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Over 120 pediatric researchers with expertise and experience that span the breadth of medical disciplines comprise ACRI’s roster of investigators who work to fulfill its mission to improve children’s health, development, and well-being through high-quality research. Some of our major research programs are described below.
The mission of the Access to Healthy Foods Research Group is to build evidence, capacity, and support for an equitable food system that fosters the health and wellness of children, families, and communities in Arkansas. The work of the ATHF Research Group focuses on the development, delivery, and evaluation of individual and environmental-level interventions such as farm to school, school and community gardens, and support for increased local and healthy food production, distribution, and consumption.
Acetaminophen, the most common drug used in the treatment of pain and fever worldwide, is a major cause of acute liver failure in the US. Although generally considered safe when used in manufacturer recommended doses, acetaminophen at excessive doses can result in fatal liver injury. The current diagnosis of acetaminophen toxicity is the measurement of blood levels of acetaminophen within 24 hours of the overdose. Published findings from ACHRI’s Acetaminophen Toxicity Research Laboratory show that acetaminophen adducts are present for up to 12 days following large overdoses in children and adults broadening the diagnostic window. Under funds from a Small Business Technology Transfer award by NIH, our investigators are developing approaches for the measurement of adducts that could be widely used in hospitals.
The Arkansas Center for Advancing Pediatric Therapeutics (ArCAPT), a clinical site for the NIH IDea States Pediatric Clinical Trials Network, was formed to investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development – from conception through early childhood – influences the health of children and adolescents. Under the leadership of Laura James, M.D., and Rick Barr, M.D., ArCAPT will participate in clinical trials of the highest quality and scientific value to improve the health of children of Arkansas and beyond by systematically address the unique health challenges of IDeA state populations.
Established in 1994, the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center (ACNC) is one of six National Human Nutrition Centers funded through and cooperating with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service and the second of these centers devoted to children. Under the leadership of Sean Adams, Ph.D., the ACNC is not only advancing its cutting edge studies of how maternal-child nutrition and physical activity impact the fundamental properties of the body but also is applying that knowledge to human health. The ACNC uses state-of-the-art procedures, equipment, and facilities to determine how early-life exposure to dietary factors, physical activity, and obesity can affect physiology (including brain and behavior), bone, body fat and body composition, metabolic organs and gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system, and others.
The Asthma and Respiratory Disorders Research Program was established to address the growing problem of asthma morbidity among children. In addition to strong clinical services in asthma and allergic disease, this program provides novel research approaches to addressing pathogenesis of the disease, exploring new treatment modalities through clinical trials and translational research, and improving education and healthcare delivery through community-based health outcomes research. The Lung Cell Biology Laboratory, through its collaborative NIH funding and multi-disciplinary investigative team, employs novel human model systems to investigate disease pathogenesis and explore potential targets for novel therapies. The NIH-funded rural health asthma program, RADAR (Reducing Asthma Disparities in Arkansas), utilizes state-of-the-art technology including telehealth and mobile application systems to target high-risk, under-served populations through its innovative rural healthcare delivery research.
Founded in 1990, the Center for Applied Research and Evaluation (CARE) is a multidisciplinary group of researchers that includes faculty representing Pediatrics, Epidemiology, Medical Sociology, Health Economics, Health Services Research, and Nutrition. Led by Mary Aitken, M.D., MPH, CARE is committed to improving the health of children and families through research focused on children, their families, and their communities. Research is ongoing in four primary areas: child health services, pediatric injury prevention, childhood obesity prevention, and child health development and nutrition. Research results at CARE have influenced child health policies in Arkansas and throughout the country. CARE is one of the few divisions in a Department of Pediatrics nationally that offers multi-disciplinary applied research focusing on the health of children, their families, and communities.
Building on 20 years of research investigating strategies for preventing and reducing childhood obesity, Judith Weber, Ph.D., leads a center for the study of childhood obesity located at ACRI. Called the Center for Childhood Obesity Prevention (CCOP), it is one of the NIH Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE), the first of its kind to be located at ACRI. CCOP serves as an anchor for the development of a comprehensive pediatric obesity program at Arkansas Children’s Hospital that will enable Dr. Weber and her colleagues to better understand the origins of pediatric obesity and develop interventions focused both on preventing and reducing obesity and associated complications such as hypertension and diabetes.
The Center for Translational Pediatric Research (CTPR) seeks to investigate how pediatric diseases develop from a systems biology and mechanistic approach, with the ultimate goal of identifying the intersections of disease and development, which will produce targets for therapeutic intervention and the development of new treatments. Systems biology is an integrated approach examining all events within cells, tissues, and organisms that lead to a particular outcome. By applying a systems biology approach to the study of pediatric diseases, the CTPR hopes to expand existing knowledge of pediatric disease development and contribute to new therapeutic targets. The long term goal of the CTPR is to build an innovative, multi-disciplinary pediatric research center that utilizes cutting-edge systems biology technologies and state-of-the-art translational research to study pediatric diseases.
An environmental exposure research program aimed at diminishing the impact of pollutants on human health and the environment was initiated using funds from the Arkansas Biosciences Institute (ABI), the major research component of the Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act of 2000. The program, established at the Arkansas Children's Research Institute, fostered key collaborations across the state and nation with researchers at institutions including Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, and Colorado State University in Fort Collins. The research team is examining how exposure to common environmental toxicants triggers autoimmune disease and how developmental or early life exposure to certain chemicals can increase the risk of adult disease.
The Food Allergy Research Program at ACRI has a long history of excellence in clinical and translational research for more than two decades. During the past 15 years, the food allergy research program has focused on developing novel therapeutics for children and adults with food allergy through innovative, multi-center studies within the NIH/NIAID-funded Consortium of Food Allergy Research and the NIH/NIAID-funded Immune Tolerance Network, as well as through research funded through private foundation grants and industry-sponsored clinical trials. This collaborative work has resulted in significant progress toward effective immunotherapeutic approaches to the treatment of food allergy. This multi-disciplinary team of investigators has also established the Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders Clinic and Research Program with the key mission to improve care, diagnostic capabilities and treatment for children with eosinophilic esophagitis through integrated network studies and the use of novel model systems.
In 1993, ACRI was selected to house one of the first Pediatric Pharmacology Research Units (PPRU) funded by the NIH. These centers were established in response to concerns that many medications commonly used to treat a variety of childhood illnesses have not undergone carefully controlled clinical trials to establish dosing, safety, and effectiveness in children. The PPRU Network partners with the pharmaceutical industry and other investigators nationally and locally to generate dosing, safety, and efficacy data for the use of drugs in children. ACRI’s PPRU is a collaborative effort with numerous pediatric investigators from the following specialties: neurology, critical care medicine, pulmonary, infectious disease, nephrology, cardiology, neonatology, and general pediatrics.