Marc Levitt, MD, leads virtual case discussions on “Decision Making in Pediatric Colorectal Surgery” in collaboration with the EUPSA.
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:
- Neonatology (No. 1), led by Division Chief Billie Lou Short, M.D.
- Neurology and Neurosurgery (No. 3), led by Division Chiefs William D. Gaillard, M.D., and Robert F. Keating, M.D.
- Cancer (No. 6), led by Division Chief Jeffrey S. Dome, M.D., Ph.D.
- Nephrology (No. 7), led by Division Chief Marva Moxey-Mims, M.D., FASN
- Orthopedics (No. 9), led by Division Chief Matthew Oetgen, M.D., MBA
- Pulmonology and Lung Surgery (No.9), led by Division Chief Anastassios Koumbourlis, M.D., MPH
- Diabetes and Endocrinology (No. 10), led by Division Chief Andrew Dauber, M.D., MMSC
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.
We live in a time of great uncertainty yet great promise, particularly when it comes to harnessing technology to improve lives. Researchers at Children’s National Hospital are using quantitative imaging and machine intelligence to enhance care for children with a common kidney disease, and their initial results are very promising. Their technique provides an accurate way to predict earlier which children with hydronephrosis will need surgical intervention, simplifying and enhancing their care.
Hydronephrosis means “water in the kidney” and is a condition in which a kidney doesn’t empty normally. One of the most frequently detected abnormalities on prenatal ultrasound, hydronephrosis affects up to 4.5% of all pregnancies and is often discovered prenatally or just after birth.
Although hydronephrosis in children sometimes resolves by itself, identifying which kidneys are obstructed and more likely to need intervention isn’t particularly easy. But it is critical. “Children with severe hydronephrosis over long periods of time can start losing kidney function to the point of losing a kidney,” says Marius George Linguraru, DPhil, MA, MSc, principal investigator of the project; director of Precision Medical Imaging Group at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation; and professor of radiology, pediatrics and biomedical engineering at George Washington University.
Children with hydronephrosis face three levels of examination and intervention: ultrasound, nuclear imaging testing called diuresis renogram and surgery for the critical cases. “What we want to do with this project is stratify kids as early as possible,” Dr. Linguraru says. “The earlier we can predict, the better we can plan the clinical care for these kids.”
Ultrasound is used to see whether there is a blockage and try to determine hydronephrosis severity. “Ultrasound is non-invasive, non-radiating, and does not expose the child to any risk prenatally or postnatally,” Dr. Linguraru says. Ultrasound evaluations require a trained radiologist, but there’s a lot of variability. Radiologists have a grading system based on the ultrasound appearance of the kidney to determine whether the hydronephrosis is mild, moderate or severe, but studies show this isn’t predictive of longer term outcomes.
Children whose ultrasounds show concern will be referred to diuresis renogram. Costly, complex, invasive and irradiating, it tests how well the kidney empties. Although appropriate for good clinical indications, doctors try to minimize its use. “Management of hydronephrosis is complex,” Dr. Linguraru says. “We want to use ultrasound as much as possible and much less diuresis renogram.”
For those patients whose kidney is obstructed and eventually need surgical intervention, the sooner that decision can be made the better. “The more you wait for a kidney that is severely obstructed, the more function may be lost. If intervention is required, it’s preferable to do it early,” Dr. Linguraru says. Of course for the child whose hydronephrosis will likely resolve itself, intervention is not the best option.
Dr. Linguraru and the multidisciplinary team at Children’s National Hospital, including radiology and urology clinicians, are putting the power of computers to work interpreting subtleties in the ultrasound data that humans just can’t see. In their pilot study they found that 60% of the nuclear imaging tests could have been safely avoided without missing any of the critical cases of hydronephrosis. “With our technique we are measuring physiological and anatomical changes in the ultrasound image of the kidney,” Dr. Linguraru says. “The human eye may find it difficult to put all this together, but the machine can do it. We use quantitative imaging to do deep phenotyping of the kidney and machine learning to interpret the data.”
Results of the initial study indicate that kids who have a mild condition can be safely discharged earlier and the model can predict all those kids with obstructions and accelerate their diagnosis by sending them earlier to get further investigation. Dr. Linguraru says. “There are only benefits: some kids will get earlier diagnosis, some earlier discharges.”
The team also has a way to improve the interpretation of diuresis renograms. “We analyze the dynamics of the kidney’s drainage curve in quantifiable way. Using machine learning to interpret those results, we showed we can potentially discharge some kids earlier and accelerate intervention for the most severe cases instead of waiting and repeating the invasive tests,” he says. The framework has 93% accuracy, including 91% sensitivity and 96% specificity, to predict surgical cases, a significant improvement over clinical metrics’ accuracy.
The next step is a study connecting all the protocols. “Right now we have a study on ultrasound, a study on nuclear imaging, but we need to connect them so a child with hydronephrosis immediately benefits,” says Dr. Linguraru. Future work will focus on streamlining and accelerating diagnosis and intervention for kids who need it, both in prospective studies and hopefully clinically as well.
Hydronephrosis is an area in which machine learning can be applied to pediatric health in meaningful ways because of the sheer volume of cases.
“Machine learning algorithms work best when they are trained well on a lot of data,” Dr. Linguraru says. “Often in pediatric conditions, data are sparse because conditions are rare. Hydronephrosis is one of those areas that can really benefit from this new technological development because there is a big volume of patients. We are collecting more data, and we’re becoming smarter with these kinds of algorithms.”
Learn more about the Precision Medical Imaging Laboratory and its work to enhance clinical information in medical images to improve children’s health.
Of the 200 million people around the globe infected with Schistosomiasis, about 100 million of them were sickened by the parasite Schistosoma haematobium. As the body reacts to millions of eggs laid by the blood flukes, people can develop fever, cough and abdominal pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Schistosomiasis triggered by S. haematobium can also include hematuria, bladder calcification and bladder cancer.
Despite the prevalence of this disease, there are few experimental models specifically designed to study it, and some tried-and-true preclinical models don’t display the full array of symptoms seen in humans. It’s also unclear how S. haematobium eggs deposited in the host bladder modulate local tissue gene expression.
To better understand the interplay between the parasite and its human host, a team led by Children’s National Hospital injected 6,000 S. haematobium eggs into the bladder wall of seven-week-old experimental models.
After four days, they isolated RNA for analysis, comparing differences in gene expression in various treatment groups, including those that had received the egg injection and experimental models whose bladders were not exposed to surgical intervention.
Using the Database for Annotation, Visualization and Integrated Discovery (DAVID) – a tool that helps researchers understand the biological meaning of a long list of genes – the team identified commonalities with other pathways, including malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and the p53 signaling pathway, the team recently presented during the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 2019 annual meeting. Some 325 genes were differentially expressed, including 34 genes in common with previous microarray data.
“Of particular importance, we found upregulation in genes associated with inflammation and fibrosis. We also now know that the body may send it strongest response on the first day it encounters a bolus of eggs,” says Michael Hsieh, M.D., Ph.D., director of transitional urology at Children’s National, and the research project’s senior author. “Next, we need to repeat these experiments and further narrow the list of candidate genes to key genes associated with immunomodulation and bladder cancer.”
In addition to Dr. Hsieh, presentation co-authors include Lead Author Kenji Ishida, Children’s National; Evaristus Mbanefo and Nirad Banskota, National Institutes of Health; James Cody, Vigene Biosciences; Loc Le, Texas Tech University; and Neil Young, University of Melbourne.
Financial support for research described in this post was provided by the National Institutes of Health under award No. R01-DK113504.
IPSE, one of the important proteins excreted by the parasite Schistosoma mansoni infiltrates human cellular nuclei through clathrin-mediated endocytosis (a process by which cells absorb metabolites, hormones and proteins), a research team led by Children’s National Hospital reported during the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 2019 annual meeting.
Because the public health toll from the disease this parasite causes, Schistosomiasis, is second only to malaria in global impact, research teams have been studying its inner workings to help create the next generation of therapies.
In susceptible host cells – like urothelial cells, which line the urinary tract – IPSE modulates gene expression, increasing cell proliferation and angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels). On a positive note, neurons appear better able to fend off its nucleus-infiltrating ways.
“We know that IPSE contributes to the severity of symptoms in Schistosomiasis, which leads some patients to develop bladder cancer, which develops from the urothelial lining of the bladder. Our team’s carefully designed experiments reveal IPSE’s function in the urothelium and point to the potential of IPSE playing a therapeutic role outside of the bladder,” says Michael Hsieh, M.D., Ph.D., director of transitional urology at Children’s National and the research project’s senior author.
In addition to Dr. Hsieh, research co-authors include Evaristus Mbanefo, Ph.D.; Kenji Ishida, Ph.D.; Austin Hester, M.D.; Catherine Forster, M.D.; Rebecca Zee, M.D., Ph.D.; and Christina Ho, M.D., all of Children’s National; Franco Falcone, Ph.D., University of Nottingham; and Theodore Jardetzky, Ph.D., and Luke Pennington, M.D., Ph.D., candidate, both of Stanford University.
Financial support for research described in this post was provided by the National Institutes of Health under award No. R01-DK113504.
Schistosoma mansoni is a parasite that hides out in snails, breaks free into waterways, and then infects humans, spending much of its life inside blood vessels, laying eggs and jeopardizing public health when those eggs are excreted in urine or feces. As parasitic diseases go, the ailment it causes, Schistosomiasis, is second only to malaria in global impact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In order to elude the human host’s defenses, S. mansoni uses self-defense tactics that researchers are trying to better understand in order to outmaneuver the parasite. A research team led by Children’s National Hospital is trying to tease out the multiple steps that enable this parasite to reproduce and generate millions of eggs without killing its host.
The parasite’s eggs secrete a number of proteins, with IPSE as one of the most abundant, the team recently presented during the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 2019 annual meeting. That protein binds immunoglobulin, which induces basophils and mast cells to release IL-4. After sequestering chemokines, H-IPSE infiltrates the cell nucleus (thus H-IPSE is called an infiltrin), modulating gene expression.
“H-IPSE tips the immune system balance, making it more likely to trigger a Th2 anti-inflammatory response,” says Michael Hsieh, M.D., Ph.D., director of transitional urology at Children’s National and the research project’s senior author. “It downregulates pro-inflammatory pathways, but we wanted to know more about which specific human cells it targets.”
Using Trypan Blue, a stain that selectively colors certain cells bright blue, they solved the mystery, finding that H-IPSE is internalized by just a limited range of cells. What’s more, some cell types, like urothelial cells and hepatocytes (the liver’s chief functioning cells, which activate innate immunity), are more susceptible than neurons, endothelial cells or immature dendritic cells.
In addition to Dr. Hsieh, presentation co-authors include Olivia Lamanna, Evaristus Mbanefo and Kenji Ishida, all of Children’s National; Franco Falcone, of University of Nottingham; and Theodore Jardetzky and Luke Pennington, of Stanford University.
The callers pretended to be well-meaning parents who were trying to safely dispose of unneeded antibiotics and opioid-based prescription painkillers after their child’s surgery. Fewer than half of the California pharmacies they called provided correct prescription drug disposal details, a percentage that dropped sharply if the “secret shoppers” made their call on a weekend, according to a brief research report published online Dec. 31, 2019, in Annals of Internal Medicine.
“The Food and Drug Administration advises consumers about how to safely dispose of unneeded medicines and, because pharmacists can play an integral role in this conversation, the American Pharmacists Association says prescription medication disposal should follow FDA guidelines,” says Rachel E. Selekman, M.D., MAS, a pediatric urologist at Children’s National Hospital and the study’s first author. “We found very few California pharmacies permitted take-back of unneeded medications. There was also a striking difference in the accuracy and completeness of drug disposal information depending on whether they answered the call on a weekday or a weekend. That suggests room for improvement,” Dr. Selekman says.
The multi-institutional research team, led by Primary Investigator and senior author Hillary L. Copp, M.D., MS, at University of California, San Francisco, identified licensed pharmacies located in urban and rural settings in California. That state that accounts for 10% of all U.S. pharmacies. They wrote a script that guided four male and two female “secret shoppers” to ask about what to do about leftover antibiotics (sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim tablets) and a liquid opioid-based painkiller (hydrocodone-acetaminophen). From late-February to late-April 2018, they called 898 pharmacies from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., asking about the correct way to dispose of these medicines.
According to the FDA, consumers should mix most unused medicines with an unappealing substance, like kitty litter, place it in a sealed container and toss the container in the trash. Medicines that can be harmful to others, like opioids, should be flushed down the sink or toilet. Many pharmacies have programs or kiosks to handle unused prescription medicines.
Of the pharmacies surveyed in California:
- 47% provided correct information about disposing of antibiotics
- 29% provided correct information about how to dispose of both antibiotics and opioids
- 19% provided correct information about how to dispose of opioids
- 49% provided correct antibiotic disposal information and 20% provided correct opioid disposal information on weekday calls
- 15% provided correct antibiotic disposal information and 7% provided correct opioid disposal information on weekend calls
Asked specifically about drug take-back programs, just 11% said their pharmacy had one that could be used to dispose of antibiotics or opioids.
“Unused prescription medications can be misused by others and can result in accidental childhood poisonings,” Dr. Selekman adds. “The bottom line is that we often talk about how to address the problem of too many unused medications lingering in homes. There are many reasons this is a problem, but part of the problem is nobody knows what to do if they have too many prescription medicines. Because of this research, we have discovered that pharmacies don’t uniformly provide accurate information to our patients. Patients, families and health care professionals who advise families should work together to help improve and expand safe disposal options for these powerful medications.”
In addition to Drs. Selekman and Copp, the research team includes co-authors Thomas W. Gaither, M.D., MAS, Zachary Kornberg, BA, and Aron Liaw, M.D., all of whom were at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, Division of Pediatric Urology at the time the study was performed.
Recently, Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National Hospital, authored an opinion piece for the popular political website, The Hill. In the article, he called upon stakeholders from across the landscape to address the significant innovation gap in children’s healthcare versus adults.
As Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Children’s Hospital Association, Dr. Newman knows the importance of raising awareness among policy makers at the federal and state level about the healthcare needs of children. Dr. Newman believes that children’s health should be a national priority that is addressed comprehensively. With years of experience as a pediatric surgeon, he is concerned by the major inequities in the advancements of children’s medical devices and technologies versus those for adults. That’s why Children’s National is working to create collaborations, influence policies and facilitate changes that will accelerate the pace of pediatric healthcare innovation for the benefit of children everywhere. One way that the hospital is tackling this challenge is by developing the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus, which will be the nation’s first innovation campus focused on pediatric research.
Children’s National Hospital and Virginia Tech create formal partnership that includes the launch of a Virginia Tech biomedical research facility within the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus.
Children’s National Hospital and Virginia Tech recently announced a formal partnership that will include the launch of a 12,000-square-foot Virginia Tech biomedical research facility within the new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus. The campus is an expansion of Children’s National that is located on a nearly 12-acre portion of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and is set to open its first phase in December 2020. This new collaboration brings together Virginia Tech, a top tier academic research institution, with Children’s National, a U.S. News and World Report top 10 children’s hospital, on what will be the nation’s first innovation campus focused on pediatric research.
“Virginia Tech is an ideal partner to help us deliver on what we promised for the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus – an ecosystem that enables us to accelerate the translation of potential breakthrough discoveries into new treatments and technologies,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO, Children’s National. “Our clinical expertise combined with Virginia Tech’s leadership in engineering and technology, and its growing emphasis on biomedical research, will be a significant advance in developing much needed treatment and cures to save children’s lives.”
Earlier this year, Children’s National announced a collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation LLC to launch JLABS @ Washington, DC at the Research & Innovation Campus. The JLABS @ Washington, DC site will be open to pharmaceutical, medical device, consumer and health technology companies that are aiming to advance the development of new drugs, medical devices, precision diagnostics and health technologies, including applications in pediatrics.
“We are proud to welcome Virginia Tech to our historic Walter Reed campus – a campus that is shaping up to host some of the top minds, talent and innovation incubators in the world,” says Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. “The new Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus will exemplify why D.C. is the capital of inclusive innovation – because we are a city committed to building the public and private partnerships necessary to drive discoveries, create jobs, promote economic growth and keep D.C. at the forefront of innovation and change.”
Faculty from the Children’s National Research Institute and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech Carilion (VTC) have worked together for more than a decade, already resulting in shared research grants, collaborative publications and shared intellectual property. Together, the two institutions will now expand their collaborations to develop new drugs, medical devices, software applications and other novel treatments for cancer, rare diseases and other disorders.
“Joining with Children’s National in the nation’s capital positions Virginia Tech to improve the health and well-being of infants and children around the world,” says Virginia Tech President Tim Sands, Ph.D. “This partnership resonates with our land-grant mission to solve big problems and create new opportunities in Virginia and D.C. through education, technology and research.”
The partnership with Children’s National adds to Virginia Tech’s growing footprint in the Washington D.C. region, which includes plans for a new graduate campus in Alexandria, Va. with a human-centered approach to technological innovation. Sands said the proximity of the two locations – just across the Potomac – will enable researchers to leverage resources, and will also create opportunities with the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va. and the Virginia Tech Carilion Health Science and Technology campus in Roanoke, Va.
Carilion Clinic and Children’s National have an existing collaboration for provision of certain specialized pediatric clinical services. The more formalized partnership between Virginia Tech and Children’s National will drive the already strong Virginia Tech-Carilion Clinic partnership, particularly for children’s health initiatives and facilitate collaborations between all three institutions in the pediatric research and clinical service domains.
Children’s National and Virginia Tech will engage in joint faculty recruiting, joint intellectual property, joint training of students and fellows, and collaborative research projects and programs according to Michael Friedlander, Ph.D., Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology, and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.
“The expansion and formalization of our partnership with Children’s National is extremely timely and vital for pediatric research innovation and for translating these innovations into practice to prevent, treat and ultimately cure nervous system cancer in children,” says Friedlander, who has collaborated with Children’s National leaders and researchers for more than 20 years. “Both Virginia Tech and Children’s National have similar values and cultures with a firm commitment to discovery and innovation in the service of society.”
“Brain and other nervous system cancers are among the most common cancers in children (alongside leukemia),” says Friedlander. “With our strength in neurobiology including adult brain cancer research in both humans and companion animals at Virginia Tech and the strength of Children’s National research in pediatric cancer, developmental neuroscience and intellectual disabilities, this is a perfect match.”
The design of the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus not only makes it conducive for the hospital to strengthen its prestigious partnerships with Virginia Tech and Johnson & Johnson, it also fosters synergies with federal agencies like the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which will collaborate with JLABS @ Washington, DC to establish a specialized innovation zone to develop responses to health security threats. As more partners sign on, this convergence of key public and private institutions will accelerate discoveries and bring them to market faster for the benefit of children and adults.
“The Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus pairs an inspirational mission to find new treatments for childhood illness and disease with the ideal environment for early stage companies. I am confident the campus will be a magnet for big ideas and will be an economic boost for Washington DC and the region,” says Jeff Zients, who was appointed chair of the Children’s National Board of Directors effective October 1, 2019. As a CEO and the former director of President Obama’s National Economic Council, Zients says that “When you bring together business, academia, health care and government in the right setting, you create a hotbed for innovation.”
Ranked 7th in National Institutes of Health research funding among pediatric hospitals, Children’s National continues to foster collaborations as it prepares to open its first 158,000-square-foot phase of its Research & Innovation Campus. These key partnerships will enable the hospital to fulfill its mission of keeping children top of mind for healthcare innovation and research while also contributing to Washington D.C.’s thriving innovation economy.
Mihailo Kaplarevic, Ph.D., the newly minted Chief Research Information Officer at Children’s National Hospital and Bioinformatics Division Chief at Children’s National Research Institute, will provide computational support, advice, informational guidance, expertise in big data and data analyses for researchers and clinicians.
Kaplarevic’s new job is much like the role he played most recently at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), assembling a team of researchers and scientists skilled in computing and statistical analyses to assist as in-house experts for other researchers and scientists.
NHLBI was the first institute within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) family to set up a scientific information office. During his tenure, a half-dozen other NIH institutions followed, setting up the same entity to help bridge the enormous gap between basic and clinical science and everything related to IT.
“There is a difference compared with traditional IT support at Children’s National – which will remain in place and still do the same sort of things they have been doing so far,” he says of The Bear Institute for Health Innovation. “The difference is this office has experience in research because every single one of us was a researcher at a certain point in our career: We are published. We applied for grants. We lived the life of a typical scientist. On top of that, we’re coming from the computational world. That helps us bridge the gaps between research and clinical worlds and IT.”
Ultimately, he aims to foster groundbreaking science by recognizing the potential to enhance research projects by bringing expertise acquired over his career and powerful computing tools to help teams achieve their goals in a less expensive and more efficient way.
“I have lived the life of a typical scientist. I know exactly how painful and frustrating it can be to want to do something quickly and efficiently but be slowed by technological barriers,” he adds.
As just one example, his office will design the high-performance computing cluster for the hospital to help teams extract more useful clinical and research data with fewer headaches.
Right now, the hospital has three independent clinical systems storing patient data; all serve a different purpose. (And there are also a couple of research information systems, also used for different purposes.) Since databases are his expertise, he will be involved in consolidating data resources, finding the best way to infuse the project with the bigger-picture mission – especially for translational science – and creating meaningful, actionable reports.
“It’s not only about running fewer queries,” he explains. “One needs to know how to design the right question. One needs to know how to design that question in a way that the systems could understand. And, once you get the data back, it’s a big set of things that you need to further filter and carefully shape. Only then will you get the essence that has clinical or scientific value. It’s a long process.”
As he was introduced during a Children’s National Research Institute faculty meeting in late-September 2019, Kaplarevic joked that his move away from pure computer science into a health care and clinical research domain was triggered by his parents: “When my mom would introduce me, she would say ‘My son is a doctor, but not the kind of doctor who helps other people.’ ”
Some of that know-how will play out by applying tools and methodology to analyze big data to pluck out the wheat (useful data) from the chaff in an efficient and useful way. On projects that involve leveraging cloud computing for storing massive amounts of data, it could entail analyzing the data wisely to reduce its size when it comes back from the cloud – when the real storage costs come in. “You can save a lot of money by being smart about how you analyze data,” he says.
While he expects his first few months will be spent getting the lay of the land, understanding research project portfolios, key principal investigators and the pediatric hospital’s biggest users in the computational domain, he has ambitious longer-term goals.
“Three years from now, I would like this institution to say that the researchers are feeling confident that their research is not affected by limitations related to computer science in general. I would like this place to become a very attractive environment for up-and-coming researchers as well as for established researchers because we are offering cutting-edge technological efficiencies; we are following the trends; we are a secure place; and we foster science in the best possible way by making computational services accessible, affordable and reliable.”
Lee Savio Beers, M.D., FAAP, Medical Director of Community Health and Advocacy at the Child Health Advocacy Institute (CHAI) at Children’s National Hospital carved out a Monday morning in late-September 2019, as she knew the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) would announce the results of its presidential election, first by telephone call, then by an email to all of its members. Her husband blocked off the morning as well to wait with her for the results. She soon got the call that she was elected by her peers to become AAP president-elect, beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Dr. Beers will then serve as AAP president in 2021 for a one-year term.
That day swept by in a rush, and then the next day she was back in clinic, caring for her patients, some of them teenagers whom she had taken care of since birth. Seeing children and families she had known for such a long time, some of whom had complex medical needs, was a perfect reminder of what originally motivated Dr. Beers to be considered as a candidate in the election.
“When we all work together – with our colleagues, other professionals, communities and families – we can make a real difference in the lives of children. So many people have reached out to share their congratulations, and offer their support or help. There is a real sense of collaboration and commitment to child health,” Dr. Beers says.
That sense of excitement ripples through Children’s National.
“Dr. Beers has devoted her career to helping children. She has developed a national advocacy platform for children. I can think of no better selection for the president-elect role of the AAP. She will be of tremendous service to children within AAP national leadership,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., Children’s National Hospital President and CEO.
AAP comprises 67,000 pediatricians, and its mission is to promote and safeguard the health and well-being of all children – from infancy to adulthood.
The daughter of a nuclear engineer and a schoolteacher, Dr. Beers knew by age 5 that she would become a doctor. Trained as a chemist, she entered the Emory University School of Medicine after graduation. After completing residency at the Naval Medical Center, she became the only pediatrician assigned to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station.
That assignment to Cuba, occurring so early in her career, turned out to be a defining moment that shapes how she partners with families and other members of the team to provide comprehensive care.
“I was a brand-new physician, straight out of residency, and was the only pediatrician there so I was responsible for the health of all of the kids on the base. I didn’t know it would be this way at the time, but it was formative. It taught me to take a comprehensive public health approach to taking care of kids and their families,” she recalls.
On the isolated base, where she also ran the immunization clinic and the nursery, she quickly learned she had to judiciously use resources and work together as a team.
“It meant that I had to learn how to lead a multi-disciplinary team and think about how our health care systems support or get in the way of good care,” she says.
One common thread that unites her past and present is helping families build resiliency to shrug off adversity and stress.
“The base was a difficult and isolated place for some families and individuals, so I thought a lot about how to support them. One way is finding strong relationships where you are, which was important for patients and families miles away from their support systems. Another way is to find things you could do that were meaningful to you.”
Cuba sits where the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico meet. Dr. Beers learned how to scuba dive there – something she never would have done otherwise – finding it restful and restorative to appreciate the underwater beauty.
“I do think these lessons about resilience are universal. There are actually a lot of similarities between the families I take care of now, many of whom are in socioeconomically vulnerable situations, and military families when you think about the level of stress they are exposed to,” she adds.
Back stateside in 2001, Dr. Beers worked as a staff pediatrician at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. In 2003, Dr. Beers joined Children’s National Hospital as a general pediatrician in the Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health. Currently, she oversees the DC Collaborative for Mental Health in Pediatric Primary Care, a public-private coalition that elevates the standards of mental health care for all children, and is Co-Director of the Early Childhood Innovation Network. She received the Academic Pediatric Association’s 2019 Public Policy and Advocacy Award.
As a candidate, Dr. Beers 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
- Tackling physician burnout by supporting pediatricians through office-based education and systems reforms
- Expanding community-based prevention and treatment
“I am humbled and honored to have the support of my peers in taking on this newest leadership role,” says Dr. Beers. “AAP has been a part of my life since I first became a pediatrician, and my many leadership roles in the DC chapter and national AAP have given me a glimpse of the collective good that pediatricians can accomplish by working together toward common strategic goals.”
AAP isn’t just an integral part of her life, it’s where she met her future husband, Nathaniel Beers, M.D., MPA, FAAP, President of The HSC Health Care System. The couple’s children regularly attended AAP meetings with them when they were young.
Just take a glimpse at Lee Beers’ Twitter news feed. There’s a steady stream of images of her jogging before AAP meetings to amazing sunrises, jogging after AAP meetings to stellar sunsets and always, always, images of the entire family, once collectively costumed as The Incredibles.
“I really do believe that we have to set an example: If we are talking about supporting children and families in our work, we have to set that example in our own lives. That looks different for everyone, but as pediatricians and health professionals, we can model prioritizing our families while still being committed to our work,” she explains.
“Being together in the midst of the craziness is just part of what we do as a family. We travel a lot, and our kids have gone with us to AAP meetings since they were infants. My husband even brought our infant son to a meeting at the mayor’s office when he was on paternity leave. Recognizing that not everyone is in a position to be able to do things like that, it’s important for us to do it – to continue to change the conversation and make it normal to have your family to be part of your whole life, not have a separate work life and a separate family life.”
Researchers at Children’s National have discovered a potential biomarker in the pupillary response of some pediatric patients with Bowel and Bladder Dysfunction (BBD) that could improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and treatment, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatric Urology.
BBD describes a range of lower urinary tract symptoms accompanied by bowel complaints such as enuresis (bedwetting), urgency and urinary retention, often accompanied by constipation. While these symptoms represent 40% of pediatric urology visits, BBD is considered an underdiagnosed pediatric ailment.
Julia Finkel, M.D., pediatric anesthesiologist and director of Research and Development for Pain Medicine at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National, led the pilot study to explore whether BBD could be detected from a patient’s pupillary light reflex response. Using a novel application of pupillometry, Dr. Finkel and her research team recorded and analyzed the pupillary light reflex responses of 28 patients with BBD, ages 7 – 21, from the Wetting, Infections and Stooling Help (WISH) clinic at Children’s National Health System. The study included baseline static and dynamic pupillometry assessments obtained from each patient before and after voiding. Pupillary measurements were also taken after five minutes of lying down by the patient, and again after five minutes of standing.
In reviewing the patient’s graphed data, the researchers noted a distinct “notch” shape repeated in the pupillary response graph of 11 of 28 patients with BBD symptoms. In those 11 patients, the graph notch appears to indicate a brief repeat constriction of the patient’s pupil before returning to its resting size.
Considering that bowel and bladder functions are controlled in part by the autonomic nervous system, researchers surmised that the notch on the graph is likely to reflect a characteristic disturbance in the regulation of the autonomic nervous system of those 11 patients, which would indicate a physiological cause for their BBD, either alone or in combination with a behavioral cause.
“To our knowledge, this unique pupillary signature has not been previously seen or described in other patient populations and we have not seen it in any of our other studies,” says Dr. Finkel. “It may represent a distinctive and readily-identifiable physiologic marker of disease.”
Causes of BBD can be physiological, such as anomalies in the synapsis of the nervous system, and can be related to behavioral health issues such as anxiety. Early diagnosis and treatment of BBD is important in avoiding secondary complications that can adversely impact a child’s kidney and bladder function as well as psychosocial well-being.
Dr. Finkel says that, while the results of this study are broadly consistent with other studies that examined the autonomic nervous system activity of BBD patients, this small study is preliminary. She notes that further research is needed and would include assessing abnormalities in pupillary response stemming from the parasympathetic and sympathetic functions of the autonomic nervous system.
Her hope is that further study will lead to more effective diagnostic and monitoring tools for clinicians treating BBD patients.
Dr. Finkel’s research focuses on the diagnostic potential of various pupillary reflexes. She says that pupillometry makes an ideal point-of-care diagnostic tool because it is noninvasive, easy to use, portable and provides real-time data for diagnosis and monitoring of therapeutic effects.
In addition to Dr. Finkel, study co-authors include Kevin G. Jackson, Nadia B. Kalloo, M.D., and Emily Blum, M.D., of Children’s National Health System; and Elizabeth L. Malphrus, MS-III, George Washington University.
Children’s National in Washington, D.C., is the nation’s No. 6 children’s hospital and, for the third year in a row, its neonatology program is No.1 among all children’s hospitals providing newborn intensive care, according to the U.S. News Best Children’s Hospitals annual rankings for 2019-20.
This is also the third year in a row that Children’s National has been in the top 10 of these national rankings. It is the ninth straight year it has ranked in all 10 specialty services, with five specialty service areas ranked among the top 10.
“I’m proud that our rankings continue to cement our standing as among the best children’s hospitals in the nation,” says Kurt Newman, M.D., President and CEO for Children’s National. “In addition to these service lines, today’s recognition honors countless specialists and support staff who provide unparalleled, multidisciplinary patient care. Quality care is a function of every team member performing their role well, so I credit every member of the Children’s National team for this continued high performance.”
The annual rankings recognize the nation’s top 50 pediatric facilities based on a scoring system developed by U.S. News. The top 10 scorers are awarded a distinction called the Honor Roll.
“The top 10 pediatric centers on this year’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll deliver outstanding care across a range of specialties and deserve to be nationally recognized,” says Ben Harder, chief of health analysis at U.S. News. “According to our analysis, these Honor Roll hospitals provide state-of-the-art medical expertise to children with rare or complex conditions. Their rankings reflect U.S. News’ assessment of their commitment to providing high-quality, compassionate care to young patients and their families day in and day out.”
The bulk of the score for each specialty is based on quality and outcomes data. The process also includes a survey of relevant specialists across the country, who are asked to list hospitals they believe provide the best care for patients with challenging conditions.
Below are links to the five specialty services that U.S. News ranked in the top 10 nationally:
- Neonatology (No. 1), led by Division Chief Billie Lou Short, M.D.
- Neurology and Neurosurgery (No. 5), led by Division Chiefs Roger J. Packer, M.D., and Robert F. Keating, M.D.
- Nephrology (No. 6), led by Division Chief Marva Moxey-Mims, M.D., FASN
- Cancer (No. 9), led by Division Chief Jeffrey S. Dome, M.D., Ph.D., and
- Pulmonology and lung surgery (No.9), led by Division Chief Anastassios Koumbourlis, M.D., MPH
A new pre-clinical study will explore the use of anti-inflammatory medications to prevent the body’s inflammatory response from further damaging limbs after an injury restricts blood flow. Varenicline and cytisine, anti-inflammatories with similarities to nicotine, have shown early promise in similar pre-clinical laboratory studies of the testicles and will now be tested in arms and legs.
Matthew Oetgen, M.D., MBA, chief of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at Children’s National and Children’s pediatric urologist Daniel Casella, M.D., will jointly lead the new study entitled, “Modulation of the Injury Associated with Acute Compartment Syndrome,” which builds on Dr. Casella’s previous work with the two anti-inflammatory agents. Drs. Oetgen and Casella recently were awarded the Angela S.M. Kuo Memorial Award Research Grant to fund this research during the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America’s (POSNA) Annual Meeting.
“We are honored that this important research was selected by POSNA for support,” says Dr. Oetgen. “An arm or leg injury can trigger the body’s natural inflammatory response, causing severe swelling that restricts blood flow. Even after blood flow is restored, the inflammatory response can lead to permanent muscle or nerve damage or even loss of limb. This grant will give us the opportunity to truly explore the application of anti-inflammatories after injury and see if this approach can modulate the immune response to protect the limbs.”
If successful in the laboratory, the team hopes to expand this work to human clinical trials.
The Angela S.M. Kuo Memorial Award Research Grant is given each year to an outstanding investigator aged 45 or younger based on criteria including the study’s potential significance, impact, originality/innovation, the investigator’s track record and study feasibility. The award totals $30,000.
While at POSNA’s 2019 Annual Meeting, Dr. Oetgen and Children’s pediatric orthopaedic surgery colleagues also participated in podium presentations and poster sessions, including:
- “Achieving Consensus on the Treatment of Pediatric Femoral Shaft Fractures,” Matthew Oetgen, M.D., MBA
- “A Prospective, Multi-centered Comparative Study of Non-operative and Operative Containment Treatments in Children Presenting with Late-stage Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease,” Benjamin Martin, M.D.
The Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America is an organization of 1,400 surgeons, physicians, and allied health members dedicated to advancing musculoskeletal care for children and adolescents. The annual meeting presents the latest research and expert clinical opinion in pediatric orthopaedics through presentations, posters, and symposia. It was held May 15-18, 2019, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Testicular tissue samples obtained from 189 males who were facing procedures that could imperil fertility were cryopreserved at one university, proving the feasibility of centralized processing and freezing of testicular tissue obtained from academic medical centers, including Children’s National, scattered around the world.
“It’s not surprising that the University of Pittsburgh would record the highest number of samples over the eight-year period (51 patients), given its role as the central processing facility for our recruiting network of academic medical centers,” says Michael Hsieh, M.D., Ph.D., director of transitional urology at Children’s National. “Children’s National recruited the third-highest number of patients, which really speaks to the level of collaboration I have with Jeff Dome’s team and their commitment to thinking about the whole patient and longer-term issues like fertility.”
An estimated 2,000 U.S. boys and young men each year receive treatments or have cancers or blood disorders that place them at risk for infertility. While older youths who have undergone puberty can bank their sperm prior to undergoing sterilizing doses of chemotherapy or radiation, there have been scant fertility preservation options for younger boys. However, some older adolescents and young men are too sick or stressed to bank sperm. For patients with no sperm to bank or who are too sick or stressed to bank sperm, the experimental procedure of freezing testicular tissue in anticipation that future cell- or tissue-based therapies can generate sperm is the only option.
Recent research in experimental models indicates that such testicular tissue biopsies contain stem cells, blank slate cells, hinting at the potential of generating sperm from biopsied tissue.
“This study demonstrates that undifferentiated stem and progenitor spermatogonia may be recovered from the testicular tissues of patients who are in the early stages of their treatment and have not yet received an ablative dose of therapy. The function of these spermatogonia was not tested,” writes lead author Hanna Valli-Pulaski, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues in a study published online May 21, 2019, in Human Reproduction.
Right now, hematologists and oncologists discuss future treatment options with patients and families, as well as possible long-term side effects, including infertility. At Children’s National, they also mention the ongoing fertility preservation study and encourage families to speak with Dr. Hsieh. He meets with families, explains the study goals – which include determining better ways to freeze and thaw tissue and separating malignant cells from normal cells – what’s known about experimental fertility preservation and what remains unknown. Roughly half of patients decide to enroll.
“This study is unique in that there is definitely a potential direct patient benefit,” Dr. Hsieh adds. “One of the reasons the study is compelling is that it presents a message of hope to the families. It’s a message of survivorship: We’re optimistic we can help your child get through this and think about long-term issues, like having their own families.”
In this phase of the study, testicular tissue was collected from centers in the U.S. and Israel from January 2011 to November 2018 and cryopreserved. Patients designated 25% of the tissue sample to be used for the research study; 75 percent remains stored in liquid nitrogen at temperatures close to absolute zero for the patient’s future use. The fertility preservation patients ranged from 5 months old to 34 years old, with an average age of 7.9 years.
Thirty-nine percent of patients had started medical treatment prior requesting fertility preservation. Sixteen percent received non-alkylating chemotherapy while 23% received alkylating chemotherapy, which directly damages the DNA of cancer cells.
The research team found that the number of undifferentiated spermatogonia per seminiferous tubule increase steadily with age until about age 11, then rise sharply.
“We recommend that all patients be counseled and referred for fertility preservation before beginning medical treatments known to cause infertility. Because the decision to participate may be delayed, it is encouraging that we were able to recover undifferentiated spermatogonia from the testes of patients already in the early stages of chemotherapy treatments,” Dr. Hsieh says.
In addition to Dr. Hsieh, study co-authors include lead author, H. Valli-Pulaski, K.A. Peters, K. Gassei, S.R. Steimer, M. Sukhwani, B.P. Hermann, L. Dwomor, S. David, A.P. Fayomi, S.K. Munyoki, T. Chu, R. Chaudhry, G.M. Cannon, P.J. Fox, T.M. Jaffe, J.S. Sanfilippo, M.N. Menke and senior author, K.E. Orwig, all of University of Pittsburgh; E. Lunenfeld, M. Abofoul-Azab and M. Huleihel, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; L.S. Sender, J. Messina and L.M. Klimpel, CHOC Children’s Hospital; Y. Gosiengfiao, and E.E. Rowell, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; C.F. Granberg, Mayo Clinic; P.P. Reddy, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; and J.I. Sandlow, Medical College of Wisconsin.
Financial support for the research covered in this post was provided by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development under awards HD061289 and HD092084; Scaife Foundation; Richard King Mellon Foundation; University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation and Kahn Foundation.
Sometime in the third trimester of pregnancy, a male fetus’ testes migrate from where they formed, in the abdomen, to where they’ll reside for the rest of his life, in the scrotum. In some baby boys, the testes take some additional time to make this journey, descending sometime before 6 months of age. But 5% of term male births will have an undescended testis (up to 30% in preterm boys), necessitating surgery to get them in the right place.
For testes that are in the abdomen, the surgical approach with the highest likelihood of moving the testis into the scrotal position without loss of the testis is a two stage, laparoscopic approach, explains Tanya Davis, M.D., a pediatric urologist at Children’s National Health System. First, surgeons divide the blood supply for the undescended testicle, clipping some vessels that are too short to extend to the scrotum and sparing others. After waiting four to six months to give these spared vessels time to grow and develop further, they perform a second procedure that repositions the testicle in the scrotum.
“Doing an orchiopexy in two parts is much less traumatic for the testicle,” Dr. Davis explains. “It significantly improves the chances that the testicle will end up with enough oxygenated blood to survive the procedure.”
“This surgery is pivotal for fertility – unless the testes are correctly positioned, they won’t develop normally to produce viable sperm. Proper placement is important for testis cancer screening in the future. Testes that are undescended have a higher risk of testis cancer and are unable to be easily screened for developing cancers since they can’t be examined,” Dr. Davis says.
But she and her colleagues – H. Gil Rushton, M.D., division chief of urology at Children’s National, and resident Campbell Grant, M.D., who will be a pediatric urology fellow at Cincinnati Children’s starting this summer – suspected that not everyone who received the first part of this procedure was completing the process.
“It felt like we were doing more of the first stage than the second stage,” Dr. Davis says. “We wanted to see whether what we suspected anecdotally was actually true.”
To investigate that question, the three researchers gathered medical records from all patients at Children’s who had the two-stage laparascopic orchiopexy procedure over the past decade – 105 in all. They then looked to see who didn’t undergo the second stage, the length of the time interval between the two stages for those who’d had both parts, and whether there were any risk factors to taking longer than recommended to have the second stage or missing it altogether. They also planned to “recapture” any patients who never had the second stage to schedule it – a pivotal step toward not only preserving fertility and improving the ability to detect testis cancer in the future, but for making sure they didn’t receive the invasive first part of the procedure for nothing.
Their results, presented at George Washington University’s GW Research Days and Children’s National annual Research & Education Week, showed that the vast majority of patients seem to receiving both parts of two-stage laparascopic orchiopexy at Children’s National: Only four of the 105 patients didn’t receive the second stage. “Three of those were lost to follow-up completely”, says Dr. Davis, “but they were able to recapture one patient, whose parents had been concerned about exposure to anesthesia twice – valuable insight for counseling other patients in the future on options for this procedure.”
In addition, while they found that most patients received the second stage during the recommended four-to-six month window after the first stage, a fraction went beyond that timeframe. According to Dr. Davis, the older age of the patient was the most significant risk factor for waiting too long.
“When a child is older, you might have to coordinate surgery around his school schedule or activities that affect the rest of the family, a concern that’s probably not as pressing for those who get this surgery done when their children are infants,” she adds.
The study has prompted Dr. Davis and her colleagues to institute a protocol to routinely contact patients three months after their first surgery to remind them to get their second procedure scheduled. In the meantime, she says, it’s a relief that fewer patients are missing the second stage than they’d suspected.
“We were happy to be wrong,” Dr. Davis says. “It shows that we’re doing a good job in terms of counseling patients to understand what’s wrong and what they need to do to correctly complete their course of treatment.”
Daniel Casella, M.D., a urologist at Children’s National, was honored with an AUA Mid-Atlantic Section William D. Steers, M.D. Award, which provides two years of dedicated research funding that he will use to better understand the genetic causes for hypospadias.
With over 7,000 new cases a year in the U.S., hypospadias is a common birth defect that occurs when the urethra, the tube that transports urine out of the body, does not form completely in males.
Dr. Casella has identified a unique subset of cells in the developing urethra that have stopped dividing but remain metabolically active and are thought to represent a novel signaling center. He likens them to doing the work of a construction foreman. “If you’re constructing a building, you need to make sure that everyone follows the blueprints. We believe that these developmentally senescent cells are sending important signals that define how the urethra is formed,” he says.
His project also will help to standardize the characterization of hypospadias. Hypospadias is classically associated with a downward bend to the penis, a urethra that does not extend to the head of the penis and incomplete formation of the foreskin. Still, there is significant variability among patients’ anatomy and to date, no standardized method for documenting hypospadias anatomy.
“Some surgeons take measurements in the operating room, but without a standardized classification system, there is no definitive way to compare measurements among providers or standardize diagnoses from measurements that every surgeon makes,” he adds. “What one surgeon may call ‘distal’ may be called ‘midshaft’ by another.” (With distal hypospadias, the urethra opening is near the penis head; with midshaft hypospadias, the urethra opening occurs along the penis shaft.)
“By advancing our understanding of the genetic causes and the anatomic differences among patients, the real goal of this research is to generate knowledge that will allow us to take better care of children with hypospadias,” he says.
Parents worry about lingering social stigma, since some boys with hypospadias are unable to urinate while standing, and in older children the condition can be associated with difficulties having sex. Surgical correction of hypospadias traditionally is performed when children are between 6 months to 1 year old.
When reviewing treatment options with family, “discussing the surgery and postoperative care is straight forward. The hard part of our discussion is not having good answers to questions about long-term outcomes,” he says.
Dr. Casella’s study hopes to build the framework to enable that basic research to be done.
“Say we wanted to do a study to see how patients are doing 15-20 years after their surgery. If we go to their charts now, often we can’t accurately describe their anatomy prior to surgery. By establishing uniform measurement baselines, we can accurately track long-term outcomes since we’ll know what condition that child started with and where they ended up,” he says.
Dr. Casella’s research project will be conducted at Children’s National under the mentorship of Eric Vilain, M.D., Ph.D., an international expert in sex and genitalia development; Dolores J. Lamb, Ph.D., HCLD, an established leader in urology based at Weill Cornell Medicine; and Marius George Linguraru, DPhil, MA, MSc, an expert in image processing and artificial intelligence.
People joke that Billie Lou Short, M.D., chief of Children’s Division of Neonatology, invented extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, known as ECMO for short. While Dr. Short did not invent ECMO, under her leadership Children’s National was the first pediatric hospital to use it. And over decades Children’s staff have perfected its use to save the lives of tiny, vulnerable newborns by temporarily taking over for their struggling hearts and lungs. For two consecutive years, Children’s neonatal intensive care unit has been named the nation’s No. 1 for newborns by U.S. News & World Report. “Despite all of these accomplishments, Dr. Short’s best legacy is what she has done as a mentor to countless trainees, nurses and faculty she’s touched during their careers. She touches every type of clinical staff member who has come through our neonatal intensive care unit,” says An Massaro, M.D., director of residency research.
For these achievements, Dr. Short received the Ninth Annual Mentorship Award in Clinical Science.
Anna Penn, M.D., Ph.D., has provided new insights into the central role that the placental hormone allopregnanolone plays in orderly fetal brain development, and her research team has created novel experimental models that mimic some of the brain injuries often seen in very preterm babies – an essential step that informs future neuroprotective strategies. Dr. Penn, a clinical neonatologist and developmental neuroscientist, “has been a primary adviser for 40 mentees throughout their careers and embodies Children’s core values of Compassion, Commitment and Connection,” says Claire-Marie Vacher, Ph.D.
For these achievements, Dr. Penn was selected to receive the Ninth Annual Mentorship Award in Basic and Translational Science.
The mentorship awards for Drs. Short and Penn were among dozens of honors given in conjunction with “Frontiers in Innovation,” the Ninth Annual Research and Education Week (REW) at Children’s National. In addition to seven keynote lectures, more than 350 posters were submitted from researchers – from high-school students to full-time faculty – about basic and translational science, clinical research, community-based research, education, training and quality improvement; five poster presenters were showcased via Facebook Live events hosted by Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Two faculty members won twice: Vicki Freedenberg, Ph.D., APRN, for research about mindfulness-based stress reduction and Adeline (Wei Li) Koay, MBBS, MSc, for research related to HIV. So many women at every stage of their research careers took to the stage to accept honors that Naomi L.C. Luban, M.D., Vice Chair of Academic Affairs, quipped that “this day is power to women.”
Here are the 2019 REW award winners:
Suzanne Feetham, Ph.D., FAA, Nursing Research Support Award
Vicki Freedenberg, Ph.D., APRN, for “Psychosocial and biological effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention in adolescents with CHD/CIEDs: a randomized control trial”
Renee’ Roberts Turner for “Peak and nadir experiences of mid-level nurse leaders”
2019-2020 Global Health Initiative Exploration in Global Health Awards
Nathalie Quion, M.D., for “Latino youth and families need assessment,” conducted in Washington
Sonia Voleti for “Handheld ultrasound machine task shifting,” conducted in Micronesia
Tania Ahluwalia, M.D., for “Simulation curriculum for emergency medicine,” conducted in India
Yvonne Yui for “Designated resuscitation teams in NICUs,” conducted in Ghana
Xiaoyan Song, Ph.D., MBBS, MSc, “Prevention of hospital-onset infections in PICUs,” conducted in China
Ninth Annual Research and Education Week Poster Session Awards
Basic and Translational Science
Faculty: Adeline (Wei Li) Koay, MBBS, MSc, for “Differences in the gut microbiome of HIV-infected versus HIV-exposed, uninfected infants”
Faculty: Hayk Barseghyan, Ph.D., for “Composite de novo Armenian human genome assembly and haplotyping via optical mapping and ultra-long read sequencing”
Staff: Damon K. McCullough, BS, for “Brain slicer: 3D-printed tissue processing tool for pediatric neuroscience research”
Staff: Antonio R. Porras, Ph.D., for “Integrated deep-learning method for genetic syndrome screening using facial photographs”
Post docs/fellows/residents: Lung Lau, M.D., for “A novel, sprayable and bio-absorbable sealant for wound dressings”
Post docs/fellows/residents: Kelsey F. Sugrue, Ph.D., for “HECTD1 is required for growth of the myocardium secondary to placental insufficiency”
Graduate students: Erin R. Bonner, BA, for “Comprehensive mutation profiling of pediatric diffuse midline gliomas using liquid biopsy”
High school/undergraduate students: Ali Sarhan for “Parental somato-gonadal mosaic genetic variants are a source of recurrent risk for de novo disorders and parental health concerns: a systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis”
Faculty: Amy Hont, M.D., for “Ex vivo expanded multi-tumor antigen specific T-cells for the treatment of solid tumors”
Faculty: Lauren McLaughlin, M.D., for “EBV/LMP-specific T-cells maintain remissions of T- and B-cell EBV lymphomas after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation”
Staff: Iman A. Abdikarim, BA, for “Timing of allergenic food introduction among African American and Caucasian children with food allergy in the FORWARD study”
Staff: Gelina M. Sani, BS, for “Quantifying hematopoietic stem cells towards in utero gene therapy for treatment of sickle cell disease in fetal cord blood”
Post docs/fellows/residents: Amy H. Jones, M.D., for “To trach or not trach: exploration of parental conflict, regret and impacts on quality of life in tracheostomy decision-making”
Graduate students: Alyssa Dewyer, BS, for “Telemedicine support of cardiac care in Northern Uganda: leveraging hand-held echocardiography and task-shifting”
Graduate students: Natalie Pudalov, BA, “Cortical thickness asymmetries in MRI-abnormal pediatric epilepsy patients: a potential metric for surgery outcome”
High school/undergraduate students: Kia Yoshinaga for “Time to rhythm detection during pediatric cardiac arrest in a pediatric emergency department”
Faculty: Adeline (Wei Li) Koay, MBBS, MSc, for “Recent trends in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area”
Staff: Gia M. Badolato, MPH, for “STI screening in an urban ED based on chief complaint”
Post docs/fellows/residents: Christina P. Ho, M.D., for “Pediatric urinary tract infection resistance patterns in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area”
Graduate students: Noushine Sadeghi, BS, “Racial/ethnic disparities in receipt of sexual health services among adolescent females”
Education, Training and Program Development
Faculty: Cara Lichtenstein, M.D., MPH, for “Using a community bus trip to increase knowledge of health disparities”
Staff: Iana Y. Clarence, MPH, for “TEACHing residents to address child poverty: an innovative multimodal curriculum”
Post docs/fellows/residents: Johanna Kaufman, M.D., for “Inpatient consultation in pediatrics: a learning tool to improve communication”
High school/undergraduate students: Brett E. Pearson for “Analysis of unanticipated problems in CNMC human subjects research studies and implications for process improvement”
Quality and Performance Improvement
Faculty: Vicki Freedenberg, Ph.D., APRN, for “Implementing a mindfulness-based stress reduction curriculum in a congenital heart disease program”
Staff: Caleb Griffith, MPH, for “Assessing the sustainability of point-of-care HIV screening of adolescents in pediatric emergency departments”
Post docs/fellows/residents: Rebecca S. Zee, M.D., Ph.D., for “Implementation of the Accelerated Care of Torsion (ACT) pathway: a quality improvement initiative for testicular torsion”
Graduate students: Alysia Wiener, BS, for “Latency period in image-guided needle bone biopsy in children: a single center experience”
Quick. Name four pillar pediatric organizations on the vanguard of advancing pediatric research.
Most researchers and clinicians can rattle off the names of the Academic Pediatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Pediatric Society. But that fourth one, the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR), is a little trickier. While many know SPR, a lot of research-clinicians simply do not.
Over the next few years, Beth A. Tarini, M.D., MS, will make it her personal mission to ensure that more pediatric researchers get to know SPR and are so excited about the organization that they become active members. In May 2019 Dr. Tarini becomes Vice President of the society that aims to stitch together an international network of interdisciplinary researchers to improve kids’ health. Four-year SPR leadership terms begin with Vice President before transitioning to President-Elect, President and Past-President, each for one year.
Dr. Tarini says she looks forward to working with other SPR leaders to find ways to build more productive, collaborative professional networks among faculty, especially emerging junior faculty. “Facilitating ways to network for research and professional reasons across pediatric research is vital – albeit easier said than done. I have been told I’m a connector, so I hope to leverage that skill in this new role,” says Dr. Tarini, associate director for Children’s Center for Translational Research.
“I’m delighted that Dr. Tarini was elected to this leadership position, and I am impressed by her vision of improving SPR’s outreach efforts,” says Mark Batshaw, M.D., Executive Vice President, Chief Academic Officer and Physician-in-Chief at Children’s National. “Her goal of engaging potential members in networking through a variety of ways – face-to-face as well as leveraging digital platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and her focus on engaging junior faculty will help strengthen SPR membership in the near term and long term.”
Dr. Tarini adds: “Success to me would be leaving after four years with more faculty – especially junior faculty – approaching membership in SPR with the knowledge and enthusiasm that they bring to membership in other pediatric societies.”
SPR requires that its members not simply conduct research, but move the needle in their chosen discipline. In her research, Dr. Tarini has focused on ensuring that population-based newborn screening programs function efficiently and effectively with fewer hiccups at any place along the process.
Thanks to a heel stick to draw blood, an oxygen measurement, and a hearing test, U.S. babies are screened for select inherited health conditions, expediting treatment for infants and reducing the chances they’ll experience long-term health consequences.
“The complexity of this program that is able to test nearly all 4 million babies in the U.S. each year is nothing short of astounding. You have to know the child is born – anywhere in the state – and then between 24 and 48 hours of birth you have to do testing onsite, obtain a specific type of blood sample, send the blood sample to an off-site lab quickly, test the sample, find the child if the test is out of range, get the child evaluated and tested for the condition, then send them for treatment. Given the time pressures as well as the coordination of numerous people and organizations, the fact that this happens routinely is amazing. And like any complex process, there is always room for improvement,” she says.
Dr. Tarini’s research efforts have focused on those process improvements.
As just one example, the Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children, a federal advisory committee on which she serves, was discussing how to eliminate delays in specimen processing to provide speedier results to families. One possible solution floated was to open labs all seven days, rather than just five days a week. Dr. Tarini advocated for partnering with health care engineers who could help model ways to make the specimen transport process more efficient, just like airlines and mail delivery services. A more efficient and effective solution was to match the specimen pick-up and delivery times more closely with the lab’s operational times – which maximizes lab resources and shortens wait times for parents.
Conceptual modeling comes so easily for her that she often leaps out of her seat mid-sentence, underscoring a point by jotting thoughts on a white board, doing it so often that her pens have run dry.
“It’s like a bus schedule: You want to find a bus that not only takes you to your destination but gets you there on time,” she says.
Dr. Tarini’s current observational study looks for opportunities to improve how parents in Minnesota and Iowa are given out-of-range newborn screening test results – especially false positives – and how that experience might shake their confidence in their child’s health as well as heighten their own stress level.
“After a false positive test result, are there parents who walk away from newborn screening with lingering stress about their child’s health? Can we predict who those parents might be and help them?” she asks.
Among the challenges is the newborn screening occurs so quickly after delivery that some emotionally and physically exhausted parents may not remember it was done. Then they get a call from the state with ominous results. Another challenge is standardizing communication approaches across dozens of birthing centers and hospitals.
“We know parents are concerned after receiving a false positive result, and some worry their infant remains vulnerable,” she says. “Can we change how we communicate – not just what we say, but how we say it – to alleviate those concerns?”