Drs. Katie Donnelly, Panagiotis Kratimenos, Rana Hamdy, Shayna Coburn and Brynn Marks

Five Children’s National Hospital faculty named to Society for Pediatric Research

Drs. Katie Donnelly, Panagiotis Kratimenos, Rana Hamdy, Shayna Coburn and Brynn Marks

The Society for Pediatric Research (SPR) announced five new members from Children’s National Hospital: Drs. Rana Hamdy, Panagiotis Kratimenos, Brynn Marks, Shayna Coburn and Katie Donnelly.

The Society for Pediatric Research (SPR) announced five new members from Children’s National Hospital. Established in 1929, SPR’s mission is to create a multi-disciplinary network of diverse researchers to improve child health.

Membership in SPR is a recognized honor in academic pediatrics. It requires nomination by academic peers and leaders as well as recognition of one’s role as an independent, productive child health researcher.

“I am so proud of our faculty and all that they have accomplished. I am thrilled that they have been recognized for their achievements,” said Beth A. Tarini, M.D., M.S., SPR president and associate director for the Center for Translational Research at Children’s National Hospital.

SPR 2021 active new members from Children’s National are:

    • Katie Donnelly, M.D., M.P.H., attending physician in the Emergency Department at Children’s National Hospital. She is the medical director for Safe Kids DC, an organization dedicated to preventing accidental injuries in children in Washington DC. Her personal research interest is in preventing firearm injuries in children and she is a member of Safer through Advocacy, Firearm Education and Research (SAFER), a multidisciplinary team dedicated to firearm injury prevention at Children’s National. She is also the medical director of the newly founded hospital-based violence intervention program at Children’s National and an associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at The George Washington University.“To be recognized by my peers as a researcher with a significant contribution to our field is very validating. It also opens a world of potential collaborations with excellent scientists, which is very exciting!” said Dr. Donnelly. “I am grateful for the immense support offered to me by the Division of Emergency Medicine to complete the research I am passionate about, especially my mentor Monika Goyal.”
    • Panagiotis Kratimenos, M.D. Ph.D., newborn intensivist and neuroscientist at Children’s National. He studies mechanisms of brain injury in the neonate, intending to prevent its sequelae later in life. Dr. Kratimenos’ interest lies in identifying therapies to prevent or improve neurodevelopmental disabilities of sick newborns caused by prematurity and perinatal insults.“Being a member of SPR is a deep honor for me. SPR has always been a ‘mentorship home’ for me since I was a trainee and a member of the SPR junior section,” said Dr. Kratimenos. “A membership in the SPR allows us to access a very diverse, outstanding team of pediatric academicians and researchers who support the development of physician-scientists, honors excellence through prestigious grants and awards, and advocates for children at any level either locally, nationally, or internationally.”
    • Rana Hamdy, M.D., M.P.H., M.S.C.E., pediatric infectious diseases physician at Children’s National and Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program. She is an assistant professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Her area of expertise focuses on the prevention and treatment of antimicrobial resistant infections and the promotion of good antimicrobial stewardship in inpatient and outpatient settings.“It’s an honor to be joining the Society for Pediatric Research and becoming part of this distinguished multidisciplinary network of pediatric researchers,” said Dr. Hamdy. “I look forward to the opportunity to meet and work with SPR members, make connections for future collaborations, as well as encourage trainees to pursue pediatric research through the opportunities that SPR offers.”
    • Shayna Coburn, Ph.D., director of Psychosocial Services in the Celiac Disease Program at Children’s National. She is a licensed psychologist specializing in coping and interpersonal relationships in chronic illness treatment, particularly for conditions involving specialized diets. She holds an appointment as assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Her work has focused on promoting effective doctor-patient communication, reducing healthcare disparities and supporting successful adherence across the developmental span of childhood and adolescence. She currently has a Career Development Award from National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to refine and test a group intervention designed to improve self-management and quality of life in teens with celiac disease.
      “I hope that my background as a psychologist researcher will help diversify SPR. As an SPR member, I hope to encourage more opportunities for training, awards, and other programs that would be inclusive of clinician researchers who may not hold a traditional medical degree,” said Dr. Coburn.
    • Brynn Marks, M.D., M.S.-H.P.Ed., endocrinologist at Children’s National. As a clinical and translational scientist her goal is to use unique personal experiences and training to optimize both patient and provider knowledge of and behaviors surrounding diabetes technologies thereby realizing the potential of diabetes technologies improve the lives and clinical outcomes of all people living with diabetes. Her experiences as a person living with Type 1 diabetes have undoubtedly shaped her clinical and research interests in diabetes management and medical education.
      “It is an honor to be accepted for membership in the Society for Pediatric Research,” said Dr. Marks.  “Being nominated and recognized by peers in this interprofessional pediatric research community will allow me networking and growth opportunities as I continue to advance my research career.”
insulin pump

Diabetes technology use in the cystic fibrosis community

insulin pump

Although diabetes technologies are associated with improvements in glycemic control and health-related quality of life among people with type 1 diabetes (T1D), the use and perceptions of continuous glucose monitors (CGM) and insulin pumps within the cystic fibrosis (CF) community have not been well documented.

In a recent study published in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics, Brynn Marks, M.D., MS-HPEd, and co-authors, found that compared to T1D, rates of sustained diabetes technology use in the cystic fibrosis-related diabetes (CFRD) community are low, despite perceived benefits. The authors conclude that better insurance coverage to mitigate cost, better patient education and confirmation that these technologies improve health and patient-reported outcomes may increase uptake.

Read the full article in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics.

Kristen Sgambat, Ph.D., and Asha Moudgil, M.D.

Kristen Sgambat, Ph.D., R.D. and Asha Moudgil, M.D. receive Editors’ Choice Award

Kristen Sgambat, Ph.D., and Asha Moudgil, M.D.

Children’s National Hospital researchers Kristen Sgambat, Ph.D., and Asha Moudgil, M.D., were presented with the 2021 AJKD Editors’ Choice Award.

The American Journal of Kidney Disease (AJKD) announced the selection of the 2021 AJKD Editors’ Choice Award, recognizing outstanding articles published in their journal this year.

Children’s National Hospital researchers Kristen Sgambat, Ph.D., and Asha Moudgil, M.D., were presented with the 2021 AJKD Editors’ Choice Award for their July 2021 study, Social determinants of cardiovascular health in African American children with chronic kidney disease: An analysis of the chronic kidney disease in children (CKiD).

The study is the first to investigate the relationship between race, socioeconomic factors and cardiovascular health in children with chronic kidney disease. Dr. Sgambat, Dr. Moudgil and their collaborators found that African American children with chronic kidney disease had increased evidence of socioeconomic challenges, including food insecurity, reliance on public insurance, lower household incomes and lower levels of maternal education. These children had worse cardiovascular outcomes than Caucasian children with the same chronic kidney conditions. Notably, the cardiovascular outcomes of the two groups became more alike when statistical analysis was applied to equalize their socioeconomic factors. This suggests that these socioeconomic indicators do play a role in adverse cardiovascular health outcomes observed among African American children with chronic kidney disease.

“The findings of this study are important because they highlight the urgent need to shift the clinical research paradigm to investigate how social, rather than biological, factors contribute to racial differences in health outcomes,” said Dr. Sgambat. “Future studies should focus on the impact of systemic racism on cardiovascular health among children with chronic kidney disease, an area not well-studied so far.”

doctor taking blood sample from child

Study shows increase in diabetes cases during COVID-19 pandemic

doctor taking blood sample from child

A retrospective study found pediatric Type 1 diabetes cases rose 15.2% and Type 2 diabetes cases increased by 182% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the prior two years— affecting non-Hispanic Black youth the most.

While the effects of COVID-19 on diabetes-related outcomes are extensively studied in adults, data about the incidence and severity of presentation of pediatric new-onset Type 1 diabetes (T1D) and Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is limited. A new retrospective study of 737 youth diagnosed with diabetes at Children’s National Hospital between March 11, 2018 and March 10, 2021 found pediatric T1D cases rose 15.2% and T2D cases increased by 182% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the prior two years — affecting non-Hispanic Black youth the most.

The study, published in Hormone Research in Paediatrics, compared T1D and T2D cases during the first 12 months of the pandemic, between March 11, 2020 and March 10, 2021, to the same time in the previous two years. This increase in cases was accompanied by a nearly six-fold rise in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) and a 9.2% incidence of hyperosmolar DKA during the pandemic as compared to no cases in the two years prior.

“A better understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial for raising public awareness, shaping policy and guiding appropriate health screenings,” said Brynn Marks, M.D., M.S.H.P.Ed., endocrinologist at Children’s National and lead author of the study.

Children’s National provides clinical care to approximately 1,800 youth with T1D and 600 youth with T2D annually. In the two years before the pandemic, cases of T2D accounted for 25.1% of all newly diagnosed diabetes at Children’s National compared to 43.7% during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, females accounted for 59.6% of youth with new-onset T2D but 58.9% of new-onset T2D cases were among males during the pandemic.

The researchers noted that the rise in cases of T2D and severity of presentation of both T1D and T2D during the pandemic disproportionately impacted non-Hispanic Black youth (NHB). NHB youth accounted for 58% of cases of T2D pre-pandemic, which further increased to 77% during the pandemic. The findings also showed that cases of DKA among NHB youth newly diagnosed with T1D increased during the pandemic compared to the two years before (62.7% vs. 45.8%, p=0.02).  Before the pandemic, there was no significant difference in A1c at T1D diagnosis between racial and ethnic groups. However, during the pandemic, hemoglobin A1c levels were higher among NHB youth.

“Future studies are needed to understand the root cause of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on non-Hispanic Black youth with newly diagnosed diabetes,” said Dr. Marks. “These outcomes during the pandemic will likely worsen pre-existing health care disparities among youth with diabetes.  In understanding the indirect effects of our response to the pandemic, we can better inform future emergency responses and develop strategies to improve outcomes for all youth living with diabetes.”

Dr. Sable performing an echocardiogram in Uganda

Penicillin slows impacts of rheumatic heart disease in Ugandan children

Dr. Sable performing an echocardiogram in Uganda

“We know from previous studies that though it is not always well-documented, sub-Saharan Africa continues to have some of the highest numbers of people with rheumatic heart disease and the highest numbers of people dying from it,” said Craig Sable, M.D., associate chief of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital and co-senior author of the study. “This study is the first large-scale clinical trial to show that early detection coupled with prophylactic treatment of penicillin is feasible and can prevent rheumatic heart disease from progressing and causing further damage to a child’s heart.”

Penicillin, a widely available and affordable antibiotic, may be one key to turning the tide on the deadly impacts of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) for children in developing nations. This according to the new findings of a large-scale, randomized controlled trial completed in Uganda and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The most devastating feature of RHD is severe heart valve damage that is caused by rheumatic fever — a condition that results from the body’s immune system trying to fight poorly treated, repeat infections from streptococcus bacteria, also known as strep throat. Though widely eradicated in nations such as the United States due to the swift detection and treatment of strep throat, rheumatic fever remains prevalent in developing countries including those in sub-Saharan Africa. Current estimates are that 40.5 million people worldwide live with rheumatic heart disease, and that it kills 306,000 people every year. Most of those affected are children, adolescents and young adults under age 25.

“We know from previous studies that though it is not always well-documented, sub-Saharan Africa continues to have some of the highest numbers of people with rheumatic heart disease and the highest numbers of people dying from it,” said Craig Sable, M.D., associate chief of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital and co-senior author of the study. “This study is the first large-scale clinical trial to show that early detection coupled with prophylactic treatment of penicillin is feasible and can prevent rheumatic heart disease from progressing and causing further damage to a child’s heart.”

The study was led by an international panel of pediatric cardiac experts from institutions including Children’s National, Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center, the Uganda Heart Institute and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

“Our study found a cheap and easily available penicillin can prevent progression of latent rheumatic heart disease into more severe, irreversible valve damage that is commonly seen in our hospitals with little or no access to valve surgery,” said co-lead author Emmy Okello, M.D., chief of Cardiology at the Uganda Heart Institute.

To Andrea Beaton, M.D., associate professor of Cardiology at Cincinnati Children’s and co-lead author, this is the first contemporary randomized controlled trial in rheumatic heart disease. “The results are incredibly important on their own, but also demonstrate that high-quality clinical trials are feasible to address this neglected cardiovascular disease,” she said.

Beaton et al. named the trial Gwoko Adunu pa Lutino (GOAL), which means “protect the heart of a child.” The study enrolled 818 Ugandan children and adolescents ages 5 to 17 years old who were diagnosed with latent rheumatic heart disease to see if an injection of penicillin was effective at preventing their heart condition from worsening.

“There are many challenges with recruitment and retention of trial participants in areas like our study region in Uganda,” said Dr. Sable. “But it is critical to work together and overcome barriers, because we must study these treatments in the people most affected by the condition to understand how they, and others like them, may benefit from the findings.”

Of the 799 participants who completed the trial, the group receiving a prophylactic injection of penicillin (399 volunteers) had three participants show evidence of worsened rheumatic heart disease on repeat echocardiogram after two years. In contrast, 33 of the 400 volunteers in the control group, who received no treatment, showed similar progression on echocardiogram results.

Professor Andrew Steer, who is theme director of Infection and Immunity at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne and who served as senior author of the study, said screening for latent rheumatic heart disease was critical to stop progression because heart valve damage was largely untreatable. “Most patients are diagnosed when the disease is advanced and complications have already developed. If patients can be identified early, there is an opportunity for intervention and improved health outcomes.”

The results were shared in a special presentation at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions on the same day that the findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The trial was supported by the Thrasher Pediatric Research Fund, Gift of Life International, Children’s National Hospital Foundation: Zachary Blumenfeld Fund, Children’s National Hospital Race for Every Child: Team Jocelyn, the Elias/Ginsburg Family, Wiley-Rein LLP, Phillips Foundation, AT&T Foundation, Heart Healers International, the Karp Family Foundation, Huron Philanthropies and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Heart Institute Research Core.

Learn more about the challenges of rheumatic heart disease in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing parts of the world through the Rheumatic Heart Disease microdocumentary series:

sick child in palliative care hospital bed

New study compares first and second wave of MIS-C

sick child in palliative care hospital bed

When comparing the first and second wave of patients diagnosed with multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), the second wave patients had more severe illness, according to a new prospective cohort study at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

When comparing the first and second wave of patients diagnosed with multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), the second wave patients had more severe illness, according to a new prospective cohort study of 106 patients at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. The results, published in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, show that despite increased severity in the second wave cohort, both cohorts had similarities in cardiac outcomes and length of stay. Researchers are still working to better understand the exact immunologic mechanisms that trigger MIS-C and the specific factors accounting for its rare occurrence.

“We’ve now seen three distinct waves of MIS-C since the beginning of the pandemic, each wave following national spikes in cases,” said Roberta DeBiasi, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National and co-author of the study. “Kids in the second wave cohort had potentially experienced intermittent and/or repeated exposures to the virus circulating in their communities. In turn, this may have served as repeated triggers for their immune system which created the more severe inflammatory response.”

In this new study, key demographic features Children’s National researchers previously identified held true across both waves – including the fact that Black and Latino children are significantly more affected than white children.  Of the 106 patients, 54% were Black and 39% were Hispanic. The authors also noted that 75% of the patients were otherwise healthy children with no underlying medical conditions.

“While we believe the most recent third wave associated with the delta variant surge is tapering off, the findings from the first two waves provide important baseline information and are highly relevant for clinicians across the country that are evaluating and treating kids with MIS-C,” said Dr. DeBiasi.

Children’s National has cared for more than 4,200 symptomatic patients with SAR-CoV-2 infection and more than 185 MIS-C patients since the pandemic began. The first wave of MIS-C patients were hospitalized between March 2020 and October 2020. Second wave patients were hospitalized between November 2020 and April 2021. Each wave came 4-6 weeks following periods of COVID-19 surges in the community.

In the study, researchers compared patient demographics, clinical features, laboratory results, radiographic images, therapies and outcomes. The second wave cohort had a higher proportion of children 15 years of age or older. Patients also presented more frequently with shortness of breath and required more advanced respiratory and inotropic support. Researchers also found that patients in the second wave were less likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 on a PCR test.

Dr. DeBiasi and her team hope to unlock even more insights as they now analyze data from the third wave associated with the delta variant, which currently appears to have affected less children than the previous two. Children’s National is also working in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to study the long-term effects of MIS-C and COVID-19 on the pediatric population after recovery. This is among the largest and longest studies being conducted, and researchers are hopeful the findings will help improve treatment of COVID-19 and MIS-C in the pediatric population both nationally and around the world.

“Our timely established multidisciplinary MIS-C task force here at Children’s National allowed us to reduce the learning curve,” said Ashraf S. Harahsheh, M.D., F.A.A.P., F.A.C.C., director of Quality Outcomes in Cardiology and co-first author of the study. “Experience from other centers showed that immunotherapy was utilized more frequently in recent MIS-C cohorts leading to reduction in percentage of cardiac complications. On the other hand, and despite having increased illness severity in the second cohort, our approach with prompt immunotherapy helped stabilize the rate of cardiac complications.”

Rare Diseases Institute sign

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

Rare Diseases Institute sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

group of teenagers sitting on a wall

Assessing the pandemic’s impact on adolescents with and without ADHD

group of teenagers sitting on a wall

Understanding factors that foster resilience and buffer against the negative psychological impact of COVID-19 is critical to inform efforts to promote adjustment, reduce risk and improve care, particularly for adolescents with neurodevelopmental disorders.

In a new prospective longitudinal study, Melissa Dvorsky, Ph.D., director of the ADHD & Learning Differences Program at Children’s National Hospital and lead author, and others address this gap by investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on adolescents’ mental health and substance use, and by assessing specific positive coping strategies among adolescents with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Read the full study in Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology.

Denver Brown

New grant to conduct single center pilot trial of alkali therapy in children with CKD

Denver Brown

Denver D. Brown, M.D., recipient of the Child Health Research Career Development Award.

Linear growth (i.e., height) impairment is commonly observed in children with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Several studies have suggested metabolic acidosis, a frequent consequence of mild to moderate CKD in children, as a contributing factor to linear growth failure in these patients. Grant awardee Denver D. Brown, M.D., aims to conduct a pilot trial in children with mild metabolic acidosis and CKD, comparing differences in linear growth between an observation period versus a period of supplementation with alkali therapy (i.e., treatment for metabolic acidosis).

“This grant is so important because there has never been a clinical trial of alkali therapy in children with CKD despite its frequent use in this population” says Dr. Brown. “This research has the potential to better inform treatment practices with the aim of improving the care of our young, vulnerable patients.”

The Child Health Research Career Development Award (CHRCDA) of $125,000 will support Dr. Brown in her efforts to carry out this pilot trial.

“Funding for this pilot study could lay the groundwork for a large, randomized controlled clinical trial, which would help fill a major gap in knowledge as to the precise benefits of alkali therapy, especially regarding growth in children with impaired kidney function.”

Maria Susana Rueda Altez

Maria Susana Rueda Altez, M.D., to lead as Junior Section President-Elect

Maria Susana Rueda Altez

Maria Susana Rueda Altez, M.D., junior section president-elect for the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR).

Maria Susana Rueda Altez, M.D., was selected as junior section president-elect for the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR). During her tenure, Dr. Rueda Altez will ensure more trainees benefit from networking opportunities and leverage her online communications experience to increase awareness, membership and participation in SPR among students, residents and fellows.

The president of the junior section is a fellow who is elected by other junior member peers and is in-charge of managing and enhancing the junior section, by participating in SPR council meetings, promoting membership among trainees and reinforcing the pipeline from junior to active members.

“I am so honored, not only as a Peruvian physician, but as an international medical graduate (IMG), to have been elected for this position,” said Dr. Rueda Altez. “As an IMG, there are special challenges to conducting research, so I plan to raise awareness and provide support to my fellow IMG junior members.”

To Beth A. Tarini, M.D., M.S., SPR president and associate director for the Center for Translational Research at Children’s National Hospital, it is an honor for the hospital to have representatives in the roles of SPR president and SPR junior section president-elect simultaneously.

Dr. Rueda Altez added that there is an urgent need for increased funding in pediatric research, especially for minority and health disparities research. Through her participation in SPR, she will also have the opportunity to advocate for increases in child health research funding.

“I encourage all the trainees and junior faculty in our institution to join the SPR junior section,” said Dr. Rueda Altez. “It provides wonderful resources for career development and guidance, grant writing courses and invaluable mentorship.”

Her research interest is newborn infections, and her overall goal is to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics in this population.

“I am currently working on a quality improvement project to reduce the number of days NICU infants are exposed to antibiotics,” said Dr. Rueda Altez. “I have developed a project to ascertain the utility of microbial cell-free DNA next generation sequencing, a novel microbiologic diagnostic tool, for the diagnosis of neonatal infections.”

Dr. Rueda Altez’s work on neonatal sepsis will help scientists better distinguish between neonates who do and don’t have serious bacterial infections.

“Right now, when in doubt we tend to treat it as bacterial infections, which can lead to unnecessary medical treatment and worsen resistance to antibiotics,” said Tarini.

Dr. Rueda Altez also serves as an independent reviewer of investigational manuscripts for The Journal of Pediatrics and Pediatrics and guest editor for The Journal of Pediatrics. Her passion for the peer-review process also shows in her long list of published research.

Dr. Tarini also foresees multiple research trends in the next five years that might appear in peer-reviewed publications.

“We have so much to tackle in child health research, both ongoing and new challenges,” said Dr. Tarini.  “Some issues that come to mind are the mental health crisis in children and teens, continuing to make strides on treating and preventing childhood obesity, the effect of poverty on children’s health, and the pandemic’s effect on all of these issues and its direct effect on health outcomes.”

masked kids giving thumbs up in front of school bus

Pediatricians and public health officials should unite against controversial school masking bans

masked kids giving thumbs up in front of school bus

To keep in-person learning and protect students in schools, pediatricians and public health officials must advocate for evidence-based mitigation strategies that can reduce COVID-19 transmission — especially the Delta variant, which overwhelmed pediatric emergency rooms and hospitals, argued Yang et al. in a Perspective published in the journal Pediatrics.

To keep in-person learning and protect students in schools, pediatricians and public health officials must advocate for evidence-based mitigation strategies that can reduce COVID-19 transmission — especially the Delta variant, which overwhelmed pediatric emergency rooms and hospitals, argued Yang et al. in a Perspective published in the journal Pediatrics.

The authors propose that pediatricians and their associated institutions actively advocate for masking in schools and debunk myths and misinformation during well and sick visits. In addition, they encourage doctors to develop and disseminate behavioral strategies to support children’s compliance with masking based on individual abilities and needs. Finally, providers can partner with educators at the local, district, state and national levels to advocate for evidence-based masking policies.

“As pediatricians, it is our responsibility to advocate for universal masking to facilitate safe in-person schooling for all children,” said Sarah Schaffer DeRoo, M.D., pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital and co-author of the Perspective. “Children have readily adapted to masking during the pandemic and continuing this practice in schools is not a significant change from their recent experience.”

To date, nine states have enacted policies to prohibit school masking mandates, disregarding evidence that masking is a crucial COVID-19 preventive measure, Yang et al. wrote. The court overturned these mandates in four states out of the nine because they either exceeded the governor’s executive authority or did not comply with the law granting the executive order’s authority. In other instances, judges have only placed a temporary block.

“Despite politically charged rhetoric and headline-grabbing lawsuits, evidence shows that schools without mask mandates are more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks,” said Y. Tony Yang, Sc.D., endowed professor of health policy and executive director of the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at the George Washington University, and lead author of the Perspective. “Pediatricians have generally commanded a heightened level of public trust, which suggests that pediatricians who make the case for policies that advance sound medical and public health science may have a greater chance than other advocates of generating the public and political will needed to make evidence-based policy ideas, such as school mask mandates, a reality.”

Some localities have found creative ways to circumvent state mask mandate bans by altering the school dress code to include face coverings and finding loopholes that do not apply to individual cities. Parents have also tried to challenge the policies in court, asserting that mask mandate bans violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

“Continued efforts are needed to ensure schools are able to promote reasonable, evidence-based strategies to promote the health of their students, teachers and communities, and we, as advocates for children, are obligated to emphatically support these efforts,” said Yang et al.

illustration of lungs with coronavirus inside

Study compares outcomes of SARS-CoV-2 versus other respiratory viruses

illustration of lungs with coronavirus inside

Until now, little was known about the incidence and virus-specific patient outcome of SARS-CoV-2 compared to common seasonal respiratory viruses in children — including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human parainfluenza (hPIV), human metapneumovirus (hMPV), respiratory adenovirus and human rhinovirus (hHRV) and respiratory enterovirus (rENT).

Common respiratory viral infections were associated with a higher proportion of inpatient admissions but were similar in intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and death rates in hospitalized pediatric patients when compared to SARS-CoV-2, according to Children’s National Hospital researchers that led a study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Until now, little was known about the incidence and virus-specific patient outcome of SARS-CoV-2 compared to common seasonal respiratory viruses in children — including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human parainfluenza (hPIV), human metapneumovirus (hMPV), respiratory adenovirus and human rhinovirus (hHRV) and respiratory enterovirus (rENT).

The researchers also noted that there was an overall substantial decrease in seasonal respiratory viral infections, especially the severe forms that require hospitalization. They believe that this correlation might be associated with the adoption of COVID-19 public health mitigation efforts, which played a major role in the reduction of these viruses that often circulate in fall and winter. The retrospective cross-sectional cohort study analyzed over 55,000 patient admissions between Match 15 and December 31, 2020. The findings shed light on the incidences of eight common seasonal respiratory viral infections before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also compared patient outcomes associated with COVID-19 and these other viral infections among pediatric patients at Children’s National.

Xiaoyan Song, Ph.D., M.Sc., chief infection control officer at Children’s National, spoke to us about the study.

Q: Why is this important work?

A: This is the first study to date that has described and compared hospitalization rates, ICU admission rates and death associated with COVID-19, RSV, seasonal influenza, rhinovirus, enterovirus and other common respiratory viral infections in children in one study. Previously, studies have compared one or two viruses at a time. This study compared 8 viruses, including the most detected ones – COVID-19, RSV, seasonal flu, rhinovirus and enterovirus.

Q: How will this work benefit patients?

A: This study will inform patients, families and the public that preventative measures like masking, hand hygiene, avoiding crowds and avoiding people who are ill are good practices that work to protect children from getting COVID-19 but also from getting infected with RSV, influenza and other viruses. Any of these respiratory viruses could harm a patient to a point where the child may have to be hospitalized or receive ICU care.

You can read the full study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Drs. Wernovsky and Martin

Cardiac care leaders recognized for mentorship and innovation at AAP

Two Children’s National Hospital cardiac care leaders received prestigious recognition awards from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) during that organization’s virtual National Conference and Exhibition in October 2021.

  • Gil Wernovsky, M.D., cardiac critical care specialist at Children’s National Hospital, received the 2021 Maria Serratto Master Educator Award from AAP Section on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery, celebrating his 30-plus-years as a clinician, educator, mentor and leader in the field.
  • Gerard Martin, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FAHA, C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology, Children’s National Hospital, received the AAP Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) Achievement Award, in recognition of his work to establish the use of pulse oximetry to screen newborn infants for critical congenital heart disease in the first 24 hours of life.

Dr. Wernovsky: 2021 Maria Serratto Master Educator Award, AAP Section on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery

Gil Wernovsky

Gil Wernovsky, M.D., received the 2021 Maria Serratto Master Educator Award from AAP Section on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery.

The Master Educator Award is presented each year to a pediatric cardiologist or cardiothoracic surgeon who exemplifies excellence as an educator, mentor and/or leader in the field.

A practicing cardiac critical care specialist with more than 30 years’ experience in pediatric cardiology, Dr. Wernovsky trained and mentored more than 300 fellows in pediatric cardiology, cardiac surgery, neonatology, critical care medicine and cardiac anesthesia, in addition to countless residents and fellows. He also organizes national and international symposia to share expertise around the world. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, for example, he co-founded the Congenital Heart Academy (CHA). The CHA provides content from an international faculty of cardiac care to more than 26,000 practitioners in 112 countries and includes a thriving YouTube channel.

Dr. Wernovsky is also a founding member of several international societies focused on bringing together clinicians, researchers and students across sub-specialties of pediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery for knowledge exchange and best practice sharing. These include: the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society, World Society for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery, the International Society of Pediatric Mechanical Circulatory Support and the Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Outcome Collaborative.

Dr. Wernovsky received the award on October 10 at the virtual Scientific Sessions of the 2021 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.

Dr. Martin: AAP Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) Achievement Award

Gerard Martin

Gerard Martin, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FAHA, C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology, Children’s National Hospital, received the AAP Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) Achievement Award.

The Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) educates physicians, stimulates research and development and consults on therapeutics and technology-related matters for the AAP. The Achievement Award recognizes someone who has shown leadership in applying innovative approaches to solve pressing problems.

Dr. Martin is the C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology and has cared for children at Children’s National for more than 30 years. As an advocate for congenital heart disease efforts nationally and internationally, he played an integral role in the development of an innovative use of existing hospital technology—the pulse oximeter—to detect critical congenital heart disease in newborn babies.

Today, Dr. Martin and colleagues across the United States and around the world have worked to make this screening method a standard of care for newborns everywhere. It is a part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Recommended Uniform Screening Panel and has become law in every state. They continue to conduct research to refine the recommendations and hone-in on the most effective ways to harness these tools.

Dr. Martin was selected for this award in 2020. He accepted it and offered remarks during the 2021 virtual AAP National Conference and Exhibition on Monday, October 11, 2021.

child being bullied

Food allergy-related bullying assessment methods don’t fully capture hurdles

child being bullied

When asked a simple “yes” or “no” question about food allergy-related bullying, 17% of kids said they’d been bullied, teased or harassed about their food allergy. But when asked to reply to a multi-item list of victimization behaviors, that number jumped to 31%.

Living with a food allergy can greatly impact a child’s everyday life – from limiting participation in social activities to being treated differently by peers. While previous research indicates many kids experience food allergy-related bullying, a new study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that offering kids with food allergies a multi-question assessment gives a more accurate picture of the size and scope of the problem.

When asked a simple “yes” or “no” question about food allergy-related bullying, 17% of kids said they’d been bullied, teased or harassed about their food allergy. But when asked to reply to a multi-item list of victimization behaviors, that number jumped to 31%. Furthermore, Children’s National Hospital researchers found that only 12% of parents reported being aware of it.

The reported bullying ranged from verbal teasing or criticism to more overt acts such as an allergen being waved in their face or intentionally put in their food. Researchers say identifying accurate assessment methods for this problem are critical so children can get the help they need.

“Food allergy-related bullying can have a negative impact on a child’s quality of life. By using a more comprehensive assessment, we found that children with food allergies were bullied more than originally reported and parents may be in the dark about it,” says Linda Herbert, Ph.D., director of the Psychosocial Clinical and Research Program in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National and one of the study’s researcher.

“The results of this study demonstrate a need for greater food allergy education and awareness of food allergy-related bullying among communities and schools where food allergy-related bullying is most likely to occur,” Herbert adds.

The study looked at food allergy-related bullying among a diverse patient population and evaluated parent-child disagreement and bullying assessment methods. It included 121 children and 121 primary caregivers who completed questionnaires. The children ranged in age from 9 to 15-years-old and were diagnosed by an allergist with at least one of the top eight IgE-mediated food allergies – peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish.

Of the 41 youth who reported food allergy-related bullying:

  • 51% reported experiencing overt physical acts such as an allergen being waved in their face, thrown at them or intentionally put in their food.
  • 66% reported bullying experiences that are categorized as non-physical overt victimization acts including verbal teasing, remarks or criticisms about their allergy and verbal threats or intimidation.
  • Eight reported relational bullying, such as rumors being spread, people speaking behind their back and being intentionally ignored or excluded due to their food allergy.

The researchers also note that food allergy bullying perpetrators included, but were not limited to, classmates and other students, and bullying most commonly occurred at school.

The authors found that only 12% of parents reported that their child had been bullied because of their food allergy and of those, 93% said their child had reported the bullying to them. Some parents reported they had been made fun of or teased themselves because of concerns about their child’s food allergy.

“It’s important to find ways for children to open up about food allergy-related bullying,” Herbert says. “Asking additional specific questions about peer experiences during clinic appointments will hopefully get children and caregivers the help and support they need.”

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, under Award Number K23AI130184 and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the National Institutes of Health, under Award Number P20MD000198. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

flow chart of pulse ox study

Newborn screening for critical congenital heart disease serves as vital safety net

One of the nation’s longest-running newborn screening programs for critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) finds that screening continues to serve as a necessary tool to help identify every child with CCHD — even in states where the majority of babies are diagnosed before birth.

The screening program study findings were published in Pediatrics. The data is some of the first to provide long-term evidence for using pulse oximetry to screen newborns for critical congenital heart disease 24 hours after birth. This screening test was added to the Department of Health and Human Services Recommended Uniform Screening Panel in 2011 and is now required in all 50 states.

“This study reinforces why pulse oximetry screening for CCHD is an important tool in our arsenal to identify and treat critical congenital heart disease, and other conditions that affect the flow of oxygen throughout the body, as soon as possible,” says Bryanna Schwarz, M.D., a cardiology fellow at Children’s National Hospital and lead author. “We know that prompt, early detection and swift intervention is crucial to positive long-term outcomes for these kids.”

The team looked at the data and outcomes for all babies born throughout eight years at Holy Cross Hospital in suburban Maryland, one of the first community birthing hospitals in the country to routinely perform the screening. Over the eight-year period, 64,780 newborns were screened at the site. Of those:

  • Thirty-one failed the screening, and every baby who failed was found to have congenital heart disease or another important medical condition.
  • Twelve of the failures (38.7%) were babies with critical congenital heart disease who were not previously identified by prenatal detection.
  • Nine others (29%) had a non-critical congenital heart condition.
  • Ten additional babies (32%) had a non-cardiac condition.

The authors note that the 12 newborns with CCHD identified through pulse oximetry screening are noteworthy because they represent critical congenital heart disease cases that are not found before birth in the state of Maryland, where rates of prenatal diagnosis are relatively high. The finding indicates that screening after birth continues to play a critical role in ensuring every baby with critical congenital heart disease is identified and treated as quickly as possible.

“Holy Cross Health and Children’s National have had a decades-long relationship, as we mutually care for women and infants throughout the region. With Children’s National having the U.S. News & World Report #1 ranking Neonatology service in the nation and Holy Cross Hospital being among the top 10 hospitals for the number of babies delivered each year, we are honored to be leading together the great work that is being done to serve our health care community,” says Ann Burke, M.D., vice president of Medical Affairs at Holy Cross Hospital. “We are committed to continuing to do our part to care for women and infants, as well as contribute to the national landscape for neonatal care. We are delighted in the outcomes we have seen and look forward to continued advancement.”

In this study, infants who did not have critical congenital heart disease were considered “false positives” for CCHD. Still, every one of them was found to have another underlying condition, including non-critical congenital heart disease or non-cardiac conditions (such as sepsis and pneumonia) that would also require monitoring and treatment.

The researchers also ran a projection of recently recommended updates to the screening protocol, which include removing a second re-screen after a newborn fails the initial test, to look at whether removing the second rescreen to verify results would decrease accuracy. While the false positive rate did increase slightly from .03% to .04%, eliminating a second re-screen allowed the newborns who were identified to receive crucial care sooner without having to wait an additional hour for one more test to verify their condition.

“It’s time to stop asking if pulse oximetry is a necessary tool to detect critical heart disease in babies,” says Gerard Martin, M.D., M.A.C.C., senior author of the study and C.R. Beyda Professor of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital. “Our focus now should be on making evidence-based refinements to the screening protocol based on collected data to ensure the process is simple, can be performed consistently and provides as accurate results as possible.”

Could whole-exome sequencing become a standard part of state newborn screening?

smiling baby boy

There are concerns about implementing whole-exome sequencing since it takes away the child’s right to decide if they want to know — or not — about their specific inherited disease.

It is still premature to standardize an innovative methodology known as whole-exome sequencing (WES) as part of state newborn screening programs, argues Beth A. Tarini, M.D., M.S., associate director for the Center of Translational Research at Children’s National Hospital, in a new editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics.

About 4 million infants are born annually in the United States. Newborn screening is a mandatory state-run public health program that screens infants for inherited diseases in the first days of life so they can receive treatment before irreversible damage occurs. Several of these screening tests are done on blood drawn from an infant’s heel.

WES holds the potential to screen infants for thousands of disorders and traits, including those that appear in adulthood. But there are concerns about implementing WES since it takes away the child’s right to decide if they want to know — or not — about their specific inherited disease. There is also the unknown effect that it could have on their ability to obtain health insurance.

“As caretakers for their children, parents have the challenge of deciding what kind of information, including genetic, will be valuable for their child,” says Dr. Tarini. “As a society, we have the responsibility of deciding where the healthcare dollars get the best return – especially when it comes to children. We need to start that conversation for universal genomic sequencing of newborns sooner rather than later.”

The Pereira et al. study, appearing in the new edition of JAMA Pediatrics and referenced in Dr. Tarini’s editorial, is the first to demonstrate no significant harm in the initial 10 months of life after performing WES under the best conditions of access to resources and a controlled environment.

While the Pereira et al. study has limited data on the effects of WES on families from underrepresented backgrounds, Dr. Tarini notes that it does provide a critical first step in this area of pediatric genomic research and for policy decision-making about the widespread implementation of WES in newborns.

“Moving forward, the U.S. will have to make a collective decision about the value of WES for newborns,” says Dr. Tarini. That value calculus cannot be made without consideration of the general state of healthcare for infants. As she points out, “This is not an easy question to answer in a country whose infant mortality ranks 34th according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).”

Dr. Tarini’s research identifies ways to optimize the delivery of genetic services to families and children, particularly newborn screening. She has also chaired state newborn screening committees and served on several federal newborn screening committees.

Ugandan boy in hospital bed

Acute rheumatic fever often goes undiagnosed in sub-Saharan Africa

Ugandan boy in hospital bed

Despite low numbers of documented acute rheumatic fever cases in sub-Saharan Africa, the region continues to show some of the highest numbers of people with, and dying from, rheumatic heart disease, the serious heart damage caused by repeat instances of rheumatic fever.

Despite low numbers of documented acute rheumatic fever cases in sub-Saharan Africa, the region continues to show some of the highest numbers of people with, and dying from, rheumatic heart disease, the serious heart damage caused by repeat instances of rheumatic fever. A population-based study in the Lancet Global Health collected evidence of acute rheumatic fever in two areas of Uganda, providing the first quantifiable evidence in decades that the disease continues to take a deadly toll on the region’s people.

“These findings matter. Access to life-saving heart surgery is only available to a very small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of patients in Africa who have irreversible heart damage from rheumatic heart disease,” says Craig Sable, M.D., associate chief of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital and one of the senior authors of the study. “It’s time to focus upstream on capturing these conditions sooner, even in low-resource settings, so we can implement life-sustaining and cost-saving preventive treatments that can prevent further heart damage.”

The authors, who hail from Uganda and several institutions around the United States, including Children’s National and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, note this is the first study to use an active case-finding strategy for diagnosing acute rheumatic fever. They also note that raising awareness in the community and among its healthcare workers while also finding new ways to overcome some of the diagnostic challenges in these low-resource settings greatly improved diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

The study also described clinical characteristics of children ages 5 to 14 presenting with both definitive and possible acute rheumatic fever, providing further clinical data points to help healthcare workers in these communities differentiate between this common infection and some of the other frequently diagnosed conditions in the region.

“With this study, we can now confidently dismiss the myth that acute rheumatic fever is rare in Africa,” the authors write. “It exists at elevated rates in low-resource settings such as Uganda, even though routine diagnosis remains uncommon. While these incidence data have likely underestimated the cases of acute rheumatic fever in two districts in Uganda, they show that opportunity exists to improve community sensitization and healthcare worker training to increase awareness of acute rheumatic fever. Ultimately this leads to diagnosing more children with the condition before they develop rheumatic heart disease, so that they can be offered secondary prophylaxis with penicillin.”

Children with suspected acute rheumatic fever participated in this population-based study. Data was collected over 12 months in Lira district (January 2018 to December 2018) and over nine months (June 2019 to February 2020) in Mbarara district.

Follow-up of children diagnosed in this study will provide more data on the outcomes of acute rheumatic fever, including a better understanding of the risk for a child to develop rheumatic heart disease.

This work was funded by the American Heart Association Children’s Strategically Focused Research Network Grant #17SFRN33670607 and by DEL‐15‐011 to THRiVE‐2 and General Electric.

Learn more about the challenges of rheumatic heart disease in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing parts of the world through the Rheumatic Heart Disease microdocumentary series: