Richard Merkhofer Receives F30 Grant from NIH
Congratulations to Richard Merkhofer, graduate student in the Klein Laboratory, on funding of his Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F30) for MD/PhD and Other Dual Degrees from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIH-NIMHD). This 4-year, fellowship, in the amount of $161,276, is under the sponsorship of Bruce Klein, MD, and the purpose is to enhance the integrated research and clinical training of promising predoctoral students who are matriculated in a combined MD/PhD or other dual-doctoral degree training program, and who intend careers as physician-scientists or other clinician-scientists. Richard's project, "Pathogenesis of fungal infectious disease in the Hmong population," will study the in-born susceptibility known to exist in the Hmong population, to the dimorphic fungal disease blastomycosis. His research will characterize how variation in the immune response leads to pathology in the Hmong population, which may identify novel targets for precise medical treatment of disease related to dysregulation of the IL-17 response, which includes fungal infections, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
Study Identifies Patients Who Benefit Most From Dinutuximab-based Immunotherapy
Using data from a randomized phase III clinical trial of neuroblastoma patients (treated with or without immunotherapy) performed by the Children’s Oncology Group, researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that a subset of patients, identified by the presence of a certain set of genes, were more likely to benefit from the immunotherapy than those patients that did not have that set of genes.
The trial, which involved 226 patients, was led by the Children’s Oncology Group, a coalition of research institutions across the country. The organization previously reported that the group of high-risk neuroblastoma patients that were treated with the immunotherapy regimen [dinutuximab (Unituxin), aldesleukin and sargramostim] in combination with isotretinoin had significantly improved event-free and overall survival as compared to patients that received isotretinoin alone.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Amy Erbe and Wei Wang, in the lab of Dr. Paul Sondel, led an effort to determine if individual genetic differences could influence clinical response to this immunotherapy. Dinutuximab is a monoclonal antibody that can kill cancer cells by activating natural killer (NK) cells. Killer Immunoglobulin-like Receptors (KIRs), a family of certain proteins expressed by NK cells, have different genetic patterns that can influence how well the NK cells use dinituximab to kill cancer cells. Dr. Sondel’s research team received DNA from 174 of the 226 patients that were enrolled in the clinical trial, and assessed how the pattern of KIR genes in each patient influenced outcome.
The study found that patients with a certain combination of four genes – (genes that inhibit NK cells) had improved outcomes with the immunotherapy. In contrast those patients without that combination of those four genes did not seem to have improvement from the immunotherapy.
Dr. Dipesh Navsaria Named Medical Director of UW-Madison Physician Assistant Program
In July 2017, Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, became the new medical director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Physician Assistant Program.
Dr. Navsaria is an associate professor (CHS) in the Department of Pediatrics' Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and a general pediatrician at Access Community Health Centers Joyce & Marshall Erdman Clinic in Madison.
Before becoming a physician, he graduated from the George Washington University Physician Assistant Studies Program in 1998 and practiced as a pediatric PA for three years.
He began teaching in the PA Program in 2007 and currently directs the SMPH’s MD–MPH program. He's also the founder and medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin.
Dr. Navsaria is excited by the PA Program’s success and its “agile, collegial, dynamic atmosphere.” He has interests in developing students’ advanced history-taking and patient-communication skills, but is working with faculty to identify how he can best serve the program.
Dr. Inga Hofmann Named Medical Director of Program for Advanced Cell Therapy
The Program for Advanced Cell Therapy (PACT), a collaboration of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and UW Carbone Cancer Center, has chosen its first medical director.
Dr. Inga Hofmann, assistant professor of pediatric hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplant at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH), will assume the medical director role at the recently completed $1 million addition to the Clinical Hematopoietic Cell Processing Laboratory at University Hospital.
“Dr. Hofmann will be an incredible asset to our team because she brings her Dana-Farber expertise in clinical science for bone marrow disorders for the benefit of children and adults in need of novel experimental cell therapies,” said Dr. Jacques Galipeau, PACT director, and assistant dean of therapeutics discovery and development in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
Hofmann will manage the interaction between patients, SMPH, American Family Children’s Hospital clinical trials office and PACT as the program works to develop manufactured hematopoietic cells, enhanced lymphocytes, mesenchymal stem cells and other cell types for clinical trials.
She will work directly with her colleagues in the pediatric and adult bone marrow transplant program at UW Health to extract or inject stem cells in patients and integrate the Food and Drug Administration-sanctioned clinical trials that PACT will execute.
Exposure to Pet and Pest Allergens During Infancy Linked to Reduced Asthma Risk
Children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy have a lower risk of developing asthma by seven years of age, new research supported by the National Institutes of Health reveals. The findings, published September 19 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, may provide clues for the design of strategies to prevent asthma from developing.
While previous studies have established that reducing allergen exposure in the home helps control established asthma, the new findings suggest that exposure to certain allergens early in life, before asthma develops, may have a preventive effect.
The observations come from the ongoing Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) study, which is funded by NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) through its Inner-City Asthma Consortium.
“Our observations imply that exposure to a broad variety of indoor allergens, bacteria and bacterial products early in life may reduce the risk of developing asthma,” said Dr. James E. Gern, the principal investigator of URECA and a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Additional research may help us identify specific targets for asthma prevention strategies.”
David Bernhardt, MD, Awarded the 2017 Shaffer Award
Congratulations to David Bernhardt, MD, who was recently awarded the 2017 Shaffer Award, sponsored by Nationwide Children's Hospital. This prestigious award from the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (COSMF) recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the field of pediatric sports medicine by displaying leadership and vision, providing quality presentations, and publishing documents relevant to this specialty. Recipients receive a plaque, honorarium, and reimbursement for expenses to attend the COSMF H program, which was held at the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition, September 16 in Chicago.
CLR 131 Found to Broadly Target Pediatric Solid Tumors
According to a new study by UW Carbone Cancer Center (UWCCC) researchers, a broadly applicable cancer therapy currently being developed by Cellectar Biosciences may have the potential to work in pediatric solid tumors.
CLR 131 (formerly known as CLR1404) delivers high doses of cell-killing radioactive iodine specifically to cancer cells. It could become the first targeted, molecular radiotherapy to be tested in clinical trials that treats a broad variety of solid tumors in children.
“Translating our findings in a pediatric clinical trial will be huge because, for the first time, we could offer molecular targeted radiotherapy for practically all pediatric solid tumors, including brain tumors,” said Dr. Mario Otto, a pediatric oncologist and researcher with UWCCC and American Family Children’s Hospital. “But it’s also huge from a regulatory standpoint. Pediatric cancers are relatively rare, so getting cancer-specific drugs or clinical trial protocols developed is very difficult.”
Many pediatric cancers have very poor overall survival rates once they relapse or if they do not respond to initial standard treatments. Radiotherapy plays an important role in the successful treatment of these cancers. However, if the cancer has metastasized to many sites, external beam radiotherapy becomes impracticable and too harmful to healthy body tissues.
For metastatic cancers, a more useful form of radiation therapy injects targeted radioactive substances to reach tumor cells throughout the body. With the exception of a neuroblastoma drug, these radioactive substances do not exist to treat pediatric cancers.
The drug CLR 131 broadly targets cancer cells due to the specific makeup of tumor cell membranes while sparing healthy tissue. CLR 131 had already been tested in models of adult cancers and found to target cancer cells with very high specificity, and is currently being tested in clinical trials in adult cancers.
The study was published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.
Sue Burke, Amy Cashin Named to 2017 Elizabeth S. Pringle Award Roll of Honor
Department of Pediatrics Chair Dr. Ellen Wald congratulates Sue Burke, chair's office administrative coordinator, and Amy Cashin, cardiology coordinator, on being named to the 2017 Elizabeth S. Pringle Award Roll of Honor! These nominations were for University Staff office support and came from peers, taking the following criteria into account:
- Promoting the image of the department or university through continual extension of service and courtesy to students, employees and the public
- Consistently promoting excellence in him/herself and colleagues
- Exhibiting leadership and maintaining grace under pressure/deadlines/crisis situations
- Initiating/recommending innovative ideas which are implemented and result in better service or efficiency
- Community service outside the university or within the university but not part of job responsibilities
- Behavior or personality that makes the workplace more pleasant
Please know how much we appreciate your efforts and the vital role you play in supporting the missions of our department and contributing to its success!
American Family Children's Hospital Turns 10
In August 2017, American Family Children's Hospital – a place that has played a key role in the lives of thousands of children - joined the 10-year-old birthday club.
Incredibly, a decade has passed since about 50 hospitalized kids were transported from the old University of Wisconsin Children's Hospital (located inside University Hospital) to a modern, state-of-the-art facility made possible through much persistence and an unbelievably generous amount of community support.
Quality pediatric care has always been a hallmark of UW Health, but it wasn't very long ago that its children's hospital left something to be desired in terms of space and amenities. Prior to the 2007 opening of American Family Children's Hospital, UW's 61 pediatric inpatient rooms were private but cramped – about the size of a nice walk-in closet. Parents typically slept in reclining chairs or cots, while "special touch" amenities to help make life in the hospital a little easier were sparse.
After some collaborative discussions, Madison-based American Family Insurance in 2003 provided the catalyst to turn what seemed like a distant hope into reality by announcing a $10 million naming gift to build a world-class children's hospital that would be separate from - but connected to - University Hospital in Madison.
Study: Early Farm Exposure Mitigates Respiratory Illnesses, Allergies and Skin Rashes
Exposure to dairy farms early in life may dramatically reduce the frequency and severity of respiratory illnesses, allergies and chronic skin rashes among young children, according to a collaborative study by Dr. Christine Seroogy, Dr. James Gern and researchers at the Marshfield Clinic.
“Seeing decreased allergies in farm-exposed children from the Marshfield area is in agreement with similar findings in Western Europe that found farm exposure is linked to allergic disease and wheezing illnesses,” said Seroogy. “But this is the first study to show an association between farm exposure and reduced medically-attended respiratory illnesses.”
The study, published online by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, was conducted in the Marshfield Epidemiologic Study Area. It compared 268 children ages five to 17 who lived on a dairy farm from birth to five years to 247 children who live in a rural area but never lived on a farm. The study included the use of questionnaires and review of electronic medical records.
Conditions that were significantly less common in farm-exposed children were allergic rhinitis or hay fever (17 percent compared to 28 percent) and eczema (7 percent versus 19 percent). The study found children born onto dairy farms had much less severe respiratory illnesses during the first two years of life (16 percent in farm infants compared to 31 percent in non-farm infants.)
“These findings suggest that environmental exposures or other elements of the farming lifestyle help kids to be resistant to both allergies and viral respiratory illnesses,” said Gern.