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Big Efforts Aimed at Small Things

Published on July 1, 2016 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 3 months 2 weeks ago


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Tiny bacteria facing a big fight, newborns in families getting help with financial challenges, and tiny DNA molecules having a big impact on medicine, were all in the news this week. Read on for more about these top stories in our weekly roundup of research news from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. For those of you in the U.S. celebrating Independence Day this weekend, we hope you have a healthy and safe holiday!

Renewed CDC Grant Enhances Role of Pediatrics in Squashing Superbugs

Penn and CHOP have received renewed funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to continue collaborative research on preventing antibiotic-resistant microbes, especially in the healthcare environment. The Penn-CHOP site is one of five academic medical centers to receive the designation as part of the CDC‘s patient safety research effort known as the Prevention Epicenters Program, which was created in 1997 to address the emerging problem of healthcare-associated infections. This round of funding (a total of $26 million) more than doubles previous awards and extends the program to 2020.

Penn has been a designated site since 2011, when the CDC awarded $2 million to its Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics (CCEB). This latest award brings pediatric research and care into the fold, strengthening the collaboration that has been part of the Penn-CHOP Epicenter’s work for some time. Jeffrey Gerber, MD, PhD, an attending physician and medical director of the antimicrobial stewardship program at CHOP and a CCEB senior scholar, now joins Ebbing Lautenbach, MD, MPH, MSCE, chief of Penn’s division of Infectious Diseases and CCEB senior scholar, as co-principal investigator for the Penn-CHOP site.

“Penn is proud to continue to serve as an Epicenter Program site and be part of a larger, collaborative effort with our neighbor CHOP to advance the science on health care-associated infections and help discover new approaches and solutions that will ultimately improve patient care,” Dr. Lautenbach said in a Penn Medicine news release.

Read more about one of the Penn-CHOP CDC Epicenter’s unique research strengths — using social science to address infection control and prevention behaviors — in a Cornerstone post from this spring.

Does A Federal Program Succeed in Encouraging Breastfeeding?

Measuring whether the federal assistance program known as WIC, the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children, achieves its goals in encouraging breastfeeding among new moms who participate, is a surprisingly difficult question. Every year, half of new mothers and infants in the U.S. rely on the program for support with nutritious food and other health services. Emily Gregory, MD, MHS, a faculty member of PolicyLab at CHOP, wrote on the PolicyLab blog that differences between eligible low-income mothers who choose to participate, and those who do not, confound the question.

Dr. Gregory described a recent study, in which she and colleagues examined breastfeeding attitudes and intentions for both groups of mothers.

“We found that WIC participants were less likely to report positive attitudes toward breastfeeding and intended to breastfeed for shorter durations,” she wrote. “Though the data we used did not address why this is, we suspect it relates to barriers to breastfeeding and infant feeding norms that exist in specific communities.”

Read more about Dr. Gregory’s study and its implications on the PolicyLab blog.

Taking Genomics from Lab to Clinic

“As genetic testing has become more complex, it's being applied across many more medical specialties and into primary care,” said Ian Krantz, MD, a clinical geneticist and director of the Individualized Medical Genetics Center at CHOP. “These tests will move toward broad use in screening healthy populations, and our recommendations aim to help people better integrate testing results into clinical practice.”

Recognizing the clinical challenges posed by large-scale DNA testing, Dr. Krantz and Sarah Bowdin, MD, of the Centre for Genetic Medicine at the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto (SickKids), spearheaded two Clinical Genetics Think Tanks, hosted at their respective hospitals in 2014 and 2015. The two hospitals recently issued their first recommendations for integrating genomics clinical practice with a report in the journal Genetics in Medicine, co-led by Dr. Krantz and Ronald D. Cohn, MD, co-director of the Centre for Genetic Medicine at SickKids.

The Think Tanks included a wide variety of major stakeholders, including clinical geneticists, genetic counselors, as laboratory professionals and bioinformatics experts as co-authors of the report, as well as patients and parents as discussion participants.

The Think Tank group’s recommendations address challenges such as the pretesting process, patient and clinician education, interpreting sequence data, and posttest patient care. They discuss challenges such as the dynamic nature of knowledge about genetic variants — emerging knowledge about the function of some genetic differences, or emerging medical interventions for differences that are not now actionable — requiring systematic approaches toward offering patients genome re-evaluations over time.

Read more in the CHOP news release.


In case you missed it, earlier this week on Cornerstone we shared the story of a new entrepreneurial effort to build a tool to aid language acquisition and processing, and a Nature paper showing how a virus disables a host cell’s alarm signaling to the immune system.

Last week’s In the News post brought you a study about racial disparities in pediatric urologic surgery, insights into the cognitive risks of anesthesia in young children, a mentoring award for a CHOP geneticist, and more.

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