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New Genetic Causes of Cleft Lip and Palate Revealed

Representing about 70% of cleft lip and palate cases worldwide, non-syndromic cleft lip and palate typically occurs in isolation without other physical abnormalities.

A study conducted by an international research team, which included investigators from Seattle Children’s Research Institute, implicates variants in four genes as a primary cause of non-syndromic cleft lip and palate in humans. The genes, associated for the first time with cleft lip and palate, encode proteins that work together in a network, providing important insight into the biological basis of one of the most common physical malformations. Read full post »

Rebounding Back to Life, Dominic Perseveres Past Pediatric Stroke

Dominic Donati, then 9, eating for the first time six days after he suffered multiple strokes.

Sometimes it is the simplest of moments that can bring a family with a child in the hospital the most hope. For Tony and Laurie Donati, such a moment occurred when a neurologist at Seattle Children’s Neurosciences Center handed their son Dominic Donati a pen and paper and asked him to write a sentence only days after suffering multiple strokes.

Unable to speak at the time, Dominic, then 9, wrote, “Hi. My name is Dom.”

“It makes me cry every time I think about him writing this incredibly simple sentence,” Laurie, his mom, said. “Dominic’s stroke was the most awful thing that has ever happened to our family. I think everyone in the room felt excited because it was the first time we knew that he could still communicate with us.” Read full post »

Surprising Discovery Could Improve Malaria Detection Worldwide

New research could pave the way for a rapid screening test capable of diagnosing submicroscopic malaria infections.

While the global health community has made great strides toward eradicating malaria through prevention and treatment strategies, rapid and inexpensive methods to diagnose submicroscopic malaria in individuals who have no clinical symptoms and undetectable levels of disease-causing parasites in their blood remain an unmet need.

With the unexpected discovery of a panel of peptides from several proteins encoded by the parasite that causes malaria, new research underway at Seattle Children’s Research Institute could pave the way for a rapid screening test capable of diagnosing submicroscopic infections.

Such a diagnostic test could permit the widespread screening of all individuals in high-risk regions – a practice global health experts agree is likely required to eradicate malaria. It could also provide a way to diagnose submicroscopic malaria infections during pregnancy, which bring substantial health risks for the pregnant woman, her fetus, and the newborn child. Read full post »

Food as Medicine: High-Fat Keto Diet Prescribed to Treat Epilepsy

Neurologists at Seattle Children’s prescribe the ketogenic diet for the treatment of epilepsy and other neurological conditions.

Doctors first started using the ketogenic diet to treat patients with epilepsy in the 1920s. While the diet has evolved over the decades to include less strict versions, and is gaining mainstream popularity for weight loss, children with epilepsy and other neurological conditions continue to benefit from its seizure-controlling effects.

The ketogenic diet team at Seattle Children’s Neurosciences Center takes a modern approach to help families use food as medicine. Here, ketogenic diet team members, neurologist Dr. Christopher Beatty; advanced practice provider Haley Sittner; clinical dietitian Marta Mazzanti; and nurse Deborah Rogers discuss how the diet works and how the team sets families up for success on the ketogenic diet. Read full post »

Study Shows How Group B Strep Establishes In Utero Infection, Posing Risk to Baby

Dr. Lakshmi Rajagopal’s lab at Seattle Children’s Center for Global and Infectious Disease Research is studying how group B strep establishes an invasive in utero infection during pregnancy.

Group B strep (group B streptococcus or GBS) is a common bacteria present in the vagina of about 1 in 4 women. In the U.S. and other developed countries, pregnant women are tested for GBS with those who test positive given antibiotics to help protect babies from infection. In low resource settings where GBS testing and treatment is often not accessible, invasive GBS infection leads to a large percentage of still births and an estimated 3.5 million preterm births each year.

Despite the substantial impact on pregnancy outcomes, scientists know little about how GBS establishes an in utero infection. In a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Dr. Lakshmi Rajagopal, a principal investigator in Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Global Infectious Disease Research describes a newly uncovered mechanism by which GBS gains access to a woman’s uterus. Read full post »

Out of Breath? Braking Neurons Play Surprising Role in Rapid Breathing

New research from Seattle Children’s offers fresh insight into how the brain sets the pace of breathing.

Next time a workout has you winded, the inhibitory neurons in your brain may be to blame. This is according to new research from Seattle Children’s Research Institute that offers fresh insight into how the brain sets the pace of breathing.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers used laser light to manipulate very specific classes of neurons responsible for breathing. The technique, known as optogenetics, helps scientists isolate neurons in the brain to study their function.

When stimulated in the lab, the researchers found excitatory neurons – the brain’s go signal – actually slow breathing, while inhibitory neurons – the brain’s stop signal – intervene to make breathing more rapid. In addition to explaining how the brain adapts breathing in response to everyday cues, the finding could lead to more precise treatments for neurological conditions that frequently involve breathing abnormalities. Read full post »

Teen Proves Kawasaki Disease is Not One Size Fits All

Audrey, pictured here with her cello before Kawasaki disease caused a large aneurysm to form in her heart.

Whether she’s performing in her school’s jazz band, teaching cello, painting or working as a YMCA counselor, Audrey Wright, 16, seems to do it all. She especially doesn’t let an aneurysm in her heart that developed as a result of Kawasaki disease get in the way of being a busy teenager and her dreams of majoring in studio art.

Audrey was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, a serious illness that causes inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body, after coming down with what she and everyone else thought was a really bad viral infection. Despite visiting her pediatrician four times in six days, it wasn’t until her blood pressure dipped dangerously low that she was transported to Seattle Children’s. There, doctors in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit began to unravel the mystery of what was causing her illness.

“Once they got the report back, all of the pediatricians she had seen before coming to the hospital couldn’t believe it was Kawasaki disease,” Karen Wright, Audrey’s mom, said. “They were pretty shocked because she’s not the typical patient.” Read full post »

Matched to the Perfect Target, Drug Dramatically Shrinks Tumors in All Ages, Multiple Cancers

Ashton Leeds, 8, was treated with larotrectinib at Seattle Children’s for thyroid cancer that had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes.

Dr. Doug Hawkins, division chief of Hematology and Oncology at Seattle Children’s, remembers matching one of the first pediatric cancer patients to an experimental drug that targets a specific set of genetic alterations associated with soft tissue tumors. The drug, larotrectinib, is designed to selectively stop the resulting abnormal tropomyosin receptor kinase (TRK) fusion proteins from promoting cancer cell growth.

“I was so excited to share the test results with the family and present them with the option of enrolling in a clinical trial for this new medication,” Hawkins said. “At the time, I had a pretty good inkling the drug was going to work, but there was very limited evidence of its effectiveness in children. It’s incredibly special that families were willing to take a chance on this drug early on.”

Today, the promising evidence in support of larotrectinib is building. A paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine documents the drug’s effectiveness in treating TRK fusion-positive cancers regardless of patient age or tumor type. The paper includes data from 55 patients, ages 4 months to 76 years and representing 17 different TRK fusion-positive tumor types, treated with larotrectinib. Overall, 75% of patients responded to the treatment and at one year, 71% experienced no disease progression since starting treatment. Read full post »

3D-Printed Heart Transforms Family’s Understanding of Complex Heart Disease

Auren Satake, 17 months, was born with a congenital heart defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

Rachael Satake holds a 3D-printed replica of her son’s heart condition in her hands during a recent appointment at Seattle Children’s Heart Center. For the first time since learning about the defect midway through pregnancy, she clearly sees how the surgeries he has undergone are helping his heart work despite having only one ventricle.

Her son, Auren, has a serious congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), which means he was born missing the left ventricle of his heart. His right ventricle works double time to supply blood to both his lungs and the rest of his body. Read full post »

Montana Twins’ Hearts Beat in Harmony Following Unexpected Surgery Days After Birth

From left right: Twin sisters Freya and Sabina Sturges reunited after Sabina needed an unexpected heart surgery just days after birth.

Leigh Sturges recalls the day she and her husband, Zach Sturges, learned they were having twins. Seven weeks into their first pregnancy, the Bozeman, Montana, family entered a state of happy shock.

“We couldn’t believe it when heard two heart beats on the ultrasound,” she said. “We were realistic about the challenges ahead, deciding it could only make us stronger.”

At the time, they had no idea how soon one of those beating hearts would test their strength. It was only days after delivery when doctors detected a congenital heart condition in one twin, leading the Sturgeses to Seattle Children’s Heart Center for an unexpected heart surgery.   Read full post »