 18 year old) with COVID-19 present chest manifestations that could potentially prompt informed intervention and better recovery.

Another conclusion of our study is that the abnormalities reported on the chest scans of children infected with COVID-19 are distinct from the typical lung images seen during other viral respiratory infections in the pediatric population. This is important for preparing for the cold and flu season.

Q: Why was this review important to our understanding of how COVID-19 impacts children?

A: This is the first systematic review and meta-analysis focused on the manifestation of the COVID-19 infection in the lungs of children. Our study, and others from colleagues at Children’s National, helps lead the efforts on elucidating how the pandemic affects the health of children.

Though children were initially thought to be less susceptible to infection, the data has made it clear that many children are at high risk for hospitalization and severe health complications. Although there are similarities between how children and adults are affected by the pandemic, there are also critical differences.

Given the limited knowledge in the manifestation of COVID-19 in children, with children susceptible to infection and hospitalization, and with children returning to school, continued efforts to understand the impact of COVID-19 on young patients is critically important. Understanding how children fare through the pandemic is the foundation of discovering better ways to take care of young patients and their health.

You can find the full study published in Pediatric Pulmonology. Learn more about the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National.

NCC-PDI device competition

Medical device competition announces six winners to share in $250K

Judges award grants for pediatric medical devices that address cardiovascular, NICU, and orthopaedic and spine device innovations.

baby being examined by doctor

Advanced lung care program receives Certificate of Need

baby being examined by doctor

The program that cares for children with advanced lung disease at Children’s National Hospital has secured a certificate of need (CON) from the Washington D.C. State Health Planning and Development Agency (SHPDA) to become the area’s first pediatric-specific lung transplant program.

“This is a significant step toward providing complete, wraparound care for young patients with complex lung conditions,” says Michael Tsifansky, M.D., director of Respiratory Failure and Lung Transplantation, who leads the program. “While our goal is always to provide the best care that will maintain lung function and avoid a lung transplant completely or for as long as possible, we look forward to being able to offer this life-saving procedure to those children who need it in the same location where they receive care.”

While many children’s hospitals offer care for complex lung conditions, there are only a few programs in the entire United States that provide lung transplants specifically for children and none in the Washington, D.C., region.

At present, there is no local option for a pediatric-specific program that can perform the transplant and provide the necessary comprehensive services for patients, from infancy up to age 18. As a top children’s hospital, Children’s National is uniquely positioned to provide the highest level of pediatric care to these patients and allow children and their families to spend more time at home while undergoing this and other lifesaving treatments.

With the CON process complete, the program can now start the process of securing certification from the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) and completing a few other federal regulatory steps.

In the meantime, Dr. Tsifansky says that it’s important for people to know that there is already a program that can provide care for pediatric patients with advanced lung conditions.

“The path to a lung transplant is extremely long,” he says, “And our job in the advanced lung disease program is to manage the care of these children in ways that will keep them as healthy as possible for as long as possible. In some cases that hopefully means there is no lung transplant in their future. For others, it means making sure their bodies are strong enough and healthy enough to qualify for and tolerate the life-saving lung transplant they need, when they need it.”

The team hopes to secure all regulatory approvals and perform the first pediatric lung transplant at Children’s National in early 2021.

Children's National Pulmonary Division Stats

2020 at a glance: Pulmonary Medicine at Children’s National


The Children’s National Division of Pulmonary Medicine is consistently recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top programs in the nation

Staphylococcus

Airway microbial diversity in children with Cystic Fibrosis

Staphylococcus

Despite having less overall microbial richness, children with Cystic Fibrosis displayed a greater presence of Staphylococcus species.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a disease that mainly affects the lungs and arises from mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene that encodes for the CFTR membrane protein located on certain secretory cells. CFTR dysfunction leads to complications such as the production of abnormally viscous mucus which causes chronic suppurative lung infections that require antibiotics to treat. New drugs called CFTR modulators can help improve CFTR protein function and some are even FDA-approved for use in children. In addition to CFTR protein function, the lung’s resident microbiota and its richness of diversity, plays an important role in both health and disease, including CF.

In a new study published in Heliyon, scientists from Children’s National Hospital examined the difference in the upper airway microbiome between children with CF and healthy controls. Age-related differences among children with CF and the impact of CFTR modulators on microbial diversity were also assessed. Seventy-five children between 0-6 years of age participated in the study, including 25 children with CF and 50 healthy controls. For CF participants, oropharyngeal swabs and clinical data were obtained from the biorepository, while data for controls were obtained during a single clinical visit.

Analysis revealed that CF patients had less microbial diversity and different composition of the upper airway microbiome compared to age similar controls, a finding that is consistent with research on the lower airways. Despite having less overall microbial richness, children with CF displayed a greater presence of Staphylococcus species, (a main driver of the pulmonary exacerbations characteristic of CF), three Rothia operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and two Streptococcus OTUs. CF patients received a significantly higher number of antibiotics courses within the previous year compared to healthy controls, and further investigation will be necessary to understand the impact of antibiotics on the upper airway microbiome of infants and children with CF.

Longitudinal comparisons to study effects of age and CFTR modulation on the microbiome of children with CF were also undertaken. Younger CF patients (those 0 to <3 years of age at study enrollment), were more likely to have culturally-normal respiratory flora and more stable microbial composition over time than older CF patients (those ≥ 3–6 years of age at study enrollment), with no significant differences in alpha or beta diversity. Older CF patients were significantly more likely to be receiving a CFTR modulator than younger patients. CF patients receiving CFTR modulators had higher microbial diversity measures than those not receiving CFTR modulators and were closer (but still significantly lower) in microbial richness to healthy controls. No significant differences in beta diversity were found between the three groups.

This study adds to the growing body of evidentiary support for the use of CFTR modulators in improving airway microbial diversity in CF patients. Future studies with a larger cohort and greater focus on the impact on early initiation of CFTR modulators on microbial diversity and clinical outcomes is necessary.

The study, “Airway microbial diversity is decreased in young children with cystic fibrosis compared to healthy controls but improved with CFTR modulation,” was recently published in Heliyon. The lead author is Andrea Hahn, M.D., M.S., an investigator at the Children’s National Research Institute. Notable authors include Aszia Burrell; Emily Ansusinha; Hollis Chaney, M.D.; Iman Sami, M.D.; Geovanny F. Perez, M.D.; Anastassios C. Koumbourlis, M.D., M.P.H.; Robert McCarter, Sc.D.; and Robert J. Freishtat, M.D., M.P.H..

US News Badges

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

US News Badges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

child using inhaler

The search for new Cystic Fibrosis clinical biomarkers

child using inhaler

Physician-scientists from Children’s National Hospital are unlocking new insights into Cystic Fibrosis by studying the type and number of bacteria in the lungs.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder that chiefly affects the lungs and results in the production of abnormally dehydrated, viscous mucus. The inability to adequately clear this mucus leads to bacterial retention and both intermittent and chronic lung infections which require antibiotic therapy to treat. Researchers have used 16S rDNA amplicon sequencing for years in the attempts to characterize the airway microbiomes of CF patients, and more recently have used shotgun whole genome sequencing (WGS) techniques to obtain further details regarding bacterial species and strains. Previous studies on the airway microbiomes of CF patients have revealed that inter-person variability is high and can sometimes exceed intra-person variability. This can preclude generalizations regarding the CF population as a whole, which includes more than 30,000 Americans.

A recently published case study examined a young child with advanced and severely aggressive CF over a 12-month period, during which five pulmonary exacerbations occurred. A total of 14 sputum samples were collected across three clinical periods- baseline, exacerbation, and treatment. Samples were subsequently genetically sequenced (via 16s rDNA sequencing and, in three instances, WGS) and volatile metabolites were analyzed. The researchers hypothesized that if signature microbiome and metabolome characteristics correlated with one other and could be identified for each disease state, this data could serve as conglomerate biomarkers for the continuum of CF clinical states within an individual. In turn, this could inform future study design in a larger cohort.

Across all sputum samples, 109 individual operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and 466 distinct volatile metabolites were identified. 16s rDNA sequencing and WGS revealed that Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus were the predominant bacteria during most baseline and exacerbation samples, despite some significant fluctuations in relative abundances. After the patient’s fifth antibacterial course, however, Achromobacter xylosoxidans became the new dominant bacterium.

Analysis revealed that the phylum Bacteroidetes and the genus Stenotrophomonas were significantly more abundant in treatment periods compared to baseline and exacerbation periods. WGS revealed the presence of bacteriophages as well as antibiotic resistance genes (mostly due to multi-drug resistance mechanisms), which can have important clinical ramifications and adds some dimensionality to the genetic analysis.

Volatile metabolite analysis found that observable fluctuations in metabolome composition coincided with fluctuations in the sputum microbiome. In this case, the microbiome and volatile metabolites produced by these bacteria provided an accurate assessment of the child’s clinical state. More specifically, the authors saw a distinct shift in both the microbiome and volatile metabolites with antibiotic treatment across the five independent pulmonary exacerbations. These additional assessments of the bacteria within the CF airway could provide an additional technique beyond standard bacterial cultures to better understand how the patient is responding to antibiotic treatment. Future studies in a larger group of children with CF may provide further insights into bacteria and volatile metabolite combinations that predict pulmonary exacerbation.

The article, “Longitudinal Associations of the Cystic Fibrosis Airway Microbiome and Volatile Metabolites: A Case Study,” was published in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. The lead author is Andrea Hahn, M.D., M.S., an investigator at the Children’s National Research Institute. Notable authors include Iman Sami, M.D., pulmonologist at Children’s National; Anastassios C. Koumbourlis, M.D., M.P.H, director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center; and Robert J. Freishtat, M.D., M.P.H, senior investigator at the Center for Genetic Medicine Research.

Vittorio Gallo and Mark Batshaw

Children’s National Research Institute releases annual report

Vittorio Gallo and Marc Batshaw

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

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

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

Highlights from the Children’s National Research Institute annual report

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

Understanding and treating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)

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

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

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

coronavirus

Study finds children can become seriously ill with COVID-19

coronavirus

Despite early reports suggesting COVID-19 does not seriously impact children, a new study shows that children who contract COVID-19 can become very ill.

In contrast to the prevailing view that the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 does not seriously impact children, a new study finds that children who contract the virus can become very ill—many of them critically so, according to physician researchers at Children’s National Hospital. Their results, published in the Journal of Pediatrics and among the first reports from a U.S. institution caring for children and young adults, shows differences in the characteristics of children who recovered at home, were hospitalized, or who required life support measures. These findings highlight the spectrum of illness in children, and could help doctors and parents better predict which pediatric patients are more likely to become severely ill as a consequence of the virus.

In late 2019, researchers identified a new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. As the disease spread around the world, the vast majority of reports suggested that elderly patients bear the vast majority of the disease burden and that children are at less risk for either infection or severe disease. However, study leader Roberta DeBiasi, M.D., M.S., chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s National, states that she and her colleagues began noticing an influx of children coming to the hospital for evaluation of a range of symptoms starting in mid-March 2020, who were tested and determined to be infected with COVID-19. One quarter of these children required hospitalization or life support.

“It was very apparent to us within the first several weeks of the epidemic that this was a very different situation than our colleagues on the West Coast of the US had described as their experience just weeks before,” DeBiasi says. “Right away, we knew that it was important for us to not only care for these sick children, but to examine the factors causing severe disease, and warn others who provide medical care to children.”

To better understand this phenomenon, she and her colleagues examined the medical records of symptomatic children and young adults who sought treatment at Children’s National for COVID-19 between March 15 and April 30, 2020. Each of these 177 children tested positive using a rapid assay to detect SARS-CoV-2 performed at the hospital. The researchers gathered data on each patient, including demographic details such as age and sex; their symptoms; whether they had any underlying medical conditions; and whether these patients were non-hospitalized, hospitalized, or required critical care.

The results of their analysis show that there was about an even split of male and female patients who tested positive for COVID-19 at Children’s National during this time period. About 25% of these patients required hospitalization. Of those hospitalized, about 75% weren’t considered critically ill and about 25% required life support measures. These included supplemental oxygen delivered by intubation and mechanical ventilation, BiPAP, or high-flow nasal cannula – all treatments that support breathing – as well as other support measures such as dialysis, blood pressure support and medications to treat infection as well as inflammation.

Although patients who were hospitalized spanned the entire age range, more than half of them were either under a year old or more than 15 years old. The children and young adults over 15 years of age, Dr. DeBiasi explains, were more likely to require critical care.

About 39% of all COVID-19 patients had underlying medical conditions, including asthma, which has been highlighted as a risk factor for worse outcomes with this infection. However, DeBiasi says, although underlying conditions were more common as a whole in hospitalized patients – present in about two thirds of hospitalized and 80% of critically ill – asthma didn’t increase the risk of hospitalization or critical illness. On the other hand, children with underlying neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy, microcephaly, or global developmental delay, as well as those with underlying cardiac, hematologic, or oncologic conditions were significantly more likely to require hospitalization.

In addition, although early reports of COVID-19 suggested that fever and respiratory symptoms are hallmarks of this infection, Dr. DeBiasi and her colleagues found that fewer than half of patients had both concurrently. Those with mild, upper respiratory symptoms, such as runny nose, congestion, and cough were less likely to end up hospitalized than those with more severe respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath. The frequency of other symptoms including diarrhea, chest pain and loss of sense of smell or taste was similar among hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients.

Dr. DeBiasi notes that although other East Coast hospitals are anecdotally reporting similar upticks in pediatric COVID-19 patients who become seriously ill, it’s currently unclear what factors might account for differences from the less frequent and milder pediatric illness on the West Coast. Some factors might include a higher East Coast population density, differences between the genetic, racial and ethnic makeup of the two populations, or differences between the viral strains circulating in both regions (an Asian strain on the West Coast, and a European strain on the East Coast).

Regardless, she says, the good news is that the more researchers learn about this viral illness, the better prepared parents, medical personnel and hospitals will be to deal with this ongoing threat.

Other researchers from Children’s National who participated in this study include Xiaoyan Song, Ph.D., M.Sc.Meghan Delaney, D.O., M.P.H.Michael Bell, M.D. Karen Smith, M.D.Jay Pershad, M.D., Emily Ansusinha, Andrea Hahn, M.D., M.S., Rana Hamdy, M.D., M.P.H., MSCE, Nada Harik, M.D.Benjamin Hanisch, M.D.Barbara Jantausch, M.D.Adeline Koay, MBBS, MS.c., Robin Steinhorn, Kurt Newman, M.D. and David Wessel, M.D.

muscle cells

Experimental model mimics early-stage myogenic deficit in boys with DMD

muscle cells

Muscle regeneration marked by incorporation of muscle stem cell nuclei (green) in the myofibers (red) in dystrophic muscles with low TGFβ level (upper image), but not with high TGFβ level (lower image). Inflammatory and other nuclei are labeled blue.

Boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) experience poor muscle regeneration, but the precise reasons for this remain under investigation. An experimental model of severe DMD that experiences a large spike in transforming growth factor-beta (TGFβ) activity after muscle injury shows that high TGFβ activity suppresses muscle regeneration and promotes fibroadipogenic progenitors (FAPs). This leads to replacement of the damaged muscle fibers by calcified and connective tissue, compromising muscle structure and function. While blocking FAP buildup provides a partial solution, a Children’s National Hospital study team identifies correcting the muscle micro-environment caused by high TGFβ as a ripe therapeutic target.

The team’s study was published online March 26, 2020, in JCI Insight.

DMD is a chronic muscle disease that affects 1 in 6,200 young men in the prime of their lives. The disorder, caused by genetic mutations leading to the inability to produce dystrophin protein, leads to ongoing muscle damage, chronic inflammation and poor regeneration of lost muscle tissue. The patients experience progressive muscle wasting, lose the ability to walk by the time they’re teenagers and die prematurely due to cardiorespiratory failure.

The Children’s National team finds for the first time that as early as preadolescence (3 to 4 weeks of age), their experimental model of severe DMD disease showed clear signs of the type of spontaneous muscle damage, regenerative failure and muscle fiber loss seen in preadolescent boys who have DMD.

“In boys, the challenge due to muscle loss exists from early in their lives, but had not been mimicked previously in experimental models,” says Jyoti K. Jaiswal, MSc, Ph.D., principal investigator in the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National, and the study’s co-senior author. “TGFβ is widely associated with muscle fibrosis in DMD, when, in fact, our work shows its role in this disease process is far more significant.”

Research teams have searched for experimental models that replicate the sudden onset of symptoms in boys who have DMD as well as its complex progression.

“Our work not only offers insight into the delicate balance needed for regeneration of skeletal muscle, but it also provides quantitative information about muscle stem cell activity when this balanced is disturbed,” says Terence A. Partridge, Ph.D., principal investigator in the Center for Genetic Medicine Research at Children’s National, and the study’s co-senior author.

This schematic depicts the fate of injured myofibers in healthy or dystrophic muscle

This schematic depicts the fate of injured myofibers in healthy or dystrophic muscle (WT or mdx experimental models) that maintain low TGFβ level, compared with D2-mdx experimental models that experience a large increase in TGFβ level. As the legend shows, various cells are involved in this regenerative response.

“The D2-mdx experimental model is a relevant one to use to investigate the interplay between inflammation and muscle degeneration that is seen in humans with DMD,” adds Davi A.G. Mázala, co-lead study author.  “This model faithfully recapitulates many features of the complex disease process seen in humans.”

Between 3 to 4 weeks of age in the experimental models of severe DMD disease, the level of active TGFβ spiked up to 10-fold compared with models with milder disease. Intramuscular injections of an off-the-shelf drug that inhibits TGFβ signaling tamped down the number of FAPs, improving the muscle environment by lowering TGFβ activity.

“This work lays the foundation for studies that could lead to future therapeutic strategies to improve patients’ outcomes and lessen disease severity,” says James S. Novak, Ph.D., principal investigator in Children’s Center for Genetic Medicine Research, and co-lead study author. “Ultimately, our goal is to improve the ability of patients to continue to maintain muscle mass and regenerate muscle.”

In addition to Mázala, Novak, Jaiswal and Partridge, Children’s National study co-authors include Marshall W. Hogarth; Marie Nearing; Prabhat Adusumalli; Christopher B. Tully; Nayab F. Habib; Heather Gordish-Dressman, M.D.; and Yi-Wen Chen, Ph.D.

Financial support for the research described in this post was provided by the National Institutes of Health under award Nos. T32AR056993, R01AR055686 and U54HD090257; Foundation to Eradicate Duchenne; Muscular Dystrophy Association under award Nos. MDA295203, MDA480160 and MDA 477331; Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy; and Duchenne Parent Project – Netherlands.

preterm baby

Validating a better way to stratify BPD risk in vulnerable newborns

preterm baby

Factoring in the total number of days that extremely preterm infants require supplemental oxygen and tracking this metric for weeks longer than usual improves clinicians’ ability to predict respiratory outcomes according to bronchopulmonary dysplasia severity.

Factoring in the total number of days that extremely preterm infants require supplemental oxygen and tracking this metric for weeks longer than usual improves clinicians’ ability to predict respiratory outcomes according to bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) severity, a research team led by Children’s National Hospital writes in Scientific Reports. What’s more, the researchers defined a brand-new category (level IV) for newborns who receive supplemental oxygen more than 120 days as a reliable way to predict which infants are at the highest risk of returning to the hospital due to respiratory distress after discharge.

About 1 in 10 U.S. infants is born preterm, before 37 weeks gestation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes extremely preterm infants who weigh about 1 lb. at birth. These very low birthweight newborns have paper thin skin, frail hearts and lungs that are not yet mature enough to deliver oxygen throughout the body as needed. Thanks to advances in neocritical care, an increasing number of them survive prematurity, and many develop BPD, a chronic lung disease characterized by abnormal development of the lungs and pulmonary vasculature.

“About half of the babies born prematurely will come back to the hospital within the first year of life with a respiratory infection. The key is identifying them and, potentially, preventing complications in this high-risk population,” says Gustavo Nino, M.D., a Children’s National pulmonologist and the study’s lead author.

For decades, the most common way to stratify BPD risk in these vulnerable newborns has been to see if they require supplemental oxygen at 36 weeks corrected gestational age.

“The problem with this classification is it doesn’t take into account the very premature babies who are on oxygen for much longer than other babies. So, we asked the question: Can we continue risk stratification beyond 36 weeks in order to identify a subset of babies who are at much higher risk of complications,” Dr. Nino says.

The longitudinal cohort study enrolled 188 infants born extremely preterm who were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s National and tracked their data for at least 12 months after discharge. The team used a multidimensional approach that tracked duration of supplemental oxygen during the newborns’ NICU stay as well as scoring lung imaging as an independent marker of BPD severity. To validate the findings, these U.S.-born newborns were matched with 130 infants who were born preterm and hospitalized at two NICUs located in Bogotá, Colombia.

“Babies who are born very preterm and require oxygen beyond 120 days should have expanded ventilation of the lungs and cardiovascular pulmonary system before going home,” he notes. “We need to identify these newborns and optimize their management before they are discharged.”

And, the babies with level IV BPD risk need a different type of evaluation because the complications they experience – including pulmonary hypertension – place them at the highest risk of developing sleep apnea and severe respiratory infection, especially during the first year of life.

“The earlier we identify them, the better their outcome is likely to be,” Dr. Nino says. “We really need to change the risk stratification so we don’t call them all ‘severe’ and treat them the same when there is a subset of newborns who clearly are at a much higher risk for experiencing respiratory complications after hospital discharge.”

In addition to Dr. Nino, Children’s National study co-authors include Awais Mansoor, Ph.D., staff scientist at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation (SZI); Geovanny F. Perez, M.D., pediatric pulmonologist; Maria Arroyo, M.D., pulmonologist; Xilei Xu Chen, M.D., postdoctoral fellow; Jered Weinstock, pediatric pulmonary fellow; Kyle Salka, MS, research technician; Mariam Said, M.D., neonatologist, and Marius George Linguraru, DPhil, MA, MSc, SZI principal investigator and senior author. Additional co-authors include Ranniery Acuña-Cordero, Universidad Militar Nueva Granada, Bogotá, Colombia; and Monica P. Sossa-Briceño and Carlos E. Rodríguez-Martínez, both of Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Funding for research described in this post was provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under award Nos. HL145669, AI130502 and HL141237. In addition, the NIH has awarded Dr. Nino an RO1 grant to continue this research.

NICU evacuation training baby on a stretcher

Innovative NICU training lauded as ‘best article’ by national journal

NICU evacuation training baby on a stretcher

“Fires, tornadoes and other natural disasters are outside of our team’s control. But it is within our team’s control to train neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) staff to master this necessary skill,” says Lisa Zell, BSN, a clinical educator at Children’s National Hospital.

Research into how to create a robust emergency evacuation preparedness plan and continually train staff that was led by Zell was lauded by editors of The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing. The journal named the study the “best article” for the neonatal section that the prestigious journal published in 2018-19.

“We all hope for the best no matter what the situation, but we also need to extensively plan for the worse,” says Billie Lou Short, M.D., chief of the division of neonatology at Children’s National. “I’m proud that Lisa Zell and co-authors received this much-deserved national recognition on behalf of the nation’s No. 1 NICU.”

Educators worked with a diverse group within Children’s National to design and implement periodic evacuation simulations.

In addition to Zell and Lamia Soghier, M.D., FAAP, CHSE, Children’s National NICU medical unit director, study co-authors include Carmen Blake, BSN; Dawn Brittingham, MSN; and Ann-Marie Brown, MSN.

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View photos showing how disaster training occurs at Children’s National