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Research Update

February 2019

Human Genome Pioneer Visits ACRI

Dr. Eric Green, Director of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, visited Arkansas Children’s in December and gave a well-received and thought-provoking lecture. Dr. Green was at the forefront of efforts to map, sequence, and understand eukaryotic genomes. His work included significant involvement in the Human Genome Project, in which the reference human DNA sequence was completed in 2003. Dr. Green has also played an instrumental leadership role in the development of the US Precision Medicine Initiative.

Dr. Green’s Precision Medicine Distinguished Guest Lecture was titled, “From the Human Genome Project to Precision Medicine: A Journey to Advance Human Health”. In his lecture, Dr. Green discussed the emerging areas in precision medicine including cancer genomics, pharmacogenomics, rare genetic disease diagnostics, and prenatal genomic testing. In addition, Dr. Green had several productive meetings with researchers, clinicians, and leaders at ACH and ACRI to discuss positioning Arkansas Children’s as a leader in the field of pediatric precision medicine.

The Arkansas Reproductive Health Monitoring System: Supporting Those Preventing Birth Defects

The Arkansas Reproductive Health Monitoring System (ARHMS) is a well-established public health program in birth defect tracking. ARHMS, which is administered within Arkansas Children's Hospital, tracks birth defect trends, responds to inquiries from health professionals and the public, provides the data infrastructure for scientific research, and performs prevention activities aimed at reducing the occurrence of birth defects.                             

“Birth defects are common and costly conditions, occurring 1 in 33 births in the United States,” said Dr. Joy Shan, ARHMS Senior Epidemiologist, “Accurate information leads to better investment in resources, determining risk, and uncovering causes and solutions to decrease birth defects and related conditions.”

Annually, Arkansas mothers give birth to approximately 1,000 newborns diagnosed with a birth defect. The five certified Health Information Specialists of the ARHMS team abstract information from hospital records for these newborns by traveling to hospitals or by accessing records electronically. Collected information is kept secure and private by two information technologists maintaining the ARHMS databases. Dr. Elizabeth Sellars, Section Chief of Genetics and Metabolism, serves as the Medical Director of ARHMS and oversees the program.

Clinicians, researchers, and policymakers locally from the Arkansas Department of Health and UAMS as well from other governmental agencies and biomedical research organizations nationwide, have made requests for ARHMS data. The data may be used to identify and to describe patterns of birth defects in Arkansas in order to support scientific research or evidence-based policy.

ARHMS staff coordinate the requests and conduct the queries. Resulting data is cleaned and formatted before forwarding. Approved requests are generally completed in a few days to a week with the data usage agreement and confidentiality documents signed. More about the program including data request guidelines can be found onkline at https://www.archildrens.org/arhms.

Injury Free Coalition for Kids Presents Lifetime Achievement Award to Beverly Miller

On behalf of ACRI, Congratulations Beverly Miller, recipient of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids Lifetime Achievement Award.

In December, Beverly Miller, MEd, Associate Director of the Injury Prevention Center (IPC) at Arkansas Children’s, received the Injury Free Coalition for Kids Program Coordinator Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognized her embodiment of the coalition's mission to prevent injuries to children by helping people to make their communities safer while remaining respectful of various cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles locally across Arkansas and across the nation. In addition to these achievements, Injury Free Coalition for Kids also noted her contributions as a board member of the network. Ms. Miller is the second person and the first Program Coordinator to receive this lifetime achievement award.

In addition, Ms. Miller’s conceptual development of community-sided research led to the CDC-funded program Strike Out Child Passenger Safety. Using community-based T-ball programs to promote booster seat use, this multistate Injury Free network project resulted in a 56% increase in correct child passenger restraint. She also developed a NHTSA-funded program, Improving Teen Driving Through Parental Responsibility, that sought to increase the use of written teen driving contracts between parents and teens. The program formed the basis of a statewide teen driving program in Arkansas that has been very successful in engaging youth leaders in schools across the state. These efforts complemented advocacy to establish the Arkansas Graduated Driver License policy in 2009.

“Beverly has been a critical leader in the development of the Injury Prevention Center from its inception,” said Dr. Mary Aitken, IPC Director, Center for Applied Research and Evaluation Section Chief, and ACRI Interim President, “Her ideas and skills have been the origin for many of the most successful research projects the IPC has conducted. Through her understanding of community needs and theory-grounded research methods, she has mobilized research teams to study prevention of motor vehicle and ATV crash injury as well as home safety including safe sleep. With the IPC staff, Beverly has translated these research findings into sustainable interventions in collaboration with partners statewide has reduced unintentional child deaths in Arkansas by 43%. She has been a key leader of the Injury Free network’s board of directors and is now contributing to a national injury prevention work force by conducting training through the American Trauma Society. She thoroughly deserves this Lifetime Achievement award for all she has accomplished!”

The Injury Free Coalition for Kids is located in the Columbia University Medical Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention. It is among the country's most effective injury prevention programs. Injury Free is comprised of hospital-based, community-oriented injury prevention sites whose efforts are anchored in research, education, and advocacy. The coalition has 39 sites across 30 states and one international site. Each site is associated with the trauma center of its participating institution.

Researchers at Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center Find Correlation between C-Sections and Baby Brain Development

Researchers at Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center recently published a study that reveals cesarean delivery may have a significant impact on infant brain development. Until now, the pediatric outcomes associated with the increased C-section rate have been relatively unclear. Results of Xiawei Ou, PhD, director of the ACNC’s brain imaging laboratory and associate professor of radiology and pediatrics at UAMS, with collaborators at the Advanced Baby Imaging Lab at Brown University, showed that babies born through C-section had significantly lower white matter development and functional connectivity in certain regions of the brain that differences seem to disappear by 3 years of age in the children studied.

Read the full Arkansas Children’s media release online at https://www.archildrens.org/health-and-wellness/news/news-story?news=141.

Researcher Spotlight:  Joshua Kennedy, MD

Dr. Joshua Kennedy joined Arkansas Children's as a physician and researcher in 2013.

Since he was in the seventh grade, Joshua Kennedy knew he wanted to be a physician. This dream permeated so much in fact that his geography teacher at his Lake Hamilton school starting calling him “Doc”. The nickname caught on, and soon Josh was known to his friends as Doc. After graduating from Baylor University, Josh was another step closer to becoming a physician by attending UAMS for medical school.

Back in middle school, young Josh planned a medical career in orthopedics. He dreamt of opening a practice at the bottom of a ski slope. However, that changed when he met Dr. Stacie Jones, Section Chief of Allergy and Immunology at UAMS. She suggested that he should specialize in allergy and immunology. It was an area of personal interest to him. Josh has a relative with an immune deficiency, and Dr. Jones’ diagnosis, treatment, and care were intriguing to the medical student. With some reflection, Dr. Kennedy knew then he would change from orthopedics to allergy and immunology. After completing his medical studies, he conducted a residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Residency at UAMS.

Following his residency, Dr. Kennedy completed a fellowship in allergy and immunology at the University of Virginia. “Up to that point I hadn’t held a pipette,” said Dr. Kennedy, “but I knew research was an opportunity to improve the health of children with asthma that I would see in the emergency room.” Dr. Kennedy’s research focused on pediatric patients in the emergency department with asthma whose condition had been exacerbated by a rhinovirus infection (the common cold). Approximately 60% to 80% of children with asthma exacerbations also have rhinovirus infection at the time they are seen. However, little is known about what makes this virus so problematic.

Dr. Kennedy’s research interest to find the connection between worsened asthma and rhinovirus would bring him back to Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Arkansas Children’s Research Institute. He remembered the guidance of Dr. Jones, and he knew of the research facilities and resources available. ACRI provided start-up funds for Dr. Kennedy’s research laboratory. The Lung Cell Biology Laboratory along with the presence of Dr. Richard Kurten at ACRI was a key attraction, too, noted Dr. Kennedy.

As the Lung Cell Biology Laboratory’s Co-Director, Dr. Kurten of the Departments of Physiology & Biophysics and Pediatrics had available precision-cut lung slices from donors with and without a history of asthma. These slices of lung tissue are from transplant-grade human lung tissue. Exposing the lung tissue samples with and without an asthma history to rhinovirus in the laboratory allows Dr. Kennedy and his collaborators to understand the responses of the samples to various treatments.

By uncovering the biological mechanisms prompting airway muscle contraction during asthma exacerbated by rhinovirus, Dr. Kennedy can translate the information to discover better treatments for children with asthma exacerbations. These treatments can keep these children and their families from a visit to the emergency department. Further, improved treatments can reduce the number of these children admitted to the hospital.

“Doc” did not end up in a snow-covered mountainside chalet practicing medicine. While warming up to a fireplace would be nice this time of year, Dr. Kennedy is in the clinics of ACH making children better today and in the laboratories of ACRI making them healthier tomorrow.

Dr. Kennedy’s research is supported by ACRI with funds from the Arkansas Tobacco Settlement via the Arkansas Biosciences Institute. He also received the Marion B. Lyon New Scientist Development Award in 2016. Dr. Kennedy is currently a Junior Investigator in ACRI’s Center for Translational Pediatric Research, a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE; P20GM121293) funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He has completed a 2-year KL2 Mentored Research Career Development Scholar Award (UL1TR000039, KL2TR000063,) from the UAMS Translational Research Institute which contributed preliminary data for a successful application to NIH for a Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award (K08AI121345). NIH has further recognized Dr. Kennedy’s contribution to pediatric research with a Loan Repayment Program award. His research program has also received support from other sources including a TRI Western States Consortium Pilot Award (UL1TR000039), the UAMS Microbiology and Immunology COBRE (P20GM103625), an American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology Education and Research Trust Mini-Grant, and the UAMS Department of Pediatrics.

Find Out About Opportunities to Participate in Research

Information on currently enrolling clinical studies at ACRI is available at ACH's Clinical Trials Webpage. Interested families can voluntarily join ACRI’s Research Registry at https://secure.archildrens.org/ResearchContacts/ to be contacted about pediatric clinical research. To receive Text Alerts about currently enrolling clinical research studies, interested persons can text RESEARCH to 411247 (message and data rates may apply; terms and conditions at www.mobivity.com/411247terms).

ACRI Researcher-Specific Announcements

Announcements that are specific to ACRI/ACH Campus Researchers may be found at the Weekly Research Update page: https://compoint.peds.ad.uams.edu/ACRI/default.aspx.