Leading Progress in Pediatrics

Federal Funding Drives Research Into Key Areas of Children's Health

Children Playing

Working directly with patients isn’t the only way Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) advances medicine. The hospital also conducts important research with partners such as Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS). At The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital (BMSCH) at RWJUH, part of the Children’s Health Network at RWJBarnabas Health, significant research grants are propelling studies across the breadth of pediatrics. “We’ve increased our overall research funding portfolio about tenfold in recent years,” says Sally Radovick, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Physician-in-Chief at BMSCH. “We have 16 divisions in pediatrics; each has at least one ongoing research program, and some have multiple programs. Many of our researchers have international reputations.” Two researchers recently secured federal funding to look into areas critical to children’s health.

Protecting Brains

Vadim Ten, MD, PhD, a neonatal and perinatal medicine physician, is trying to unlock the secrets of poorly understood processes critical to brain development and health in prematurely born babies, especially at and after birth. One of his NIH grants pertains to hypoxic-ischemic brain damage that can occur if babies are deprived of blood nutrients and oxygen supply around the time of birth. Following successful resuscitation, cooling the brain protects cells against post-ischemic injury, but cold stress, by increasing oxygen demand, may limit this neuroprotective effect.

“The mechanism of neuroprotection exerted by hypothermia is not clearly known,” says Dr. Ten, who is a leading researcher on how immature brains regulate energy and oxygen use. “If we understand the mechanism better, we can optimize therapies.”

Another NIH grant funds research on mechanisms of brain myelination failure in premature infants. Primary brain myelination is a process that occurs between 22 and 40 weeks of human gestation and sheathes nerve fibers called axons with a protective layer known as myelin. Premature babies can miss a window of opportunity for myelin to form, resulting in permanent neurological deficits. Dr. Ten, in collaboration with other researchers, investigates how compounds related to omega-3 fatty acids may prevent arrested myelination and help protect immature brains against injury following severe oxygen deprivation.

Understanding COVID-19

Lawrence Kleinman, MD, MPH, a pediatric medicine specialist and director of Pediatric Population Health, Quality and Implementation Sciences (PopQuIS) at RWJMS, is engaged in collaborative efforts to better understand how COVID-19 affects children. As part of a federally funded initiative called Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER), Dr. Kleinman is lead investigator for the Collaborative Long-Term Study of Outcomes of COVID-19 in Kids (CLOCK) consortium, which is a nationwide collaboration led by him and Rutgers. He’s also been instrumental in developing another national collaborative network to identify factors that may allow clinicians or public health officials to predict which children are at greatest risk of serious illness from the virus.

This research has uncovered proteins and genes that may play a role in disease outcomes, which could lead to biomarker tests that flag high-risk kids. Analysis is also revealing predictors related not only to clinical history but also to social and demographic factors.

“We’re actively recruiting children and young adults up to age 25 for our research,” Dr. Kleinman says. “As an academic medical center, BMSCH partners closely with Rutgers, and this integration offers people in the community access to these and other leading-edge research studies.”

A Wealth of Research

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, in partnership with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, conducts wide-ranging research into pediatric health, including efforts like these:

  • Disease-focused initiatives in areas such as cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, fragile X syndrome and genetic disorders affecting the adrenal glands
  • Vaccine trials such as for COVID-19
  • Clinical trials and basic scientific research into leukemia and other cancers
  • Research on childhood and pubertal development
  • Investigations into pediatric rheumatology and conditions such as juvenile arthritis
  • An endocrinology program in transgender medicine
  • A pediatric clinical research center that provides opportunities to receive novel therapies
  • Extensive research into population and community health