As one of the nation’s top five pediatric research centers and one of only 31 centers in the world dedicated to pediatric research, Seattle Children’s Research Institute has made tremendous strides since it opened its doors 10 years ago. From pioneering cystic fibrosis treatments to cutting-edge cancer therapies, our researchers have made their mark in helping to prevent, treat and eliminate childhood disease.
On Saturday, Sept. 10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the public is invited to a free Science Block Party for kids and adults to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the institute in downtown Seattle. Kids, parents and community members will have the chance to meet researchers and play games that illuminate how medical advancements happen in our labs and clinics.
“The Seattle community has supported us every step of the way as we search for better treatments and new cures for pediatric diseases,” said Dr. Jim Hendricks, president of Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “In celebrating our 10th anniversary in downtown Seattle, we thank the doctors, researchers, families, patients and donors who have helped advance science to improve children’s lives.”
As the institute celebrates 10 years, On the Pulse takes a look at some of the most exciting pediatric innovations and discoveries.
A cystic fibrosis treatment to change lives
As a young doctor, Dr. Bonnie Ramsey, director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Research, watched two of her young patients with cystic fibrosis die within one week of each other. She committed then and there to advance treatments for cystic fibrosis. And she did — thanks to her research, a drug combination was developed that improves and prolongs life for cystic fibrosis patients around the world.
In 1938, when cystic fibrosis was first recognized as a disease, babies with this condition rarely lived past one year. Thanks to researchers like Ramsey, children with this disease can now live comfortably into adulthood.
Dr. Mike Jensen, director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, and oncologist Dr. Rebecca Gardner develop groundbreaking cancer immunotherapy research and clinical trials that have allowed children with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia who are otherwise out of options to go on and live cancer-free. Using innovative techniques that harness the immune system to seek and destroy cancer, the therapy has a 93% remission rate and has given new hope to families around the world.
Dr. Doug Hawkins, associate division chief of hematology and oncology at Seattle Children’s Hospital, treats children with cancer and is a driver behind researching better therapies for pediatric cancer patients. His work on rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer in children, led to an improved chemotherapy protocol that reduces side effects in treatment.
Oncologist Dr. Julie Park is developing new and improved treatments for children with neuroblastoma, one of the deadliest forms of pediatric cancers. Most recently, Park found that a double stem cell transplant improves outcomes for patients with high-risk neuroblastoma.
Inventing life-saving devices
Dr. Michael Cunningham, medical director of the Craniofacial Center, and Dr. Christy McKinney, in collaboration with PATH and Laerdal, have developed a simple, inexpensive and easy-to-clean feeding tool that could prevent starvation in millions of infants in developing countries who have difficulty breastfeeding. The tool, called the Neonatal Intuitive Feeding Technology (NIFTY™ Cup), facilitates optimal feeding and allows babies to safely lap up milk. It will soon be widely distributed in Africa, with the hope that it will eventually be available to children around the world.
When a baby is born with cleft lip or palate, families have to prepare for a set of surgeries and appointments that can add to the stress of having a newborn. Dr. Richard Hopper, surgical director of the Craniofacial Center, developed a device called the Seattle alar molding (SAM) device for treating cleft nose that may decrease the number of visits a child needs to improve the symmetry of their nose before surgery.
When a baby is in the hospital with breathing problems in developing areas of the world, advanced tools like ventilators are not always available. Dr. Tom Hansen, a neonatologist, and Dr. Skip Smith, a pulmonary specialist, developed an affordable, easy-to-use device called the Seattle-PAP that can provide critical respiratory support to infants who may otherwise receive little or no assistance.
Advancing our understanding of the brain
Researchers at the Center for Integrative Brain Research, led by director Dr. Nino Ramirez, have made huge advancements in understanding pediatric brain development and disorders across many disciplines.
Dr. Daniel Rubens, an anesthesiologist, studies hearing and brain signaling abnormalities in infants that may be linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The work could lead to improved tools to identify babies at increased risk for SIDS.
Epilepsy affects nearly half a million children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Ghayda Mirzaa, a geneticist, worked with the neurosciences team to discover a gene that can cause intractable epilepsy in children, which opens the door to targeting the gene with a drug.
Impulsivity and behavioral disorders like ADHD make children with these conditions more prone to addiction. Neuroscientist Dr. Susan Ferguson’s use of innovative tools like optogenetics gives insight into the brain circuitry of addiction and could lead to better treatments.
Healthier lifestyles, healthier kids
Dr. Brian Saelens, a psychologist, is helping to solve the riddle of treating childhood obesity and thinks education and guidance may be a promising approach. He studies how to help kids and their parents change behaviors towards eating and exercise with intensive counseling.
Pediatricians Dr. Pooja Tandon and Dr. Jay Mendoza research ways to get children outside, active and eating healthfully. Mendoza studies the use of technology like FitBit and grassroots efforts like Walking School Bus to see how physical activity impacts child development. Tandon’s research illuminates how children from different socioeconomic backgrounds compare in critical outdoor playtime. Her research guides how government and institutions can ensure all children have access to adequate time and space to play.
How digital media impacts a child’s developing brain
Children growing up now experience technology in a way no other generation has. Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, studies the effects of media and technology on the child’s developing brain from infancy to the teenage years. His work drives advice for parents and policymakers on how much screen time children should have each day.
Dr. Megan Moreno, an adolescent medicine specialist, studies how children and teens use social media and smartphones. Her research identifies trends in how young people use social media and helps shape policies for safer use.
Gene and cell therapy give children with immune diseases new hope
Dr. David Rawlings, director of the Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies, studies diseases like HIV and Type 1 diabetes, which damage a child’s immune system. The research uses gene editing to arm the immune system against such conditions, and his research could lead to improved treatments and solutions for chronic immune disorders.
When a child is born with an inherited genetic condition, immunologist Dr. Andrew Scharenberg wants that child to have an effective and early therapy for the best chance at life. His lab works on developing and improving technologies for the next generation of gene editing therapies.
Global reach from local research
When it was found that Zika virus in Brazil caused devastating brain malformations and other symptoms in fetuses, Dr. Bill Dobyns, a neurogeneticist, helped colleagues in Brazil determine the extent of the damage. His knowledge and research of pediatric brain malformations was urgently needed to characterize a new and devastating condition.
Dr. Lakshmi Rajagopal, an infectious disease specialist, focuses on group B streptococcus research that could give newborns around the world a better chance at life. The common infection is easily treatable in pregnant women who live in areas with good medical care, but GBS is responsible for premature births and newborn deaths in developing countries. Her work to understand transmission and infection could save newborns around the globe.
Promoting science education
Dr. Amanda Jones is a microbiologist who studies pediatric infectious diseases, but her main mission is to grow and train the next generation of scientific minds. As director of the Science Education Program, she brings science education to schools that do not have access to adequate STEM resources and bring those students as interns to work side by side with doctors and researchers at the institute’s labs.
Hope for children with rare diseases
Dr. Michael Portman, a cardiologist, researches better treatments for Kawasaki disease, a pediatric autoimmune condition that can cause irreversible damage to the heart. His work could result in improved therapies to preserve heart function in children with the condition, allowing them to live more active lives. Portman is also identifying important risk factors for developing the disease, like high soy consumption, when children are young.
Children diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy have difficult treatment including steroids and intense physical therapy, and even with treatment, the condition will eventually take their ability to walk. Biologist Dr. Lisa Maves studies zebrafish with the same gene that causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy in humans and tests drug combinations that may lead to better treatments and longer lives for these children.
Mitochondrial diseases interfere with how the cells in the body make energy to live and grow, and children with mitochondrial diseases can have a wide range of symptoms from mild to debilitating. Anesthesiologists Dr. Phil Morgan and Dr. Marge Sedensky research mitochondrial function and how environmental factors like anesthetics may be linked to these conditions with the hope of developing improved therapies.