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.

Dr. Javad Nazarian

Q&A with Dr. Javad Nazarian on his upcoming work on low-grade gliomas

Dr. Javad Nazarian

Supported by the Gilbert Family Foundation, Dr. Nazarian’s return is part of a special research program within the Gilbert Family Neurofibromatosis Institute that focuses on NF1 research.

Javad Nazarian, Ph.D., M.Sc., associate professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University and professor at the University of Zurich, has expanded his research group at Children’s National to focus on Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) transformed low-grade gliomas (LGGs). Dr. Nazarian will apply his expertise from establishing a successful DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma) and DMG (diffuse midline glioma) program in Zurich Switzerland and previously at Children’s National.

In addition to his continued research in Zurich, as a principal investigator at the Department of Genomics and Precision Medicine at Children’s National Dr. Nazarian plans on aggregating his knowledge to the new research and work spearheaded at Children’s National. As one of the first research teams to move to the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, Dr. Nazarian’s group is excited to use the opportunity to establish cutting-edge and clinically translational platforms.

Supported by the Gilbert Family Foundation, Dr. Nazarian’s return is part of a special research program within the Gilbert Family Neurofibromatosis Institute that focuses on NF1 research. This research includes associated gliomas with a special emphasis on NF1-associated transformed anaplastic LGGs. His team will develop new avenues of research into childhood and young adult NF-associated LGGs with a special emphasis on transformed high-grade gliomas.

Dr. Nazarian is excited for what’s to come and his goals are clear and set. Here, Dr. Nazarian tells us more about his main objectives and what it means for the future of pediatric neuro-oncology care at Children’s National.

  1. What excites you most about being back at Children’s National?

I have received most of my training at Children’s National, so this is home for me. Being one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals gives a unique advantage and ability to advocate for childhood diseases and cancers. It is always exciting to play a part in the vision of Children’s National.

  1. What are some of the lessons learned during your time working in Zurich? And how do you think these will compliment your work at Children’s National?

We developed a focused group with basic research activities intertwined with clinical needs.  The result was the launch of two clinical trials. I also helped in developing the Diffuse Midline Glioma-Adaptive Combinatory Trial (DMG-ACT) working group that spans across the world with over 18-member institutions that will help to design the next generation clinical trials. I will continue leading the research component of these efforts, which will have a positive impact on our research activities at Children’s National.

  1. How does your work focusing on low-grade gliomas formulating into high-grade gliomas expand and place Children’s National as a leader in the field?

Scientifically speaking, transformed LLGs are very intriguing. I became interested in the field because these tumors share molecular signatures similar to high-grade gliomas (HGGs). Our team has done a great job at Children’s National to develop tools – including biorepositories, avatar models, drug screening platforms, focused working groups, etc. – for HGGs. We will apply the same model to transformed LGGs with the goal of developing biology-derived clinical therapeutics for this patient population.

  1. How will this work support families and patients seeking specific neuro-oncology care?

We will develop new and high thruput tools so that we can better study cancer formation or transformation. These tools and platforms will allow us to screen candidate drugs that will be clinically effective. The main focus is to accelerate discovery, push drugs to the clinic, feed information back to the lab from clinical and subsequently design better therapies.

  1. You are one of the first scientists to move to the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus. What are some of the valuable changes or advancements you hope to see as a result of the move?

The campus will provide high-end facilities, including cutting-edge preclinical space, and allow for team expansion. The close proximity to Virginia Tech will also provide an environment for cross-discipline interactions.

  1. Anything else you think peers in your field should know about you, the field or our program?

The team at Children’s National includes Drs. Roger Packer and Miriam Bornhorst. Both have provided constant clinical support, innovation and clinical translation of our findings. I look forward to working with them.

illustration of Research & Innovation Campus

NIH awards $6.7M to build additional lab space at Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus

Children’s National Hospital today announced a $6.7 million award from the National Institute of Health (NIH) for the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus (RIC). The funds will help transform a historic building on the former site of Walter Reed Army Medical Center into new research labs. The NIH construction grant marks the first secured grant funding for Phase II of the campus project, signaling continued momentum for the first-of-its-kind pediatric research and innovation hub.

The funding was announced as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson took their first tour of the already-renovated Phase I of the RIC. The campus began opening in early 2021 and brings together Children’s National with top-tier research and innovation partners: Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS @ Washington, DC and Virginia Tech. They come together with a focus on driving discoveries and innovation that will save and improve the lives of children.

“This NIH award is the latest confirmation that we are creating something very special at the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus,” said Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National. “Only the D.C. region can offer this proximity to federal science agencies and policy makers. When you pair our location with these incredible campus partners, I know the RIC will be a truly transformational space where we develop new and better ways to care for kids everywhere.”

The campus is an enormous addition to the BioHealth Capital Region, the fourth largest research and biotech cluster in the U.S., with the goal of becoming a top-three hub by 2023. The RIC exemplifies the city’s commitment to building the partnerships necessary to drive discoveries, create jobs, promote economic growth, treat underserved populations, improve health outcomes, and keep D.C. at the forefront of innovation and change.

“We are proud to officially welcome the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus to the District and to the Ward 4 community,” said Mayor Bowser, after touring the campus. “This partnership pairs a world-class hospital with a top university and a premier business incubator – right here in the capital of inclusive innovation. Not only will our community benefit from the jobs and opportunities on this campus, but the ideas and innovation that are born here will benefit children and families right here in D.C. and all around the world.”

The NIH grant funding announced today will go toward the expansion and relocation of the DC Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (DC-IDDRC). This research center will increase the efforts to improve the understanding and treatment of children with developmental disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, inherited metabolic disorders and intellectual disability.

The space where the new lab will be built used to be the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology Building, a portion of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The site closed and Children’s National secured 12 acres in 2016, breaking ground on Phase I construction in 2018.

The new space will offer highly cost-effective services and unique state-of-the-art research cores that are not available at other institutions, boosting the interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaboration between Children’s National, George Washington University, Georgetown University and Howard University. Investigators from the four institutions will access the center, which includes hoteling laboratory space for investigators whose laboratories are not on-site but are utilizing the core facilities — Cell and Tissue Microscopy, Genomics and Bioinformatics, and Inducible Pluripotent Stem Cells.

“While we have explored outsourcing some of these cores, especially genomics, we found that expertise, management, training and technical support needed for pediatric research requires on-site cores,” said Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D., interim chief academic officer, interim director of the Children’s National Research Institute, and principal investigator for the DC-IDDRC. “The facility is designed to support pediatric studies that are intimately connected with our community. We operate in a highly diverse environment, addressing issues of health equity through research.”

The RIC provides graduate students, postdocs and trainees with unique training opportunities, expanding the workforce and talent of new investigators in the D.C. area. Young investigators will have job opportunities as research assistants and facility managers as well. The new labs will support these researchers so they can tackle pressing questions in pediatric research by integrating pre-clinical and clinical models.

Phase II will place genetic and neuroscience research initiatives of the DC-IDDRC at the forefront to treat a variety of pediatric developmental disorders. Other Children’s National research centers will also benefit from this additional space. The clinical and research campuses will be physically and electronically integrated with new informatics and video-communication systems.

The total projected cost of Phase II is $180 million, with design and construction to take up to three years to complete once started.

illustration of Research & Innovation Campus

Phase II will place genetic and neuroscience research initiatives of the DC-IDDRC at the forefront to treat a variety of pediatric developmental disorders. Other Children’s National research centers will also benefit from this additional space. The clinical and research campuses will be physically and electronically integrated with new informatics and video-communication systems.

Drs. Packer and van den Acker at the Pediatric Device Innovators Forum

Pediatric Device Innovators Forum explores state of focused ultrasound

For children living with pediatric tumors, less invasive and less painful treatment with no radiation exposure was not always possible. In recent years, the development of technologies like Magnetic resonance guided high intensity focused ultrasound (MR-HIFU) and Low intensity transcranial focused ultrasound (LIFU) is helping to reverse that trend.

This topic was the focus of the recent Pediatric Device Innovators Forum (PDIF) hosted by the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation (NCC-PDI) in partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Pediatric Device Consortia (PDC) grant program. A collaboration between Children’s National Hospital and University of Maryland Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices, NCC-PDI is one of five PDCs funded by the FDA to support pediatric device innovators in bringing more medical devices to market for children.

The discussion, moderated by Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., MBA, PMP, vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National and principal investigator of NCC-PDI, explored the use of focused ultrasound’s noninvasive therapeutic technology for two pediatric indications, Osteoid Osteoma (OO) and Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), and the ways it can increase the quality of life for pediatric patients while also decreasing the cost of care.

The discussion also examined the most common barriers preventing more widespread implementation of focused ultrasound technology, specifically small sample size for evidence generation, lack of funding opportunities and reimbursement issues that can make or break a technology’s chances at reaching the patients that need it.

Karun Sharma, M.D., director of Interventional Radiology at Children’s National, emphasized the potential for focused ultrasound to treat localized pain relief and treat other diseases that, like OO, do not have any other therapeutic alternative

“At Children’s National, we use MR-HIFU to focus an ultrasound beam into lesions, usually tumors of the bone and soft tissues, to heat and destroy the harmful tissue in that region, eliminating the need for incisions,” says Sharma. “In 2015, Children’s National doctors became the first in the U.S. to use MR-HIFU to treat pediatric osteoid osteoma (OO), a painful, but benign, bone tumor that commonly occurs in children and young adults. The trial demonstrated early success in establishing the safety and feasibility of noninvasive MR-HIFU in children as an alternative to current, more invasive approaches to treat these tumors.”

In November 2020, the FDA approved this MR-HIFU system to treat OO in pediatric patients.

Roger Packer, M.D., senior vice president of the Center for Neuroscience and Behavioral Medicine at Children’s National, also discussed how focused ultrasound, specifically LIFU, has also proven to be an attractive modality for its ability to non-invasively, focally and temporarily disrupt the blood brain barrier (BBB) to allow therapies to reach tumors that, until recently, would have been considered unreachable without severe intervention.

“This presents an opportunity in pediatric care to treat conditions like Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a highly aggressive brain tumor that typically causes death and morbidity,” says Packer.

Packer is planning a clinical trial protocol to investigate the safety and efficacy of LIFU for this pediatric indication.

The forum also featured insight from Jessica Foley, M.D., chief scientific officer, Focused Ultrasound Foundation; Arjun Desai, M.D., chief strategic innovation officer, Insighttec; Arun Menawat, M.D., chairman and CEO, Profound Medical; Francesca Joseph, M.D., Children’s National; Johannes N. van den Anker, M.D., Ph.D., vice chair of Experimental Therapeutics, Children’s National; Gordon Schatz, president, Schatz Reimbursement Strategies; Mary Daymont, vice president of Revenue Cycle and Care Management, Children’s National; and Michael Anderson, MD, MBA, FAAP, FCCM, FAARC, senior advisor to US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS/ASPR) and Children’s National.

Anthony Sandler, M.D., senior vice president and surgeon-in-chief of the Joseph E. Robert Jr. Center for Surgical Care and director of the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital, and Sally Allain, regional head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS @ Washington, DC, opened the forum by reinforcing both organizations’ commitment to improving pediatric health.

In September 2020, the Focused Ultrasound Foundation designated Children’s National Hospital as the first global pediatric Center of Excellence for using this technology to help patients with specific types of childhood tumors. As a designated COE, Children’s National has the necessary infrastructure to support the ongoing use of this technology, especially for carrying out future pediatric clinical trials. This infrastructure includes an ethics committee familiar with focused ultrasound, a robust clinical trials research support team, a data review committee for ongoing safety monitoring and annual safety reviews, and a scientific review committee for protocol evaluation.

The Pediatric Device Innovators Forum is a recurring collaborative educational experience designed by the FDA-supported pediatric device consortia to connect and foster synergy among innovators across the technology development ecosystem interested in pediatric medical device development. Each forum is hosted by one of the five consortia. This hybrid event took place at the new Children’s National Research and Innovation Campus, the first-of-its-kind focused on pediatric health care innovation, on the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus in Washington, D.C.

To view the latest edition of the forum, visit the NCC-PDI website.

Panelists at the Pediatric Device Innovators Forum

The recent Pediatric Device Innovators Forum (PDIF) exploring the state of focused ultrasound was held at the new Children’s National Research and Innovation Campus, a first-of-its-kind focused on pediatric health care innovation.

JLABS

Children’s National and Johnson & Johnson launch JLABS @ Washington, DC

Kurt Newman at JLABS event

Children’s National President and CEO Kurt Newman, M.D.

On April 9, 2019, Children’s National Health System and Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC announced a collaboration to launch JLABS @ Washington, DC, a 32,000-square foot facility that will be located at the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus. The new site will serve as an incubator for pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer and health technology companies. The JLABS @ Washington, DC will be the first and only JLABS embedded in an academic environment with a strong pediatric focus. This new endeavor creates additional opportunities for Children’s National  and Johnson & Johnson, together with partners, to shape the landscape of policy and funding to improve research and innovation in pediatric health care.

“The vision we pursued for this campus required a global innovation partner with a strong commitment to pediatric health and a clear understanding of the next big areas of opportunity for improving human health. We believe the JLABS model is exactly what is needed to help us drive discoveries that are then rapidly translated into new treatments and technologies,” said Kurt Newman, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Children’s National.

In addition to fast-tracking scientific innovation, JLABS will serve as a significant economic engine by creating new high-paying jobs in Washington, ultimately attracting venture investment in the region. An economic impact report suggests that the completion of the project will produce up to 110 permanent jobs and $150 million in revenue for the city by 2020. By 2030 the project will produce $6.2 billion in cumulative economic activity, 2,100 permanent jobs and $290 million in cumulative tax revenue for the district.

JLABS provides a continuum of innovators from first-time entrepreneurs to serial scientific founders representing diverse experiences across academic, startup, corporate, government regulators, funders and venture worlds.

“The best part of our collaboration with JLABS is facilitating speed to market for breakthrough therapies and technologies that are conceived in our region, including here in our own institution,” said Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., P.M.P., vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National. “I am excited that our partnership will unlock the untapped talent and great science in our region and bring better innovation to market faster with a strong focus on pediatric health.”

The facility will house state-of-the-art research labs and space for pediatric device development. This will expand Children’s National’s molecular genetic testing and biochemical analysis capabilities and enhance device development and computing infrastructure through collaborations with industry, universities, federal agencies and academic medical centers. “The selection of resident companies for the JLABS @ Washington, DC space will be done on a very competitive basis,” says Dr. Eskandanian. “Startup companies that qualify and are selected by JLABS will be offered laboratory and office space as well as mentorship.”

Read more about the partnership in the Washington Business Journal and watch an interview on WJLA with Dr. Newman.