Surgical Innovation

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.

Cover of the December issue of Seminars on Pediatric Surger

Reflections on Seminars in Pediatric Surgery December 2020

Cover of the December issue of Seminars on Pediatric Surger

Marc Levitt, M.D., served as guest editor of a special December Seminars in Pediatric Surgery dedicated to the care and treatment of anorectal malformations.

By Marc Levitt, M.D., chief of the Division of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Children’s National Hospital

I was honored to serve as the Guest Editor on the topic of “Anorectal Malformations in the prestigious “Seminars in Pediatric Surgery” Volume 29, Issue 6, December 2020.

We had 64 contributing authors from 12 countries; Australia, Austria, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, and 12 U.S. colorectal collaborating programs; Children’s National, Boston Children’s, Children’s Mercy, Children’s Wisconsin, C.S. Mott Children’s, Cincinnati Children’s, Nationwide Children’s, Nicklaus Children’s, Omaha Children’s, Primary Children’s, Seattle Children’s, and UC Davis Children’s.

There were eight authors from the Children’s National team; myself, Colorectal Director Andrea Badillo, M.D., Colorectal Program Manager Julie Choueiki, MSN, RN, Surgical Center Director Susan Callicott, Katie Worst, CPNP-AC, Grace Ma, M.D., Chief of Urology Hans Pohl, M.D., and Chief of Gynecology Veronica Gomez-Lobo, M.D.

The series of articles included in this collection illustrate new techniques and ideas that over time have made a dramatic and positive impact on the care and quality of life of children who suffer from colorectal problems. With an integrated approach to the care of this complex group of patients, great things can be achieved. As we endeavor to advance this field, we need to always remember that, as Alberto Pena, M.D., often said, “it is not the unanswered questions, but rather the unquestioned answers that one must pursue.”

In my own article on advances in the field, a 2021 update, I reproduce a piece by my daughter, Jess Levitt, who wrote something applicable to the care of children with colorectal problems, with the message that helping to create order is vital to improve a somewhat chaotic medical process traditionally available for the care of complex care. Her essay is reproduced here:

“A” must come before “B,” which must come before “C,” everybody knows that. But what if the Millercamp’s of this world did not have to sit next to the Millerchip’s when it comes to seating arrangements? Can Pat Zawatsky be called before Jack Aaronson when the teacher is taking attendance? Do those 26 letters that make up all the dialogue, signs, thoughts, books, and titles in the English-speaking departments of the world need their specific spots in line? Everyone can sing you the well-known jingle from A to Z, but not many people can tell you why the alphabet is the way it is. For almost as long as humans have had the English language, they have had the alphabet. The good ole ABCs.

However, the alphabet represents the human need for order and stability. I believe that the same thinking that went into the construct of time and even government went into the alphabet. Justifiably, lack of order leads to chaos. Knife-throwing, gun-shooting chaos, in the case of lack of governmental order. Listen to me when I tell you that there is absolutely no reason that the alphabet is arranged the way that it is. Moreover, the alphabet is simply a product of human nature and how it leads people to establish order for things that do not require it. 

Now I know this sounds crazy but bear with me. Only if you really peel away the layers of the alphabet will you find the true weight it carries. People organized the letters of our speech into a specific order simply because there wasn’t already one. Questioning this order will enlighten you on the true meaning of it. Really dig deep into the meaning behind the social construct that is the alphabet. Short and sweet as it may be, the order of the ABCs is much less than meets the eye. There is no reason that “J” should fall before “K!” Understand this. Very important as order is, it is only a result of human nature.  What’s next? X-rays become independent of Xylophones in children’s books of ABCs? 

You know what the best part is? Zero chance you even noticed that each sentence in this essay is in alphabetical order.

Her literary contribution inspired me to do something similar. Take a look at the list of articles in this Seminars edition:

  1. Creating a collaborative program for the care of children with colorectal and pelvic problems. Alejandra Vilanova-Sánchez, Julie Choueiki, Caitlin A. Smith, Susan Callicot, Jason S. Frischer and Marc A. Levitt
  2. Optimal management of the newborn with an anorectal malformation and evaluation of their continence potential. Sebastian K. King, Wilfried Krois, Martin Lacher, Payam Saadai, Yaron Armon and Paola Midrio
  3. Lasting impact on children with an anorectal malformations with proper surgical preparation, respect for anatomic principles, and precise surgical management. Rebecca M. Rentea, Andrea T. Badillo, Stuart Hosie, Jonathan R. Sutcliffe and Belinda Dickie
  4. Long-term urologic and gynecologic follow-up and the importance of collaboration for patients with anorectal malformations. Clare Skerritt, Daniel G. Dajusta, Molly E. Fuchs, Hans Pohl, Veronica Gomez-Lobo and Geri Hewitt
  5. Assessing the previously repaired patient with an anorectal malformation who is not doing well. Victoria A. Lane, Juan Calisto, Ivo Deblaauw, Casey M. Calkins, Inbal Samuk and Jeffrey R. Avansino
  6. Bowel management for the treatment of fecal incontinence and constipation in patients with anorectal malformations. Onnalisa Nash, Sarah Zobell, Katherine Worst and Michael D. Rollins
  7. Organizing the care of a patient with a cloacal malformation: Key steps and decision making for pre-, intra-, and post-operative repair. Richard J. Wood, Carlos A. Reck-Burneo, Alejandra Vilanova-Sanchez and Marc A. Levitt
  8. Radiology of anorectal malformations: What does the surgeon need to know? Matthew Ralls, Benjamin P. Thompson, Brent Adler, Grace Ma, D. Gregory Bates, Steve Kraus and Marcus Jarboe
  9. Adjuncts to bowel management for fecal incontinence and constipation, the role of surgery; appendicostomy, cecostomy, neoappendicostomy, and colonic resection. Devin R. Halleran, Cornelius E.J. Sloots, Megan K. Fuller and Karen Diefenbach
  10. Treating pediatric colorectal patients in low and middle income settings: Creative adaptation to the resources available. Giulia Brisighelli, Victor Etwire, Taiwo Lawal, Marion Arnold and Chris Westgarth-Taylor
  11. Importance of education and the role of the patient and family in the care of anorectal malformations. Greg Ryan, Stephanie Vyrostek, Dalia Aminoff, Kristina Booth, Sarah Driesbach, Meghan Fisher, Julie Gerberick, Michel Haanen, Chelsea Mullins, Lori Parker and Nicole Schwarzer
  12. Ongoing care for the patient with an anorectal malfromation; transitioning to adulthood. Alessandra Gasior, Paola Midrio, Dalia Aminoff and Michael Stanton
  13. New and exciting advances in pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery – 2021 update. Marc A. Levitt

The first letter of each article forms an acrostic of the word “COLLABORATION” which is the secret sauce behind any success in the field of pediatric colorectal care.

Research & Innovation Campus

Children’s National pain expert and innovator shares global summit spotlight

Research & Innovation Campus

As a Johnson & Johnson Innovation Quickfire Children’s Challenge awardee, Dr. Finkel and AlgometRx will be among the first group of startups taking up residence at the new JLABS @ Washington, DC, located on the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, when it opens in 2021 at the historic former Walter Reed Army Medical Center site.

Medical technology innovator Julia Finkel, M.D., principal investigator for the Pain Medicine Initiative of the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital, recently participated in Galen Growth’s 2020 Global Healthtech Summit on a virtual panel featuring resident companies from Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS who are utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) with the aim to create advanced solutions for diagnostics, treatment and clinical trials. The summit, hosted in Singapore, brought the innovators together to discuss their views on their progress, the challenges and opportunities for bringing medtech innovations to market in the current climate, as well as the tools needed to succeed.

Dr. Finkel’s innovation, AlgometRx, is a real-time pain measurement technology that captures a digital image of a patient’s pupillary response to a non-invasive stimulus and applies proprietary algorithms to measure pain type and intensity. AlgometRx, a spin-off of Children’s National, recently received a JLABS @Washington DC Quickfire Children’s Challenge award.

Joining Dr. Finkel on the panel were JLABS resident company leaders Don Crawford, CEO, Analytics 4 Life; Jim Havelka, CEO, Inform AI; and Kim Walpole, CEO, Trials.ai, which leverages AI to help research teams design more effective clinical trials. The 50-minute program, moderated by Kara Bortone, senior director, Portfolio and Sourcing Management, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS, focused on topics such as how these startups approached the market and regulatory processes as well as the up-and-coming trends in health technology.

A pediatric anesthesiologist, Dr. Finkel explained the significance of achieving real-time, objective pain measurement. “Pain is one word that represents a myriad of conditions,” she says. “Pain from acute post-operative conditions is very different from peripheral neuropathic pain and different from the type of inflammatory pain seen in lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Being able to discern the drivers of pain, the etiology, is essential to treating it well and to developing better therapeutics in the future.”

Dr. Finkel points out that AlgometRx measures nociception, which is pain fiber activation, and that is also what medications are addressing. “We’re not discounting a patient’s perception of pain, as we recognize that one’s experience of pain is very complex,” she says. “What we aim to measure is the activity being transmitted by the pain nerve and the type of nerve fiber that is doing the transmitting.”

Aiming to identify pain phenotypes is an important part of current AlgometRx development work, says Dr. Finkel, as it could significantly aid clinical decision-making in treating and monitoring patients’ pain. The company’s current regulatory focus is to seek FDA clearance related to its potential use for patients with peripheral neuropathy, which is pain and numbness resulting from damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. The company has also identified fibromyalgia cases as a place where the technology could potentially benefit a large number of patients as it considers regulatory clearance targets.

As the COVID-19 pandemic presented many unique challenges to healthcare startups this year, panel participants were asked to discuss the hurdles they faced and how it impacted device development.

Dr. Finkel notes that the pandemic slowed patient enrollment in AlgometRx clinical studies, but also presented some upside. “At first, that had a negative impact, but it wound up being a good thing,” she says. “It gave us a moment to pause, regroup and examine the data we’d already generated. That break gave us improved information and a new, more powerful approach. It changed our trajectory by altering our regulatory path in terms of the order of things in our pipeline, so we’ve been enormously productive.”

As a Johnson & Johnson Innovation Quickfire Children’s Challenge awardee, Dr. Finkel and AlgometRx will be among the first group of startups taking up residence at the new JLABS @ Washington, DC, located on the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, when it opens in 2021 at the historic former Walter Reed Army Medical Center site. Along with a one-year residency at the new JLABS @ Washington DC facility,* AlgometRx will receive mentorship from experts at the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies and grant funding to help support its continued advancement to commercialization.

*Residency at JLABS @ Washington subject to acceptance and execution of a License Agreement with Children’s National.

insta-3D™ imaging from company nView medical

New innovative 3D imaging technology used in pediatric spine surgery

insta-3D™ imaging from company nView medical

Children’s National Hospital performed the first surgical use of breakthrough medical imaging technology designed specifically for kids. The innovation, insta-3D™ imaging from company nView medical, is designed to make 3D images available in the operating room quickly and safely.

Children’s National Hospital performed the first surgical use of breakthrough medical imaging technology designed specifically for kids. The innovation, insta-3D™ imaging from company nView medical, is designed to make 3D images available in the operating room quickly and safely. The 3D images provide surgeons with better visualization, allowing them to continue improving patient care and outcomes.

Matthew Oetgen, M.D., division chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at Children’s National, is overseeing the first use of this 3D imaging technology in orthopaedic procedures.

“Having a technology like this available in the operating room will potentially help make our surgeries even more precise with 3D imaging available quickly,” says Dr. Oetgen. “We anticipate this improved precision will lead to better outcomes and added value to what we do for our patients.”

Cristian Atria, nView medical’s CEO, commented for the first case.

“Seeing our imaging technology provide critical information during a kid’s surgery reminds us what the purpose of nView medical is all about,” says Cristian. “I would like to thank the surgeons, our backers, the team, and our clinical partners for making this first surgery a success. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic for what’s ahead!”

The potential of nView medical’s insta-3D™ imaging is especially exciting for Children’s National as nView medical is a 2019 Winner of the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation (NCC-PDI) competition “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” NCC-PDI is led by the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland with support from partners MedTech Innovator, BioHealth Innovation, and design firm Archimedic.

NCC-PDI is one of five members in the FDA’s Pediatric Device Consortia Grant Program created to support the development and commercialization of medical devices for children in areas of critical need where innovation can significantly improve children’s health care.

“Children deserve to benefit from our most advanced medical technologies and we know that improvements in pediatric care can make a positive difference over the lifetime of a child,” says Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A, P.M.P, vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National and principal investigator of NCC-PDI. “Pediatric hospitals must lead the way in supporting innovation for children’s care. That’s why, through NCC-PDI and our innovation institute, Children’s National helps to provide promising new pediatric devices with resources and expertise that support their journey to the market.”

newborn in ICU

Cardiac technology advances show promise for kids but only if right-sized

newborn in ICU

“Smaller patients, and those with congenital heart disease, can benefit from minimally-invasive methods of delivering pacemakers and defibrillators without the need for open-chest surgery,” says Charles Berul, M.D.

How to address the growing need for child-sized pacemakers and defibrillators, and finding better surgical techniques to place them, is the topic of an invited session called The Future is Now (or Coming Soon): Updates on New Technologies in Congenital Heart Care at the 2020 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

“Smaller patients, and those with congenital heart disease, can benefit from minimally-invasive methods of delivering pacemakers and defibrillators without the need for open-chest surgery,” says Charles Berul, M.D., co-director of the Children’s National Heart Institute and chief of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital, who presented at the session.

“This unmet need can only be met by innovative pediatric research, geared towards miniaturization technologies for use in the smallest of children,” he says.

His presentation focused on the devices and approaches that have caught the attention of pediatric cardiology, such as pacemakers and subcutaneous defibrillators designed without lead wires, as well as less-invasive surgical approaches that may reduce recovery time for children with congenital heart disease who require these assist devices.

Using them in kids comes with added challenges, however. Often pediatric cardiologists have to be creative in how to make them work for smaller patients, Dr. Berul notes. This reiterates the important point that simply applying an adult technology to a child isn’t the right approach. The subcutaneous defibrillator, for example, is still pretty large for a child’s body. Some studies also show these devices may not be as accurate in children as in adults.

Investigators in the Sheikh Zayed Institute working together with the cardiologists at Children’s National Hospital are focused on product development and commercialization of tools and techniques to allow percutaneous minimally-invasive placement of devices, taking advantage of the newest devices and surgical techniques as they develop.

In his presentation, Dr. Berul stressed that as the technology for adults advances, it creates an opportunity for pediatric cardiology, but only if the devices, and the techniques to place them, are specifically redesigned for pediatric application.

American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2020
The Future is Now (or Coming Soon): Updates on New Technologies in Congenital Heart Care – On Demand Session
CH.CVS.715
9:00am – 10:00am
Fri, Nov 13  (CST)

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.

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

Reoperation of anorectal malformation repair restores continence, improves quality of life

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

Dr. Levitt has performed over 10,000 surgeries to address the wide spectrum of problems involving the colon and rectum — more than any other full time practicing pediatric surgeon in the world.

Patients with a previously repaired anorectal malformation (ARM) can suffer from complications which lead to incontinence. Reoperation can improve the anatomic result, but its impact on functional outcomes has previously been unclear.

Marc Levitt, M.D., chief of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Children’s National, and Richard Wood, M.D., chief of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, co-led the study when they worked together in Columbus. They performed a retrospective cohort study, from 2014 to 2019, of patients with a previously repaired ARM who underwent another posterior sagittal anorectoplasty (PSARP) procedure, essentially redoing their first procedure. When results from the initial assessment were compared to 12 months after the redo surgery, they found that patients with fecal incontinence after an ARM repair can, with a reoperation, have their anatomy corrected, restoring continence for many and also improving their quality of life.

The study, published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, found that at one-year post-redo operation, 50 percent of the patients were on laxatives only, and 75 percent of those patients were completely continent. Overall, 77 percent of the patients were clean (1 or fewer accident per week) after their redo surgery and complication rates were low. Strictures were the most common complication seen after reoperations, as no dilations were performed, but were easily managed with a minor procedure. Surprisingly, 20 percent of patients with expected poor continence potential became fully continent on a laxative-based regimen after redo surgery. Traditionally, many of these children would not even be offered a redo surgery, given their perceived poor potential for bowel control.

The Division of Colorectal & Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Children’s National is the first in the mid-Atlantic region to fully integrate surgery, urology, gynecology and gastroenterology into one cohesive program for children. Dr. Levitt is a world-renowned surgeon who has performed over 10,000 surgeries to address the wide spectrum of problems involving the colon and rectum — more than any other full time practicing pediatric surgeon in the world.

This study shows that redo surgeries are a safe and effective option for patients with fecal incontinence after an anorectal malformation repair. The authors hope that the findings will lead to the ability to help more patients who suffer from complications and/or incontinence after a prior repaired ARM and who can benefit from an improvement in their colorectal anatomy.  After a reoperation, patients can expect to have improved quality of life because the outcome gives them more freedom and less worry about soiling accidents.

To access the full article published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery click here.

EUPSA joint congress flyer

Decision making in pediatric colorectal surgery webinars

EUPSA joint congress flyer

Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the 1st Joint Congress of European Pediatric Surgeons’ Association (EUPSA), International Pediatric Endosurgery Group (IPEG), and European Society of Paediatric Endoscopic Surgeons (ESPES) in Vienna, Austria, was canceled.  Despite this, EUPSA’s Education Office continued to foster collaboration and further educational opportunities among members in order to maintain and improve high standards of surgical care for pediatric surgical patients around the globe.

This included a webinar of case discussions on “Decision Making in Pediatric Colorectal Surgery,” led by Marc Levitt, M.D., Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgeon at Children’s National Hospital. The international panel included Giulia Brisighelli (Johannesburg, ZA) Martin Lacher (Leipzig, Germany), Paula Midrio (Triviso, Italy), Carlos Reck (Vienna, Austria), Pim Sloots (Rotterdam, Netherlands), Gaia Tamaro (EUPSA Education Office), Alejandra Villanova (Madrid, Spain), and Tomas Wester (Stockholm, Sweden).

Dr. Levitt has since presented follow-up webinars on the following topics:

  • Abnormal perineum
  • Twisted pullthrough in Hirschprung disease
  • Duhamel pullthrough in Total Colonic Hirschsprung
  • Vaginal atresia in a newborn with ARM 2

You can view the full webinars below:

Annual Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium panelists

Accelerating pediatric device innovation through legislative processes and industry changes


Annual Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium panelists
While the way we deliver healthcare is changing rapidly, far too often the tools we use to treat children are stuck in the past.

Over the last decade, pediatric medical device innovation, particularly for the youngest, most fragile children, has made dismal progress. Of the Class 3 (high risk/high benefit) medical devices approved by FDA for pediatrics in the last 10 years, less than 4% are for ages 0-2 years old; and even less for neo-natal patients. Simply put, as medical devices advance, children are not seeing the benefit of innovation.

The 8th Annual Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium presented by Children’s National Hospital in conjunction with the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Medical Devices (NCC-PDI) featured a keynote panel, “Pediatric Device Innovation: What’s Next?”, to examine the legislative and industry changes needed to speed up device innovation for kids.

One of the keynote panelists, and leading voices on this issue, is Children’s National Hospital president and CEO Kurt Newman, M.D. Dr. Newman, a former pediatric surgeon, knows firsthand that every day in our nation’s pediatric hospitals, surgeons are manipulating adult medical devices to create creative solutions for children’s bodies because it’s the only available option.

“Children need and deserve devices that are conceived and designed with their biology and future in mind,” says Dr. Newman. “While children may only make up a small percentage of our population – maybe 20 or 25% – they are 100% of our future.”

Dr. Kurt Newman in front of the capitol building

“Children need and deserve devices that are conceived and designed with their biology and future in mind,” says Children’s National Hospital president and CEO Kurt Newman, M.D. “While children may only make up a small percentage of our population – maybe 20 or 25% – they are 100% of our future.”

Dr. Newman also addressed the current barriers to pediatric device innovation, which ranges from limited pediatric clinical trials to a market size that’s not financially appealing.

“The truth is, the frontiers of pediatric medicine are really in the innovative treatments, devices, therapies, and cures awaiting us on the other side of research and development.,” says Dr. Newman.

Former CNN correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, moderated the 45-minute keynote panel discussion, asking questions about the challenges to pediatric innovation, what policy changes need to take place to see improvement in the field of pediatric device innovation, and how federal funding can assist in creating change.

Michelle McMurry-Heath, new CEO of DC-based Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), who joined Dr. Newman on this keynote panel, agreed that more needs to be done in the pediatric space. Dr. McMurry-Heath believes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a public health advocate at heart and that the Pediatric Device Consortia (PDC), which Children’s National Hospital is part of, is starting to make new advancements in pediatric innovation by giving FDA clearance to more start-up companies than we’ve seen in the past.

“The FDA is interested in is what improves the health outcomes for the people and innovation is a huge piece. This is an important part of their mission and it is starting to yield benefits,” says Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath. “Innovation is a team sport – it’s not easy. It takes a village of expertise and collaboration to progress and projects like the Pediatric Device Consortia is an important piece in this puzzle.”

NCC-PDI is one of five consortia in the FDA’s Pediatric Device Consortia (PDC) Grant Program created to support the development and commercialization of medical devices for children and is led by the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, with support from partners MedTech Innovator, BioHealth Innovation and design firm Archimedic.

To date, NCC-PDI has mentored over 100 medical device sponsors to help advance their pediatric innovations, with seven devices having received either their FDA market clearance or CE marking.

Dr. McMurry-Heath also addressed the challenge of diseases that don’t exist in adults and posed the question, “How do you create a device for kids if it doesn’t exist in adults?” She cited the lack of market in pediatrics and the difficulty in bringing a device to market as problems that hinder innovation, which is why advocating for these devices is crucial to children’s healthcare everywhere.

“So much of our innovation comes from our small, innovative companies,” say Dr. McMurry-Heath. “For example, my company is working on a COVID-19 tracker now and 70% of the innovation is coming from our smallest biotech companies. It’s a race against time for these companies to bring their innovation to market in order to keep the lights on and pay their scientists; this dog-eat-dog world isn’t immediately obvious to outsiders.

Beyond advocating, Dr. Newman and Children’s National are developing the first-of-its-kind pediatric research and innovation campus, which is currently under construction at DC’s former Walter Reed Army Medical Center site.

“We secured 12 acres to create something that has never been done before and that’s a campus for innovation dedicated to children,” says Dr. Newman. “Our close proximity to federal research institutions and agencies enables the new Children’s National campus to leverage the rich ecosystem of public and private sectors to help bolster biohealth, medical device, and life science innovation.”

As Children’s National continues to champion ways to accelerate pediatric device development, one focus is the on-site incubator Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS, which will help start-up companies strengthen their ideas by working with coaches, having access to mentors and learning how to interact with the FDA. This partnership also offers an audience for their device which could potentially lead to investments.

The Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus will create an ecosystem that can accelerate breakthroughs in pediatric healthcare discoveries and technologies: The new campus is currently under construction and expected to open in the first quarter of 2021.

Both panelists agreed they’d like to see more flexibility with regulators to work with innovators in order create more incentives for them to present their device, like the NCC-PDI “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” Competition, which was recently held in September 2020. The six winners received up to $50,000 in FDA-funded grant awards in order to develop their device, eventually bring it to market in order to improve healthcare for kids.

Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium graphic

Real-world evidence and the impact on pediatric device innovation

Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium graphic

The 8th Annual Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium presented by @ChildrensNatl in conjunction with @Devices4kids took place Sept. 28-30.

The 8th Annual Pediatric Device Innovation Symposium presented by Children’s National Hospital in conjunction with the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Medical Devices (NCC-PDI) kicked off on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 with a panel featuring three fellow members of the FDA-funded Pediatric Device Consortia (PDC) Grants Program discussing real-world evidence and the vital role that innovation and technology play in advancing healthcare for the pediatric population.

As described by the FDA, real-world evidence (RWE) is the clinical evidence regarding the usage and potential benefits or risks of a medical product, derived from the analysis of patient data. RWE can be generated by different study designs or analyses, including but not limited to, randomized trials, including large simple trials, pragmatic trials and observational studies (prospective and/or retrospective).

The symposium panel, “Pediatric Device Consortia Update on the Use of Real-World Evidence (RWE) for Pediatric Device Innovation” examined real-world evidence (RWE) demonstration projects from Southwest Pediatric Device Consortium, UCSF-Stanford Pediatric Device Consortium and the West Coast Consortium for Technology and Innovation in Pediatrics (CTIP). The panel was moderated by Juan Espinoza, M.D., FAAP, director of CTIP.

“Real-world evidence projects are critical to the advancement of pediatric medical device innovation,” said Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., M.B.A., P.M.P., vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital, and principal investigator for NCC-PDI. “Bringing together our colleagues in pediatric healthcare through the symposium helps us together identify solutions that will bring medical device innovations to the market faster to benefit the children and families we all serve.”

Here are some of the key discussion points made by panelists regarding current RWE demonstration projects:

  • Emerging medical and consumer technologies are enabling the diabetes community to take great strides toward truly personalized, real-time, data-driven management.
  • “Connected” technologies such as smartphone apps, wearable devices and sensors create an ecosystem of data driven-tools that can link patients and care teams for precision management of conditions like diabetes, including predicting a hypoglycemic event.
  • RWE has an important future in treating rare diseases by using existing data and harnessing that to improve treatment among pediatric patients.
  • Through the rich data in academic healthcare systems, practitioners are better equipped to provide RWE to address important regulatory and research questions.
  • The creation of a pediatric device patient database, which provides real-time updates to clinical, device and patient-generated health data, offers several regulatory, safety and research advantages in advancing device innovation.
Kolaleh-Eskandanian

Kolaleh Eskandanian, PhD, MBA, PMP, vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital, and principal investigator for NCC-PDI.

The FDA currently supports RWE demonstration projects that are focused on understanding data quality, improving RWE tools and evaluating RWE approaches to study design and data analytics. Dr. Espinoza highlighted the importance of ongoing dialogue on the use of RWE as it pertains to innovations that advance pediatric healthcare across the board.

“Thank you to the NCC-PDI team for creating this opportunity for PDCs to talk about the impact of real-world evidence on pediatric medical device development and the projects we have to move that field forward,” said Dr. Espinoza, director of CTIP and principal investigator on the PDC’s RWE Demonstration Project. “These projects are intended to inform the FDA and the industry’s approach to RWE including study design, data standards, fitness for use and regulatory decision making and reproducibility. This is complicated work that involves research, IT infrastructure, clinical care and operations.”

NCC-PDI, which is led by the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, is one of five members of the FDA’s Pediatric Device Consortia Grant Program. To date, NCC-PDI has mentored over 100 medical device sponsors to help advance their pediatric innovations, with seven devices having received either their FDA market clearance or CE marking.

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.

screenshot of pitch competition

“COVID-19-edition” of pediatric medical device competition announces winners

doctors operating

U.S. DoD awards $2M for study to protect neurological function after cardiac surgery

doctors operating

A collaboration between clinical and basic science researchers including Drs. Ishibashi, Hashimoto-Torii, Jonas, and Deutsch, seeks to to understand how caspase enzyme activation plays a role in the development of fine and gross motor skills in children who underwent cardiac surgery for CHD repair.

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded $2 million to Children’s National Hospital to study how a family of protease enzymes known as caspases may contribute to brain cell degeneration when activated by prolonged anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass during cardiac surgery for congenital heart disease.

This U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity Award, Anesthesia Neurotoxicity in Congenital Heart Disease, is led by principal investigator Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D., with both clinical and basic science co-investigators including Kazue Hashimoto-Torii, Ph.D., (Neuroscience), Richard Jonas, M.D., (Cardiovascular Surgery) and Nina Deutsch, M.D., (Anesthesiology).

While the specific cellular and molecular mechanisms of how anesthesia and cardiac surgery impact cortical development are poorly understood, both seem to impact brain growth and development in young children. The most common neurologic deficit seen in children after CHD surgical repair is the impairment of fine and gross motor skills.

Both anesthetic agents and inflammation like that seen as a result of cardiopulmonary bypass have also been shown to contribute to the activation of a specific group of enzymes that play an essential role in the routine (programmed) death of cells: caspases. However, recent pre-clinical research shows that these enzymes may also contribute to other alterations to cells beyond cell death, including making changes to other cell structures. In pre-clinical models, these changes cause impairments to fine and gross motor skills – the same neurological deficits seen in children with CHD who have undergone procedures requiring prolonged anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass.

The research team hypothesizes that caspases are extensively activated as a result of cardiac surgery and while that activation is rarely causing reduced numbers of neurons, the changes that caspase enzymes trigger in neurons are contributing to neurological deficits seen in children with CHD after surgery.

While the study focuses specifically on the impacts of cardiac surgery for correction of a heart defect, the findings could have major implications for any pediatric surgical procedure requiring prolonged anesthesia and/or cardiopulmonary bypass.

NCC-PDI-COVID19-Edition-Competition

NCC-PDI launches special pediatric medical device competition focused on covid-19 innovations

Kolaleh-Eskandanian

“Innovation in children’s medical devices consistently lags behind that of adults and we need to change that if we are to confront the challenge to children’s health of COVID-19 and future pandemics,” said Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., MBA, PMP, vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital and principal investigator of NCC-PDI. 

As medical data increasingly highlights the serious impact of COVID-19 on children’s health, the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation (NCC-PDI) announces a special pitch competition focused on COVID-19-related pediatric medical devices that support home health monitoring and telehealth, and improve sustainability, resiliency and readiness in diagnosing and treating children during a pandemic.

The “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” COVID19 edition is led by NCC-PDI co-founders the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland and powered by nonprofit accelerator and NCC-PDI member, MedTech Innovator. The finals in the virtual pitch event will be held on July 20, 2020. Winners will each receive a grant award of up to $50,000.

“Despite early reports that COVID-19 posed less of a threat to children, a recent study published by Children’s National shows that considerable numbers of pediatric patients are hospitalized and become critically ill from the disease,” said Kolaleh Eskandanian, Ph.D., MBA, PMP, vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital and principal investigator of NCC-PDI. “Innovation in children’s medical devices consistently lags behind that of adults and we need to change that if we are to confront the challenge to children’s health of COVID-19 and future pandemics.”

Funding for the competition is made possible by a grant from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a philanthropic gift from Mei Xu, founder of e-commerce platform Yes She May, a site dedicated to women-owned brands.

Along with grant funding, one company from the competition will be selected by Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS to receive a one-year residency at JLABS @ Washington, DC, which will be located on the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus currently under construction. In addition to the 2021 JLABS residency, the awardee will have access to the JLABS community and expert mentoring by the Johnson & Johnson family of companies.

Submissions for the competition are being accepted now through Monday, July 6, 2020z at the NCC-PDI website, Innovate4Kids.org, where complete details can be found.

NCC-PDI is one of five members in the FDA’s Pediatric Device Consortia Grant Program created to support the development and commercialization of medical devices for children, which lags significantly behind the progress of adult medical devices. Along with Children’s National, University of Maryland and Medtech Innovator, NCC-PDI members include accelerator BioHealth Innovation and design firm Archimedic.

To date, NCC-PDI has mentored over 100 medical device sponsors to help advance their pediatric innovations, with seven devices having received either their FDA market clearance or CE marking. The consortium hosts a major pediatric pitch competition annually that showcases and awards promising pediatric innovations and provides a first-of-its-kind pediatric-focused accelerator program for finalists.

NCC-PDI-COVID19-Edition-Competition

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.

Nobuyuki Ishibashi

R01 grant funds white matter protection study for congenital heart disease

Nobuyuki Ishibashi

Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D., is the principal investigator on a $3.2 million NIH R01 to study white matter growth and repair in utero for fetal brains affected by congenital heart disease.

Many of the neurological deficits seen in children with congenital heart disease (CHD) are related to abnormal white matter development early in life caused by reduced oxygen supply to the brain while in utero. Children with immature white matter at birth also commonly sustain additional white matter injuries following cardiac surgery.

The NIH recently awarded a prestigious R01 grant totaling more than $3.2 million to a collaborative project led by the Center for Neuroscience Research, the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation and the Children’s National Heart Institute at Children’s National Hospital as well as MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

The research, titled “White matter protection in the fetus with congenital heart disease,” looks specifically at whether providing a supplemental amount of the naturally occurring tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) for pregnant women could rescue white matter development of fetuses with congenital heart disease whose brains aren’t receiving enough oxygen – or suffering from hypoxic-ischemic events.

Previous preclinical studies have shown that this lack of oxygen depletes the brain’s natural BH4 level, and the researchers hypothesize that BH4 levels play a critical role in the growth and development of white matter in the fetal brain by triggering key cellular/molecular processes. Specifically, the study will focus on three aims:

  1. Establish in a preclinical model the optimal protective regiment for women pregnant with a fetus who has CHD to receive BH4.
  2. Determine the appropriate approach to deliver BH4 to this population
  3. Leverage genetic tools and biochemical techniques in the laboratory to better understand where and how BH4 levels play a role in the growth (or lack thereof) of oligodendrocytes—the primary cells of white matter.

This laboratory-based work is the first step to determining if the neurodevelopment of babies born with CHD can be preserved or recovered by addressing key brain development that occurs before the baby is even born. Findings related to congenital heart disease may also translate to other populations where white matter development is affected by hypoxia-ischemia, including premature infants.

The project is led by principal investigator Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D., with co-investigators Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D., Joseph Scafidi, D.O., and Mary Donofrio, M.D. as well as colleagues at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

Evidence to eliminate burdensome postop practice after imperforate anus repair

Marc Levitt plays with a patient

The study was co-led by Marc Levitt, M.D., who launched the division of Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery at Children’s National Hospital in late 2019.

A prospective randomized controlled trial has given pediatric colorectal specialists the first evidence to reconsider a standard postoperative care practice: Routine anal dilations following a primary posterior sagittal anorectoplasty (PSARP), an operation to reconstruct a child born with imperforate anus. This treatment has been the standard of care following PSARP for more than thirty years and was believed to help prevent strictures after surgery for anorectal malformations (imperforate anus). However, it requires parents and caregivers to perform this uncomfortable procedure on their child daily, which can have a significant psychological impact on the child. Prior to this trial, a quality of life assessment found that postoperative dilations were the most stressful part of these patients’ care for both patient and parents.

“The PSARP procedure, performed for the first time in 1980, improves the lives of children born with imperforate anus by providing a safe and effective reconstruction technique,” says Marc Levitt, M.D., who led the study with co-author Richard Wood, M.D., of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, before joining Children’s National Hospital as chief of the division of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery. “We are thrilled to have evidence that one of the top postoperative challenges for parents – a twice daily anal dilation for several months after the surgery is completed – can potentially be eliminated for most kids with no impact on their recovery.”

“We also found that if a stricture, or scar, develops, which occurs in only about 10 percent of cases, it can easily be managed with a minor operative procedure done at the same time as colostomy closure, which in most cases they already need. So, if a family had to choose between daily dilations for months or a one in 10 risk of needing a minor surgical procedure, they can now make that choice and avoid routine dilations.”

The prospective single institution randomized controlled trial was conducted between 2017 and 2019 and included 49 patients. The abstract of the results was accepted for presentation at the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons Annual International Congress, 2020, and its manuscript is to be published.

“The clinical benefit of routine dilation had never been studied in a formal way, it had been accepted as surgical dogma. Our cohort, who underwent a randomized controlled trial, gave us the ability to look at this practice in an evidence-based way,” Dr. Levitt says. “Revising this practice could be a real game-changer for parents and kids with anorectal malformations.”

Matt Oetgen and patient

Periop procedures improve scoliosis surgery infection rates

Matt Oetgen and patient

Matthew Oetgen, M.D., MBA, chief of orthopaedics and sports medicine at Children’s National Hospital, presented findings from a study aimed at improving quality and safety for pediatric spinal fusion procedures by reducing surgical site infection rates.

Pediatric orthopaedic surgery as a field is focused on improving quality and value in pediatric spine surgery, especially when it comes to eliminating surgical site infections (SSI). Many studies have documented how and why surgical site infections occur in pediatric spinal fusion patients, however, there is very little data about what approaches are most effective at reducing SSIs for these patients in a sustainable way.

At the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America’s 2020 Annual Meeting, Matthew Oetgen, M.D., MBA, chief of orthopaedic surgery and sports medicine at Children’s National Hospital, presented findings from a long-term single institution study of acute SSI prevention measures.

“These findings give us specific insight into the tactics that are truly preventing, and in our case sometimes even eliminating, SSIs for pediatric scoliosis surgery,” says Dr. Oetgen, who also served on the annual meeting program committee. “By analyzing patient records across more than a decade, we were able to see that some strategies are quite effective, and others, that we thought would move the needle, just don’t.”

The team reviewed medical records and radiographs dating back to 2008 for 1,195 patients who had spinal fusion for scoliosis, including idiopathic scoliosis as well as other forms such as neuromuscular or syndromic scoliosis. Over that period of time, the division of orthopaedics and sports medicine at Children’s National was collaborating with the hospital’s infection control team to achieve several programmatic implementation milestones, including:

  • January 2012: Standardized infection surveillance program
  • July 2013: Standardized perioperative infection control protocols including those for pre-operative surgical site wash, surgical site preparation and administration of antibiotics before and after surgery
  • March 2015: Standardized comprehensive spinal care pathway including protocols for patient temperature control, fluid and blood management, and drain and catheter management

Over the study time period, the team found that SSIs did decrease, but interestingly, the rate did not progressively decrease with each subsequent intervention.

“Instead, we found that the rate went down and was even eliminated for some subgroups when the perioperative infection control protocols were implemented in 2013 and sustained through the study period end,” says Dr. Oetgen. “The other programmatic efforts that started in 2012 and 2015 had no impact on infection rates.”

He also notes that the study’s findings have identified a crucial component in the process for infection control in pediatric spinal surgery—perioperative protocols. “A relatively uncomplicated perioperative infection control protocol did the best job decreasing SSI in spinal fusion. Future efforts to optimize this particular protocol may help improve the rates even further.”

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.

Patients and staff at the Uganda Heart Institute

Lifesaving heart surgeries for RHD complications in Uganda go on despite COVID-19

Patients and staff at the Uganda Heart Institute

Patients and staff at the Uganda Heart Institute for RHD-related heart surgeries in Uganda, March 2020. These patients were originally scheduled as part of the cancelled medical mission, but UHI cardiovascular surgeon successfully managed these cases without the support of the mission doctors from the U.S.

In early March as countries around the globe began to wrestle with how best to tackle the spread of COVID-19, a group of doctors, nurses, researchers and other medical staff from Children’s National Hospital were wrestling with a distinct set of challenges: What to do about the 10 Ugandan children and adults who were currently scheduled for lifesaving heart surgery (and the countless others who would benefit from the continued training of the local heart surgery team) to correct complications of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) during an impending medical mission in the country.

Rheumatic heart disease impacts over 39 million people globally and causes nearly 300,000 deaths per year. RHD is the result of frequent, untreated streptococcal throat infections in childhood that ultimately cause the body’s immune system to repeatedly damage heart valves. It is completely preventable, yet the majority of the world’s children still live in impoverished and overcrowded conditions that predispose them to RHD. Most patients present with advanced valvular heart disease. For example, in Uganda, an RHD registry includes over 600 children with clinical RHD, of which nearly 40% die within four years and the median survival time from enrollment in the registry is only nine months. For these patients, heart surgery is the only viable solution for long-term survival and normal quality of life.

Patricia: 9-year-old from Gulu

Patricia: 9-year-old from Gulu (northern Uganda), had mitral valve replacement and was doing well on a recent follow-up visit at her home.

The scheduled trip from Washington was part of a nearly 20-year partnership** between doctors, nurses, researchers and other medical staff in the United States, including Craig Sable, M.D., associate chief of cardiology, and and Pranava Sinha, M.D.,pediatric cardiovascular surgeon, at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and the Uganda Heart Institute in Kampala, Uganda. The partnership aims to tackle RHD head-on. It provides surgical skill transfer, allows for treatment of more complex patients, and increases sustainable surgical capacity for Uganda’s RHD patients over time. As a result, over the last 15 years more than 1,000 children have received lifesaving heart surgery in Uganda, with the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) performing one to two heart valve surgeries every two weeks over the last few years.

Jackline: 12-year-old from Gulu

Jackline: 12-year-old from Gulu, had mitral valve repair and aortic valve replacement. Jackline and Patricia were diagnosed through one of our research programs and benefit from our novel telehealth program, which helps connect patients from remote parts of Uganda to specialists at UHI.

COVID-19 was changing the current plan, however. Travel between countries was limited, and the team from the U.S. wouldn’t have been permitted to leave the U.S. and return according to schedule. The trip, and the support teams who were scheduled to arrive to help with the surgeries, were cancelled. The U.S. team members who had already arrived in Uganda were sent home after helping their UHI colleagues set up and prepare for the surgeries as much as possible. Knowing that patients and families were counting on the surgery mission to go forward after waiting for months or years to have surgery for heart valve disease, UHI decided not to cancel the majority of the surgeries. Instead, for the first time, they planned and successfully completed five valve-related cases in a single week – several of them quite complex. The cardiologists and cardiac surgeons from Children’s National who were supposed to be in-country for these procedures were forced to limit their in person assistance to the set-up activities the week prior to surgery and telehealth consult during the procedures.

“It was hard not to be able to stay  and work with the UHI team to help these families,” says Dr. Sable. “But we are so proud of the UHI team for meeting this challenge on their own. We knew they had the skills to perform at this volume and complexity. It’s a proud moment to see the team accomplish this major milestone, and to see the patients they cared for thrive.”

The patients are the most important outcome: The five who had successful open-heart surgery are all doing well, either on their way to recovery or already discharged to their communities, where they will, for the first time in memory, be able to play, exercise and go to school or work.

Longer term, this success demonstrates the UHI medical team’s ability to manage greater surgical capacity even when surgical missions from the U.S. resume. The partnership’s goal is to complete at least 1,000 annual operations (both pediatric and adult), with the majority being performed by the local team. Having this capacity available will mean the difference between life and death for many children and adults who have RHD in Uganda and the surrounding countries.

**This work is supported by the Edwards Life Sciences/Thoracic Surgery Foundation, the Emirates Airline Foundation, Samaritan’s Purse Children’s Heart Project and Gift of Life International.