Research

All Articles in the Category ‘Research’

Study Links Chemical in Plastics to Genital Abnormalities in Baby Boys

A new study shows that pregnant women’s exposure to a chemical commonly found in plastic is directly linked to abnormalities in newborn boys’ reproductive organs.

Doctors and researchers know that man-made chemicals commonly found in plastics, foods, personal care products and building materials can interfere with how hormones like estrogen and testosterone work in the body.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Research now shows that pregnant women’s exposure to a particular endocrine-disrupting chemical called diethylhexyl pthalate (DEHP) is directly linked to abnormalities in newborn boys’ reproductive organs.

Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a pediatric environmental health researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute who led the study, sat down with On the Pulse to answer some questions about the findings. Read full post »

Researchers Find Herpes Strain in the Nervous System

In this lab stain, the small orange-spotted cell on the far left shows a nerve cell infected with herpes virus in an animal model.

There are a couple strains of herpes so common that researchers estimate 90% of the human population have them. These strains, human herpes 6 and human herpes 7, usually do not cause severe symptoms when people acquire them. But researchers know that under certain circumstances, dormant herpes viruses in the body can unexpectedly come roaring back and cause complications not typically associated with herpes virus.

Dr. Serge Barcy studies herpes viruses at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. In a paper published in the journal Virology he describes finding the herpes 7 virus hiding in a surprising place: the nervous system of an animal model.

“It’s common to find herpes virus in salivary glands of humans and animals,” Barcy said. “But we found herpes 7 in the nervous system of animal models, which was a surprise because that strain of herpes has not been detected in the nervous system before. We want to understand what it does in the nervous system, if the virus is also in the human nervous system and if it could be associated with nerve diseases.” Read full post »

Electrical synapses in the brain offer new avenue for epilepsy research and possible treatment

Dr. Philippe Coulon thinks electrical signals directly exchanged between brain cells may hold promise as a potential target for absence epilepsy treatments.

A child with absence epilepsy may be in the middle of doing something—she could be dancing, studying, talking—when all of a sudden she stares off into space for a few moments. Then, as quickly as she drifted off, the child snaps back into whatever she was doing, unaware that the episode occurred.

That brief moment of disconnect from reality is called an absence seizure, and according to the Epilepsy Society, childhood absence epilepsy accounts for 2-8% of all epilepsy diagnoses. Most cases of childhood absence epilepsy end after puberty, but about 30% of cases continue into adulthood or lead to other forms of epilepsy, says Dr. Philippe Coulon, a neuroscientist at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

“Some kids can have hundreds of these brief seizures a day,” said Coulon. “I can only imagine how hard it is for them to function and have a normal childhood.”

In a study published in the Journal of Physiology, Coulon and his colleagues suggest that electrical signals directly exchanged between brain cells may hold promise as a potential target for absence epilepsy treatments. Read full post »

Researcher Studies Common Bacteria to Give Babies a Fighting Chance


Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the most common life-threatening bacterial infection in newborns worldwide. GBS typically resides in the lower genital tract but does not cause infections in healthy women. But if the infection is transmitted to an infant during pregnancy, it can lead to preterm birth or stillbirth. If the infection is transmitted to a newborn, it can cause pneumonia, sepsis or meningitis, all of which can occur within the first week of life or within 90 days of birth. The goal of my research is to prevent maternal to infant transmission of GBS.

But not all babies become infected. In the U.S. and other developed countries, pregnant women are screened for GBS around the 37th week of gestation. If found positive, a pregnant woman is given antibiotics during labor to prevent the newborn from being infected, and that has reduced transmission of GBS from mothers to infants during birth. However, infections that occur earlier than 37 weeks or after 1 week of birth are not prevented by these measures. Read full post »

Researchers Discover Area of Brain That Controls Breathing

This image shows neurons in the newly identified PiCo region of the brain. The researchers used staining techniques to identify the chemical identity of the neurons, which helps give insight into their function.

This image shows neurons in the newly identified PiCo region of the brain. The researchers used staining techniques to identify the chemical identity of the neurons, which helps give insight into their function.

Neuroscientists at Seattle Children’s Research Institute have discovered an area of the brain that plays a key role in breathing. In a study published in the journal Nature the researchers describe the newly identified area of the brain, which they found plays a key role in exhalation.

“In healthy people, breathing is something we do whether or not we consciously think about it,” said Dr. Nino Ramirez, Director of the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “This paper describes a part of the brain that is active during passive exhalation, which is important for swallowing, speaking, coughing, and other behaviors that occur after an inhalation.”

The researchers called this region of the brain the postinspiratory complex, or PiCo. Further study and understanding of how this region of the brain works could lead to the development of new treatments for certain neurodegenerative diseases that involve breathing abnormalities.

Read full post »

A Major Breakthrough in the Search for a Malaria Vaccine

This image shows mouse red blood cells infected with Plasmodium parasites, the causative agent of malaria. The cells with the blue ring-like structures inside of them are the malaria parasite-infected red blood cells called Merozoites, which are the blood stage form of the parasite. CREDIT: University of Washington

Dr. David Rawlings knows how painful and devastating malaria is—he had it several times in his early 20s while teaching grade school in Kenya.

“It’s a horrible infection,” said Rawlings, director of the Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “I had a high fever, severe headaches, chills and I couldn’t leave my house for days. I was fortunate to have medications that stopped the infection, but malaria these days is resistant to most of these drugs.”

Rawlings recovered from the bouts of malaria, but young children who get malaria are not always so lucky. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 214 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide in 2015 and resulted in 438,000 deaths, most of them children in Africa. The disease is a parasitic infection spread through the bite of infected mosquitos.

Seeing his young students in Africa come down with malaria is what pushed Rawlings to become an immunologist. He wanted to find a cure.

Today, researchers at the University of Washington and Rawlings’ lab at Seattle Children’s revealed a major breakthrough in malaria immunology research that they describe in a study published in the journal Immunity. Read full post »

New Hope for HIV Treatment: Empowering the Immune System Through Immunotherapy

Tranisha Arzah, 26, was born with HIV and works as an HIV educator.

People who acquire HIV can lose a critical function in their body: their immunity. Left untreated, HIV infects the immune system and disables a person’s ability to fight infections, which can turn the common cold into a death sentence. Antiviral treatment can prevent this from happening, but if medications are stopped the virus comes back almost immediately.

Currently, one out of every 200 American adults lives with HIV. As doctors, scientists and advocates gather in South Africa this week at the International AIDS Conference, researchers at Seattle Children’s have been thinking hard about how to kick HIV, and they have an ambitious goal: They want to develop an immunotherapy that harnesses the power of the immune system to kill and resist HIV.

“Immunotherapy has been successful in treating cancer and we’re optimistic that we can take that same technology and apply it to HIV,” said Dr. Thor Wagner, an infectious disease specialist and pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “The hope is that in the future we’ll be able to take an HIV-positive person’s T cells and re-engineer them to attack and resist the virus.” Read full post »

How Violence in Video Games and Media Harm Child Development

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics calls for action to reduce children’s exposure to violent video games and media. The report also calls on the gaming and media industries to create shows and games for children that do not contain violence.

“Children are not only viewing violence, but with virtual reality games they are actively engaging in a realistic and immersive violent experience,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and lead author of the new AAP policy. “A media diet is as important as a food diet. Pediatricians and families need to have thoughtful conversations about a child’s media intake.” Read full post »

Children’s Soy Consumption Linked to Increased Kawasaki Disease Risk

Ewan Hart, 2, with his sister. Ewan was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease after he was hospitalized at Seattle Children’s when he developed a sudden fever that would not come down.

Some parents feed infants and children soy formula and products because they believe they are a healthy alternative to dairy, especially if a child is lactose intolerant. But new research published in the journal Nutrition Research shows that high soy consumption in infants and young children leads to an increased risk of Kawasaki disease, an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in arteries and can result in irreversible and devastating damage to the heart.

Kawasaki disease affects about 7,000 infants and children in the U.S. each year. Although the disease can occur in children of all races, those of Asian descent are at substantially higher risk.

“It’s concerning that high consumption of foods like tofu, soy formula, edamame and other soy products is a risk factor for Kawasaki disease,” said Dr. Michael Portman, a pediatric cardiologist and researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute who was the lead author of the study. “This should be a concern for all families with young children, but particularly those of Asian heritage because their traditional diets use a lot of soy.” Read full post »

Treating Patients With Autism in the Emergency Department

Dr. Eileen Klein, attending physician and co-director of Emergency Medicine Research, will speak about the challenges families and children with autism face in navigating the emergency department.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are becoming a larger proportion of Seattle Children’s patients, challenging providers to develop new tactics to meet their unique needs.

This year’s Pediatric Bioethics Conference, “Autism Re-examined: Ethical Challenges in Care, Support, Research and Inclusion,” will focus on the challenges and special requirements of treating these patients.

Dr. Eileen Klein, attending physician and co-director of Emergency Medicine Research at Seattle Children’s Hospital, is a featured speaker at this year’s conference. She gave On the Pulse a sneak preview of her presentation plans, what she’s most looking forward to and what she hopes to learn. Read full post »