Category: Portfolio Pieces

CHOP Big Data Center Visits White House for Precision Medicine Summit

Originally published on Cornerstone, the CHOP Research Blog.

I composed this original article based on an interview with the investigator.

Excerpt:

Today at the White House, President Obama welcomed guests, including Adam Resnick, PhD, representing The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, for a morning of remarks and discussions about what the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) has achieved to date, and how it can take the next steps into the new era of medicine that delivers the right treatment at the right time to the right person. One way CHOP will be an integral part of that effort is through its commitment to data-driven discovery in pediatrics.

The PMI, which President Obama first announced in his 2015 State of the Union speech, launched last year with a White House event attended by CHOP leukemia patient Emily Whitehead and by the hospital’s then-CEO, Steven Altschuler, MD. The pair was invited in recognition of the progress at CHOP and the University of Pennsylvania in developing an investigational precision-medicine T-cell therapy for cancer patients like Emily.

But that type of discovery is only one part of the precision medicine equation, according to Dr. Resnick, co-director and co-founder of CHOP’s new Center for Data-Driven Discovery in Biomedicine (D3B).

“Even to make a new T-cell therapy, you have to begin with data about what to target,” Dr. Resnick said. “The other side of the coin in harnessing the potential of precision medicine is empowering the pediatric community to share and use data transparently and collaboratively through initiatives that connect patients, clinicians, and researchers to that data.”

Discovery Unites Three Families with Rare Syndrome

Originally published in the 2015 CHOP Research Annual Report.

I wrote this article based on a new interview with a parent and a past press release and blog post.

Excerpt:

When they met as a group for the first time, Leta, Liam, and Nadira seemed to bond instantly. All three are under 4 feet tall, have similar mannerisms, wide-set eyes, and bubbly personalities. They live with chronic respiratory problems and other medical challenges, in addition to cognitive and physical developmental delays.

“They look more like siblings than their actual blood siblings,” said Melissa Ashton-Grant, mother of Nadira. “To see how they interacted with each other, it felt right.”

The children’s similarity was no coincidence — and confirming and understanding their connection was no small matter. The three families gathered in March to celebrate because researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia had discovered the rare genetic mutation their children share, and had given their cryptic constellation of symptoms a name: CHOPS Syndrome. CHOPS is an acronym that stands for Cognitive impairment and coarse facial features, Heart defects, Obesity, Pulmonary involvement, Short stature and skeletal dysplasia (abnormal bone development).

Beyond Imagining: Pediatric HIV Research Faces the Future

Originally published in the 2015 CHOP Research Annual Report.

I composed this original article based on multiple interviews and background literature research.

Excerpt:

The HIV epidemic in 2015 and beyond is a dramatically different one than ever seen or imagined during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and ‘90s.

“In the early days, up to a quarter of all infants born to women with HIV became infected. Now it’s less than one percent,” said Richard Rutstein, MD, an HIV clinical research leader and medical director of the Special Immunology Service at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia since its inception in 1989. “For those infected, HIV has changed from a rapidly fatal disease to a chronic illness.” Dr. Rutstein is also a professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

At the front line of this evolution, CHOP researchers are helping infected pregnant women, infants, children, and youth around the world live full, productive lives.

Administration Fellowship Opens Doors for Early Career Researchers

Originally published on Cornerstone, the CHOP Research Blog.

I composed this profile based on an interview with the fellow.

Excerpt:

The latest translational research project for Rajarshi Sengupta, PhD, just might be his own career. He was inspired to look beyond his current work as a staff scientist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute to get a better perspective of how administrators support clinical research. He will have the opportunity to do so because leaders of the Research Institute’s Office of Postdoctoral Affairs selected Dr. Sengupta as a Research Administration Fellow.

“I’ve always done research that’s kind of translational, kind of close to clinical work,” said Dr. Sengupta, who works in the lab of Robert Heuckeroth, MD, PhD, at CHOP studying the development and disorders of the enteric nervous system. “Taking things from bench to bedside takes a long time, though. People who facilitate clinical and translational research as administrators can see the impact of that work on a much shorter time frame than I can with what I’m doing in the lab. That is satisfying, being part of a team that makes things happen for patients.”

Dr. Sengupta begins the part-time, unpaid, six-month research administration fellowship Feb. 8, taking on this role concurrently with his research and other duties as a lab manager. The overall goal of the fellowship program, run by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, is to provide fellows with a broad overview of leadership in CHOP Research Administration with administrative directors in the fellows’ areas of interest.

Scientists Discover a Better ALK Inhibitor to Treat Neuroblastoma

Originally published on Cornerstone, the CHOP Research Blog.

I edited this article based on a CHOP press release and an additional interview with the investigator.

Excerpt:

Pediatric cancer researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia believe they have succeeded in their search for a powerful next-generation drug for neuroblastoma tumors with mutations in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene associated with the cancer. Based on their preclinical findings, they are fast-tracking the launch of a clinical trial this year.

Usually appearing as a solid tumor in the chest or abdomen, neuroblastoma accounts for a disproportionate share of cancer deaths in children, despite many recent improvements in therapy.

The search for better ALK inhibitors originated when, in 2008, CHOP pediatric oncologist Yael Mossé, MD, and colleagues identified ALK mutations as a driver of most cases of rare, inherited neuroblastoma. Subsequent research showed that abnormal ALK changes drive approximately 14 percent of high-risk forms of neuroblastoma.

Based on this knowledge, scientists including Dr. Mossé in the multicenter Children’s Oncology Group were able to repurpose crizotinib, an ALK inhibitor already approved to treat adults with lung cancer, in clinical trials of children with neuroblastoma. But they found that different mutations within the ALK gene in neuroblastoma responded differently to crizotinib, and a mutation labelled F1174L was resistant to the drug.

Baby Poop Study to Link Infant Microbiome and Obesity

Originally published in Bench to Bedside, the CHOP Research monthly publication

I composed this original article based on an interview with the investigator.

Excerpt:

New parents who find themselves surprisingly attentive to their babies’ poop are in good company. Researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania are beginning the second phase of a study that is exploring whether baby poop is an important data source to learn how the risk of obesity develops early in life.

The research team is focused on the miniscule but mighty passengers in baby poop: the gut microbiome. The collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live within the digestive tract and contribute to processing food could reveal a lot about early excess weight gain.

Speeding Up Success with Precision Medicine Cancer Trial

Originally published in Bench to Bedside, the CHOP Research monthly publication

I composed this original article based on an interview with the investigator, following up on a CHOP press release.

Excerpt:

An innovative new clinical trial launching this year at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia may not only help patients who have no further proven treatment options for neuroblastoma, a high-risk cancer, but may also be a model for how precision medicine clinical trials can spur better and faster cancer therapy discoveries in the future.

The trial uses a dynamic design, which allows researchers to quickly translate findings from the lab based on the evolving individual characteristics of each patient’s tumor. It is the first time such a strategy is being applied to a prospective clinical trial in children with cancer. Known as the NExt-generation Personalized NEuroblastoma THErapy (NEPENTHE) trial, it is moving forward with a new $1.5 million grant from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF), announced in December.

“The novelty of this trial could be viewed on numerous levels,” said principal investigator Yael Mossé, MD, a CHOP pediatric oncologist and assistant professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s based on rigorous preclinical data, understanding the molecular drivers that are important in this disease. It’s combining multiple novel drugs, not just one at a time. And it’s bringing that to the clinic and assigning patients to therapy based on what their tumor genetics are teaching us at the time that they meet us with relapsed or refractory cancer.”

Teens’ Rising Risk of Kidney Stones: Four Things to Know

Originally published on Cornerstone, the CHOP Research Blog.

I composed this original article based on a CHOP press release and an interview with the investigator.

Excerpt:

Who is at the most increased risk of kidney stones: Teen girls.

The highest rate of increase in kidney stones was among adolescent females, Dr. Tasian’s team found. In any given year, stones were more common among females than males age 10 to 24 years. After age 25, kidney stones became more common among men.

Between 1997 and 2012, the risk of kidney stones doubled during childhood for both boys and girls, while there was a 45 percent increase in the lifetime risk for women.

Among African-Americans, the incidence of kidney stones increased 15 percent more than in whites within each five-year period covered by the study.

Why it matters for children’s health: Pediatric providers may not be prepared to optimally test, identify, and treat youth with kidney stones.

“The emergence of kidney stones in children is particularly worrisome, because there is limited evidence on how to best treat children for this condition,” Dr. Tasian said. “The fact that stones were once rare and are now increasingly common could contribute to the inappropriate use of diagnostic tests such as CT scans for children with kidney stones, since healthcare providers historically have not been accustomed to evaluating and treating children with kidney stones.”

In addition, Dr. Tasian noted that the increased incidence among adolescent girls is concerning because kidney stones are associated with a higher risk of chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular and bone disease, particularly among young women.

How Children’s Hospitals Can Gain Social Awareness Via ACOs

Originally published on Cornerstone, the CHOP Research Blog.

I composed this original article based on an interview with the investigator.

Excerpt:

Five-year-old Jasmine’s family hears from her pediatrician’s office a lot more often than they used to, and they discuss topics ranging far beyond Jasmine’s health and development. That is because Jasmine (a fictional example) sees a doctor in a health network that has a different kind of contract with her insurance provider, designating it as an Accountable Care Organization (ACO), and as a result it takes a broader view of its role in preventive care than most.

Health policy experts anticipate that ACOs will improve population health under the Affordable Care Act, but demonstrating the value of pediatric ACOs remains a challenge. Policy researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are among those leading a public conversation about how pediatric hospitals and health systems can address social factors affecting health within ACO structures, now that some of the first research on the effect of pediatric ACOs on the use and costs of healthcare resources has begun to emerge.

Tall Man Lettering Falls Short as Error Prevention Strategy

Originally published on Cornerstone, the CHOP Research Blog.

I composed this original article based on an interview with the investigator.

Excerpt:

A new study spells out shortcomings of an error prevention strategy known as Tall Man lettering, a visual display method for written prescription orders intended to prevent mixing up drugs whose names are easily confused.

“When thinking about patient safety, even great ideas may not work,” said Chris Fuedtner, MD, PhD, MPH, director of the Department of Medical Ethics and director of Research for the Pediatric Advance Care Team and the Integrated Care Service at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We always have to be on guard so that we don’t simply follow the fad. We would like to see what is most effective so we can allocate the resources we have to effective safeguards.”

Tall Man lettering entails using capital letters to highlight and distinguish differences in look-alike sound-alike (LA-SA) drug names, such as cefUROXime and cefOTAXime. Several authoritative sources thought it was a good idea; the Food and Drug Administration adopted Tall Man lettering by 2001, and it has since been endorsed by multiple safety regulatory and accreditation bodies in the U.S. and globally. Many hospitals adopted the method after the Joint Commission recommended it as part of its National Patient Safety Goals in 2007.

Yet there is no apparent evidence that Tall Man lettering has reduced LA-SA errors in practice, according to a recent study led by Dr. Feudtner.