Collaboration Key to Empowering Growth and Innovation

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The Center for Health Equity was created this year as part of an expanded commitment from CHOP to help dismantle systemic racism, to close the gaps in health and well-being that exist among the children of Philadelphia, and to build a diverse and inclusive team who will champion these efforts. A search is underway for a leader of the Center who will focus on developing clinical programs based on research to promote health equity. By working closely with others at CHOP and in the community, the new Center for Health Equity team will aim to improve the conditions for children and families in areas such as housing, employment, education, criminal justice, and environmental and public health.

“We believe that the Center for Health Equity will help us make the changes we need to see in our community — and in our country,” wrote Angela Ellison, MD, MSc, search committee chair, director of Research, Division of Emergency Medicine, and assistant vice president of Medical Staff Diversity and Inclusion; and Gilbert Davis, MHA, vice president and chief diversity officer, in a letter to the CHOP community. “We look forward to working with the Center’s director — and the CHOP community — to create a healthy, just, and equitable society in which all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Frontier Programs differentiate CHOP because of their unique combination of translational research and exceptional clinical care of children with highly complex conditions. Three new programs received this designation for FY 2021: the Minds Matter Concussion Program, the Center for Pediatric Heart Valve Disorders, and the Thyroid Center.

The Minds Matter Concussion Program, located within the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, developed a comprehensive clinical assessment of concussions, while introducing aerobic treatment therapies and vestibular and visual rehabilitation. Led by Christina Master, MD; and Kristy Arbogast, PhD, the research team will build on their progress to date by introducing preinjury testing to assess concussion susceptibility and implement clinical diagnostic tools to objectively phenotype concussions, in order to prescribe personalized novel treatments.

Globally, congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect. However, there is no therapy to mitigate valve regurgitation in newborns and infants, nor a valve replacement option that would eliminate the need for redundant surgery as the patient ages. The Center for Pediatric Heart Valve Disorders Frontier Program, led by primary investigators Jonathan Chen, MD; Michael Quartermain, MD; and Matthew Gillespie, MD; aims to answer these unmet needs. The researchers strive to do this by providing coordinated care for pediatric valve patients, delivering novel imaging platforms to refine patient-specific modeling, offering personalized valve therapies to treat the individual patient’s needs, and defining therapeutic drug targets to mitigate the progression of the disease.

The Thyroid Center at CHOP is recognized as the leading center for the treatment of pediatric thyroid disorders in the country, and it is the only center in the United States with a supporting translational research program. Its thyroidectomy surgery outcomes are unparalleled, with astonishingly low complication rates. With Andy Bauer, MD; Sogol Mostoufi-Moab, MD, MSCE; and Aime Franco, PhD; leading this Frontier Program, the Thyroid Center will build on this reputation by defining the molecular landscape of pediatric thyroid cancer, confirming targets of diagnosis, determining markers of invasive behavior, and building a global thyroid community focused on advocacy and education.

The Resuscitation Science Center is a multi-faceted collaborative scientific platform dedicated to understanding critical illnesses and accelerating discoveries to improve resuscitation care and outcomes for our sickest children. The new Center will help to position CHOP Research Institute as the world’s preeminent clinical and translational critical illness research epicenter. At the helm are CHOP doctors Todd Kilbaugh, MD, anesthesiologist and critical care physician; and Robert Sutton, MD, MSCE, a critical care physician. Dr. Kilbaugh will direct basic science and translational research conducted at the Center, while Dr. Sutton will take the lead for clinical research.

With a syndicate of researchers across the CHOP and University of Pennsylvania campus, coordinated research interests span from therapeutics to mitochondrial genomics, neurodiagnostics, computational biology, and medical countermeasures for chemical and biological threats. Promising findings in the translational space will be put into clinical practice so that all children may benefit. Critical clinical research projects underway include developing and evaluating algorithms using artificial intelligence / machine learning analytics to improve resuscitation monitors and devices, and determining if patient physiology focused resuscitation training can improve pediatric cardiac arrest outcomes.

The Center for Single Cell Biology (CSCB) aims to use the precision of single cell technology to take a deep look into the cellular path of multiple diseases such as cancer, lung disease, neurological disease, and metabolic disease to ultimately, improve outcomes for our pediatric patients. Led by Kai Tan, PhD, and Deanne Taylor, PhD, the new Center will position the Research Institute at the forefront of this fast-evolving research area.

Drs. Tan and Taylor see many opportunities for the CSCB to foster new collaboration and generate multidimensional insights within the Research Institute’s scientific community. They look forward to partnering with Biobanking and Pathology to develop clear and efficient protocols for tissue acquisition that support availability of high quality single-cell-ready samples. Another natural partnership is with the Arcus team, who are leading an enterprise-wide effort to centralize CHOP data from all areas of clinical care and research, to create a single cell data repository that ranges from omics to imaging data.

By pairing-up some of the brightest scientific minds in the city and adding a fast-paced, rigorous academic environment, CHOP and Drexel University are well equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to advance pediatric medicine in pioneering ways — locally and internationally. 

The new Drexel University alliance is creating opportunities for joint research activities among non-clinical investigators at both institutions, while enhancing educational programs at Drexel that include adding training opportunities for Drexel doctoral and master’s students at CHOP.

Eligible non-clinical research scientists at CHOP will be offered non-tenured research track appointments as CHOP-based Drexel research faculty at the College of Computing and Informatics; Dornsife School of Public Health; or the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science, and Health Systems. As CHOP employees, the research faculty will be located primarily at CHOP, but will engage with Drexel students, staff, and faculty in their research efforts and become part of Drexel’s academic ecosystem.

The alliance extends through June 30, 2023.

Photo Courtesy of Drexel University

This has been a busy year for our Innovation Ecosystem team, as they aim to help innovators — and innovative ideas — move through CHOP further and faster by facilitating cohesion among CHOP’s innovation hubs. Just three years young and still growing, the Innovation Ecosystem serves as the connecting infrastructure across CHOP that identifies and improves innovation pathways and develops innovation tools and practices with individuals, groups, and departments. Think of it as the “amniotic fluid” — surrounding, connecting, and supporting — the hubs of innovation across CHOP.

This cross-functional team led by Flaura Winston, MD, PhD, empowers people by exploring optimal ways to build individual and institutional capacity in the discipline of innovation, bridging silos to build multi-disciplinary innovation teams, and connecting those with identified problems with the people and resources needed to create innovative solutions.

“Our job is to overcome challenges, bring people together, and be the glue where people can share across these different groups,” Dr. Winston said. “People at CHOP are our most valued — and valuable — asset and they are the people who come up with the future of what clinical practice and community activities should look like to benefit children. We need to make sure that we hear those ideas from these bright people.”

CHOP research teams are taking advantage of access to this dynamic data library and the expertise of Arcus data scientists, analysts, and archivists. With more than 30 scientific projects underway, Arcus, under the leadership of Jeff Pennington, associate vice president and chief research informatics officer, is providing investigators with access to data from the CHOP enterprise as well as data analysis tools. 

As a prime example of Arcus at work, researchers and co-leaders of the Pediatric Sepsis Program, Scott Weiss, MD, MSCE, and Fran Balamuth, MD, PhD, teamed up with Arcus data scientists, to validate a pediatric surveillance algorithm relying on eight years of routine clinical data within CHOP’s electronic health record as a dependable way to identify trends in pediatric sepsis.

By engaging and collaborating with CHOP’s Family Partners, the Arcus team is motivated to keep improving. In focus groups and team meetings, these families shared their personal journeys, concerns, and opinions about the use of their child’s information in the Arcus archive. And when the pandemic and mandatory shutdown of our research labs hit in March, the Arcus Education team responded swiftly and creatively by introducing an ambitious schedule of live, online training dealing with a variety of data science topics.

“The most challenging problems in child health require the most sophisticated data and computational approaches,” Pennington said. “Children’s health is dynamic and families understand that CHOP will make breakthroughs in child health when we link data and use data science in a responsible way. Arcus is partnering with families to make responsible progress.”