Research Update

January 2018

Clinical Trials at ACRI

Each new and better way to improve children’s health is a miracle to children and their families. Research is the cornerstone of these health and medical care advances. 

At ACRI, our clinical researchers conduct studies with consenting patients, and perhaps their families, to answer specific questions about new biomedical and behavioral interventions, such as drugs, treatments, and devices, or new ways to use known interventions. Often known as clinical trials, these studies help researchers better understand these interventions to improve health care.

Participation in clinical trials is important for pediatric research because a vast amount of treatments and drugs have only been tested in adults. For years, children have been treated as little adults, which is truly not the case. Therefore, research in pediatric patients is essential so that treatments and medicines can be tailored for the child’s system. Congressional action has required research to include pediatric patients to ensure medicines and treatments are accurate for children. This mandate has resulted in an increase in pediatric clinical trials, including the growth in clinical trials at ACRI.

Since 2016, the number of clinical trials at ACRI has grown by 20%. Nearly 30 physicians and scientists are now conducting clinical trials at ACRI. These clinical trials allow our physicians to offer and engage in new treatments and upcoming modalities and provide new drug options that could potentially benefit the children of Arkansas. Last year, over 460 children participated in clinical trials at ACRI.

ACRI promotes clinical research and recruits participants through traditional advertising as well as social media. Families interested in clinical trials at ACRI can review a list of current clinical trials at our website or join our text service. Interested families can also enter information at our online database to learn about current clinical trials and to receive notification for future studies that may be of interest. These strategies allow ACRI to reach a broader population of potential participants.

For over 25 years, ACRI researchers have been increasingly involved in pediatric clinical research. The continued interest and participation of families is crucial to the undertakings of ACRI researchers. With families and researchers working together, high-quality research continues to increase our knowledge to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of pediatric diseases and disorders.

The National Institutes of Health has an excellent documentary video for parents with questions about enrolling their child in a clinical study. To view the video, visit their webpage at

If you are interested in clinical studies at ACRI, you may search for currently enrolling studies by visiting our Clinical Trials Webpage.

Dr. Gregory Kearns Honored for Contributions to Translational Medicine and Innovative Career

Recently, the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock named Dr. Greg Kearns as one of their seven Spark! Stars who are innovators in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in Arkansas.

ACRI President Dr. Greg Kearns will receive an award recognizing his contributions to the advancement of the science and practice of translational medicine from a leading national association and has recently received an award acknowledging his career as a successful innovator in the field of science in Arkansas. 

American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics: Progress in Medicine Award

In March, Dr. Kearns will receive the Rawls-Palmer Progress in Medicine Award at the 2018 American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (ASCPT) Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida. The Rawls–Palmer Progress in Medicine Award was established in 1978 to support the translation of scientific discoveries into improved patient care.

“I am honored beyond words to receive this prestigious award and to be recognized by the discipline of clinical pharmacology for my research, which has bridged discovery with the development of new drugs and therapeutics for use in children,” said Dr. Kearns. Over the past 30 years, Dr. Kearns’s research has focused on the impact of human development, disease, and pharmacogenomics on the disposition and action of drugs in children. His work has advanced pediatric clinical pharmacology and improved the health of children worldwide.

For ASCPT, Dr. Kearns completed two terms on the Board of Directors as Secretary-Treasurer and was appointed President in 2003. He is a former member of the Ethics, Government Affairs, Scientific Program, Intersociety Liaison, and Nominating Committees. As an invited speaker at ASCPT’s Annual Meetings, Dr. Kearns has presented workshops and symposia and chaired numerous sessions on drug interactions, pediatric medicine, and education. He delivered the 2010 FDA–ASCPT William B. Abrams Lecture, “Rescuing the Therapeutic Orphan.” He received the ASCPT Henry W. Elliott Distinguished Service Award in 2013 and the Society’s Mentor Award in 2014.

ASCPT is the leading forum for the discussion, development, and integration of clinical pharmacology, translational medicine, and therapeutics. Established in 1900, ASCPT has more than 2,300 members that are committed to advancing the science and practice of translational medicine.

Museum of Discovery: Spark! Star

On October 30, Dr. Greg Kearns was honored at the Spark! Luncheon as an inaugural Spark! Star at the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock. The event recognized seven innovators in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in Arkansas who have been successful in careers that have required the intensive study of science, technology, and/or mathematics.

The Spark! Event Committee described the early influences—educators, employers, and family members—that encouraged Dr. Kearns’ choice to pursue science as the Museum of Discovery itself strives to reach children early to follow their passion for science and related fields. The committee also acknowledged Dr. Kearns’ career as a pediatric clinical pharmacologist and his leadership at the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute during the ceremony.

The event benefitted the Museum of Discovery’s statewide educational programs in pursuing its mission to ignite a passion for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics in a dynamic, interactive environment.

It All Begins with a Child: ACRI’s 2017 Annual Report

CLICK HERE To Download ACRI's 2017 Annual Reprot

In its 2017 annual report, It All Begins with a Child, ACRI reviews the successes of its diverse research expertise, ranging from basic science to clinical and community-based research. As ACRI envisions a future in which all children grow up to be happy and healthy, the work of its cross-disciplinary teams of physicians, biomedical scientists, and health care practitioners will continue until this vision becomes a reality. The report highlights ACRI’s culture of curiosity that inspires researchers to question, seek, and discover new and better ways to treat children.

The Injury Prevention Center:
10 Years of Improving the Well-Being of Arkansas Children

Recently, the Injury Prevention Center (IPC) marked its tenth anniversary. The event was held at the same South Campus site where the IPC initiated its endeavors in 2007. The theme 10 years ago was “The Moment Our Family Changed,” and this 10-year milestone celebrated with the theme “Triumph over Tragedy.” Families, communities, and collaborators were in attendance commemorating the contributions and successes of the IPC and its contributions to improving children’s health and well-being.

The IPC is led by Dr. Mary Aitken, who began her injury prevention research in the late 1990s. In 2002, she authored the first comprehensive injury prevention profile for Arkansas, highlighting the significant injury-related disparities between the state and the rest of the nation. The community health needs assessment through the Natural Wonders Partnership was the first time preventable injuries were included in a discussion of children’s health needs in the state and resulted in Arkansas Children’s investment in the IPC in 2007 to complement a robust research program.

Since its inception, the IPC has expanded its activities throughout Arkansas. Advocacy efforts have resulted in legislation, evidence-based injury prevention has increased, and federally funded research awards have been received. As a result of these efforts, as well as partnerships and collaborations with communities and organizations across the state, injury-related mortality on children has decreased 39% since 2000 with a 32% reduction during the first ten years of the IPC.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have awarded federal research funding to the IPC. Strike Out Child Passenger Injury, a study funded by the CDC, intervention incorporated education about booster seat use in children ages 4 to 7 years within instructional baseball programs. HRSA supported all-terrain vehicle (ATV) safety studies by the IPC. Currently NIH funding helps study interventions to ensure safe sleep environments to reduce sudden unexpected infant deaths. NHTSA funding was used to increase parental support for improved safe teen driving. Sustained funding from the Arkansas State Police Highway Safety Office, Allstate Foundation, and State Farm Foundation maintain the safe teen driving efforts of the IPC.

Congratulations to the IPC on its achievements and impact in keeping Arkansas youth safe.

Dr. Jason Farrar and Colleagues Identify Molecular Differences in Childhood Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia that Could Improve Therapies

Dr. Jason Farrar is among the lead authors of a study that could lead to more effective therapies for children with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Dr. Farrar and collaborators at eleven other institutions published their study in the journal Nature Medicine and presented findings at the 2017 American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting held in December in Atlanta.

“Although research has made great strides in improving survival rates for children with acute lymphocytic leukemia, progress in AML, a less common less form of childhood leukemia, has lagged behind. Our research is a step forward in understanding how to better treat children with this challenging disease,” said Dr. Farrar, assistant professor, Department of Pediatrics.

The study’s findings identified key differences between the molecular structure of AML in young patients as opposed to those who are older. Due to these differences, the researchers concluded that traditional therapies used to treat adults with AML are not effective for children and young adults with the same disease.

The study involved an analysis of the genomes of more than 1,000 AML patients treated nationwide through the Children’s Oncology Group, with ages ranging from 8 days to 29 years. Of that number, 200 had their entire genome sequenced for the study, however the group’s continuing research includes whole-genome sequencing for hundreds more participants. Based on their findings, Dr. Farrar and his collaborators have already developed an improved system for determining the severity of AML in young people at the time of their diagnosis.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute, this research effort is part of a program called the TARGET (Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments) Initiative, which is focused on determining the genetic changes that drive the formation and progression of hard-to-treat childhood cancers. In addition to AML, the TARGET Initiative researchers also study acute lymphoblastic leukemia, kidney tumors, neuroblastoma, and osteosarcoma.

Additional support for this study comes from the Arkansas Biosciences Institute (Dr. Farrar), the Center for Translational Pediatric Research (P20GM121293, Dr. Farrar), Scientific Computing at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Southern California’s Center for High-Performance Computing, St. Baldrick’s Foundation (Dr. Farrar), and the Jane Anne Nohl Hematology Research Fund.

Researcher Spotlight: Richard C. Kurten, PhD

Dr. Richard Kurten, Professor, Physiology and Biophysics, Pediatric Allergy and Immunology

How did you become involved in pediatric research?

I came to ACRI with support from the ABI to build the Lung Cell Biology Laboratory with my research partner, Stacie M. Jones, MD, in 2003.

What types of sponsors support your studies?

I receive support from National Institutes of Health (NIAID and NHLBI), Arkansas Biosciences Institute, UAMS College of Medicine, and private foundations.

What is your area of study?

I have two areas of study, 1) Allergic and infectious disease of the human lung and 2) food allergy and human esophageal function.

How is your research program innovative?

We use living human tissue from organ donors for our work.

How has your work led to (or will lead to) changes in pediatric care?

Through a variety of collaborations, I expect our work will contribute to improved care for asthma and eosinophilic esophagitis by identifying new therapeutic targets. This involves understanding fundamental mechanisms for normal physiology and how they are deranged in disease.

Who do you collaborate with and what are the benefits of these collaborations?

  • ACRI – Joshua Kennedy, MD; Stacie Jones, MD; and Rebecca Levy, MD
  • UAMS – Daniel Voth, PhD
  • Rutgers – Reynold Panettieri MD
  • UCSD – David Broide MD, ChB, and Seema Aceves, MD
  • La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology – Micheal Croft, PhD

By collaborating with many investigators both locally and national, we make the most of our rare and precious human tissue resources, enhance the probability of a breakthrough discovery, and diversify our portfolio of research support necessary to support the laboratory.

What advice do you have for someone interested in conducting research?

  1. Make sure you like it because it is a way of life.
  2. Work to think outside of the box – we know a lot less than we think we do.
  3. Take chances and get used to being wrong. If we knew the answers, we wouldn’t need to do research.
  4. Focus on research – avoid as many distractions as possible.

President's Choice Publications

The following articles were selected as this month's feature publications.

  • Bolouri H, Farrar JE, Triche T Jr, Ries RE, Lim EL, Alonzo TA, Ma Y, Moore R, Mungall AJ, Marra MA, Zhang J, Ma X, Liu Y, Liu Y, Auvil JMG, Davidsen TM, Gesuwan P, Hermida LC, Salhia B, Capone S, Ramsingh G, Zwaan CM, Noort S, Piccolo SR, Kolb EA, Gamis AS, Smith MA, Gerhard DS, Meshinchi S.  The molecular landscape of pediatric acute myeloid leukemia reveals recurrent structural alterations and age-specific mutational interactions.  Nat Med. 2018 Jan;24(1):103-112. doi: 10.1038/nm.4439. Epub 2017 Dec 11.

  • Kennedy JL, Koziol-White CJ, Jeffus S, Rettiganti MR, Fisher P, Kurten M, Eze A, House S, Sikes JD, Askew E, Putt C, Panettieri RA, Jones SM, Kurten RC.  Effects of Rhinovirus (RV) 39 Infection on Airway Hyper-responsiveness (AHR) to Carbachol in Human Airways Precision Cut Lung Slices (PCLS). J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2018 Jan 6. pii: S0091-6749(18)30024-1. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.11.041. [Epub ahead of print]

Recent Grant Activity

Grant Proposal Submissions

PI Agency Project Title Project Period Total Funding
Dolapo Adejumobi NIH Modeling Barrier Dysfunction Relevant to Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE) in Human Esophageal Mucosal Explant Cultures 7/18-6/22 $160,123
Stepan Melnyk DOD/Phoenix Children's Hospital A safe and effective treatment for autism targeting core symptoms through normalizing metabolism 5/18-4/22 $100,324
Shannon Rose Binational Science Foundation/Tel Aviv University Transcriptomic blood biomarkers for diagnostics and precision medicine prognostics in autism spectrum disorder: effects of candidate therapeutics on gene expression profiles 10/18-9/21 $23,432
Judy Weber USDA Developing and Sustaining School Gardens to Impact Child Health 9/18-8/20 $100,000

Clinical Trial Activity

PI Sponsor Project Project Period Total Funding

Courtney, Sherry



10/17 - 7/18


Perry, Tamara



1/18 - 12/18


Romero, Jose



9/16 - 6/19


Walden, Marlene



12/17 - 12/18


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