On the Pulse

Researchers Discover Areas in the Brain Where Nicotine Could Disrupt Early Brain Development

Neurons found in the brain stem gives new clue to nicotine, sudden infant death syndrome link. Source: Getty Images.

Researchers at Seattle Children’s Research Institute have discovered that populations of neurons in the brain stem have a previously unrecognized susceptibility to disruption by nicotine during early brain development.

Published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, their findings offer a clue to how nicotine exposure in utero could have a lasting effect on the brain’s wiring and give rise to negative outcomes like sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Read full post »


Teen With Alert Dog Hopes to Help Other Kids With Diabetes

With the support of his alert dog Morris, the latest insulin pump technology and his care team, Cameron is thriving and hopes to be a role model for other kids with diabetes. He shares his experience in time for National Diabetes Month.

Wherever 14-year-old Cameron Hendry goes – school, soccer practice, wakeboarding, shopping, even a trip to Hawaii – a Labrador retriever named Morris follows.

Morris is not only the high school freshman’s beloved pet. He is Cameron’s diabetes alert dog, always there on his left side to monitor his blood sugar and let him know when his level is too high or low.

Seven years ago, Cameron was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which blood sugar levels rise because the body stops making insulin. The chronic condition requires lifelong insulin via shots or an insulin pump.

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include increased thirst, urination and weight loss. Fortunately, Cameron’s parents recognized his symptoms early and took him to Seattle Children’s emergency department. Cameron was diagnosed and his family received intensive education on how to manage his condition, which included checking blood glucose levels and giving insulin shots multiple times each day. There is currently no cure, though promising research is underway.

“Type 1 diabetes is quite a burden day to day on both kids and their parents,” said Erin Sundberg, ARNP, a pediatric nurse practitioner with Seattle Children’s Endocrinology and Diabetes team, who has been seeing Cameron for the past two years. “It requires round-the-clock vigilance because glucose levels can change due to activity and illness, so patients need to check their blood sugar multiple times each day.” Read full post »


New Contract Will Advance Tuberculosis Research

A federal contract awarded to Seattle Children’s will establish a new center to study tuberculosis. Source: Getty Images.

Seattle Children’s Research Institute is one of three recipients of $30 million in first-year-funding provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to establish centers for immunology research to accelerate progress in tuberculosis (TB) vaccine development.

The awards provide up to seven years of support for three Immune Mechanisms of Protection Against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (IMPAc-TB) Centers to uncover the immune responses needed to protect against TB infection. In addition to Seattle Children’s, other IMPAc-TB centers will be led by the Infectious Disease Research Institute, also in Seattle, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

On the Pulse learned more about the significant research that will be funded by this award which has the potential to provide up to $83 million to the Cascade IMPAc-TB Center, led by Dr. Kevin Urdahl, a TB researcher in Seattle Children’s Center for Global Infectious Disease Research. Read full post »


New Initiative Aims to Prevent Youth Suicide

Seattle Children’s Zero Suicide Initiative helps identify and treat children ages 10 and up who are at risk for suicide.

A teenage boy arrives at Seattle Children’s Emergency Department (ED) with an increased heart rate. His parents are scared and unsure of what could be causing their son’s pulse to spike. While the nurse takes the patient’s vitals, she asks him a series of questions about suicide — prompting the patient to share that he tried to overdose on prescription medication the night before. The nurse informs the provider, and an immediate plan is set in motion to further assess not only the patient’s physical health, but his mental health, as well.

A 10-year-old girl enters the ED with a sprained elbow after taking a tumble on the soccer field. Her parents have been taking her to therapy to help with her anxiety, and the therapist communicates his findings with them often. Because she is so young, the therapist has never directly asked the patient if she’s ever had suicidal thoughts. After the ED nurse initiates suicide-screening questions, the girl admits that she has had thoughts about harming herself in the past. Prior to discharging the patient, a mental health evaluator shares resources and information about suicide with the family, and the provider contacts the patient’s therapist and asks the girl’s suicidal thoughts be addressed in their next appointment.

These are just two stories of the more than 500 children who have screened positive for suicide risk in Seattle Children’s ED and inpatient settings over the past six months who presented for concerns unrelated to their mental health. These crucial “catches” were made with help from a new clinical pathway known as Seattle Children’s Zero Suicide Initiative (ZSI), a universal screening method to help identify and treat youth at risk of suicide.

Read full post »


Sam Doesn’t Let His Mental Health Struggles Define Him

When Sam Duenwald, 18, was in seventh grade, he got sick and had to miss a couple of weeks of school.

However, a couple of weeks of missed school turned into three, then four, then five.

“It became a vicious cycle,” Sam said. “I was getting really anxious about going back to school because I knew I had missed a ton of homework and that was causing my grades to drop, so I decided to avoid going to school altogether. This of course spiraled into missing even more homework, making my grades suffer further.”

Naturally, the situation caused tension between Sam and his parents.

“There was a lot of stress at home, and I was fighting with my parents all the time,” Sam said. “They knew I needed help.”

Sam’s anxiety became so severe that his parents took him to see a psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s midway through seventh grade. He was prescribed anxiety medication, which helped Sam finish up the school year.

“Over the summer, I kept telling myself, ‘I need to go back to school regularly; I’m going to be in eighth grade and everything is going to be great,’” Sam said.

Read full post »


Research Reveals How Malaria Parasite Plans Ahead, Preparing Blueprint to Strike in Humans

The parasite that causes malaria waits in the salivary glands of the mosquito until it has the opportunity to move to a human host. New research exploring this stage of the parasite offers findings that could help identify new strategies to protect against malaria. Photo: Getty Images.

Within seconds after an infected mosquito bites, the malaria parasite navigates the host skin and blood vessels to invade the liver, where it will stay embedded until thousands of infected cells burst into the bloodstream, launching malaria’s deadly blood-stage infection.

Now, for the first time, a team from Seattle Children’s Research Institute describes how malaria Plasmodium parasites prepare for this journey as they lie in waiting in the mosquito’s salivary glands. Researchers say this knowledge may help identify new strategies to block transmission of the parasite – a critically important step needed for the eradication of malaria, a disease that continues to sicken over 300 million people and kill an estimated 435,000 people worldwide every year. Read full post »


Families Raise Awareness of Rare, Underdiagnosed Lung Disease

Isabelle Zoerb, 13, has a rare genetic disorder called primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD).

Like a typical 13-year-old, Isabelle Zoerb plays volleyball and tap dances. She also regularly uses an inhaler, takes antibiotics to minimize lung inflammation and wears a therapy vest that vibrates to help clear her lungs. A device in her chest provides intravenous medication when needed.

This is because Isabelle has primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD), a rare genetic condition. Cilia are tiny hair-like cells in airways that beat in a coordinated way that clear out germs, mucous and particulates like dust from the respiratory tract. In people with PCD, cilia do not beat properly, which prevents bacteria from clearing the lungs, sinuses, nose and ears.

When Caroline Zoerb adopted Isabelle from China as a toddler, Isabelle’s organs were reversed like a mirror image. She had been born with a hole in her heart and was constantly sick. Seeking answers, the family met Dr. Margaret Rosenfeld, an attending physician and researcher at Seattle Children’s, who thought she might have PCD based on her symptoms.

Seattle Children’s is the only PCD referral center in the Pacific Northwest, with patients coming from Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Alaska and Montana. Providers see patients for regular follow-ups to make sure their needs are being met and they are responding to their therapies.

“We always seem to make our way to Seattle Children’s because they have the expertise to help someone with such a rare disease,” Zoerb said. Read full post »


Sean Graduates from Seattle Children’s and Starts New Adventure

From day one, 21-year-old Sean Gallagher has been able to command a room. He jokes that it’s because he has a flair for the dramatic; it could also be because of his bright and infectious personality.

Sean was born with a facial difference, and his medical journey has been long and complex. MaryJo Gallagher and her husband David knew their son would be born with a small jaw, but the extent of Sean’s condition was beyond what they had envisioned. Immediately after the delivery, Sean was whisked away by a frenzied team of doctors and nurses.

The next couple days were a blur of emotions as the couple grappled with their son’s condition and what it meant for his development. They had many questions, but not nearly enough answers.

Dr. Michael Cunningham, division chief and medical director of Seattle Children’s Craniofacial Center, said he’ll never forget the first time he met Sean’s family. Sean was only 2 days old at the time. Cunningham went to visit them at the hospital where Sean was delivered.

“I was standing across the bed talking to Sean’s mom and said, ‘Everything is going to be okay,’” Cunningham said.

MaryJo said she’ll never forget that day either. She said it was like a physical weight had been lifted off their shoulders. They felt hopeful.

“He’s a family hero,” MaryJo said. “He explained to us about Sean’s condition. He knew right away what it was. We were so appreciative of him reassuring us. This is not the road we would have chosen for our little boy, but we are glad we are on it together.” Read full post »


Global Clinical Trial Aims to Improve Therapies for Pediatric Acute Leukemia

Seattle Children’s will embark on a groundbreaking clinical trial that will potentially transform treatment methods for children with relapsed acute pediatric leukemia.

In collaboration with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), Dr. Todd Cooper, an oncologist and director of the Seattle Children’s High-Risk Leukemia Program, is part of a team leading the effort to launch a global precision medicine master clinical trial called the LLS Pediatric Acute Leukemia (PedAL) Initiative. The goal of the trial, which is part of The LLS Children’s Initiative: Cures and Care for Children, is to test multiple targeted therapies simultaneously at up to 200 clinical sites, including Seattle Children’s, worldwide.

Cooper, the Clinical Trial Lead, will oversee the master screening trial where children with newly diagnosed and relapsed acute leukemia can choose to have their clinical and biologic information included in an international database. This database will serve many purposes, including helping to determine an individual child’s eligibility for a number of targeted clinical trials. The data will also be used to uncover new targets for therapy and as a rich source for groundbreaking discoveries.

On the Pulse sat down with Cooper to discuss the specifics of the trial and how it will possibly revolutionize the types of cancer treatments available for children.

Read full post »


Helping Kids Cope With Anxiety Over Distressing News

In an episode of the popular TV show Big Little Lies, a character’s young daughter has an anxiety attack, prompted by worries about climate change. Though this may seem drastic, Dr. Kendra Read, attending psychologist and director of anxiety programs with Seattle Children’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine team, is having many conversations with families about how to cope with distressing news, such as mass shootings, crime, global politics and natural disasters.

“It’s common for kids to be worried about events that might potentially harm them or their loved ones,” Read said. “Worrying is normal and a typical part of life, but I tend to talk to children whose anxiety over current events impacts their daily functioning. They exaggerate the likelihood of bad things happening and underestimate their ability to cope with things.”

The key is helping kids cope with the worry about these events happening, even though the likelihood is small. With school back in session, Read offers advice to families whose children might experience heightened anxiety after a frightening news event.

“We want to bolster kids’ coping abilities and teach them how they can help themselves,” Read said. Read full post »