Published by
Stanford Medicine

Author

Global Health, Immunology, Infectious Disease, Pediatrics, Stanford News

Researchers tackle unusual challenge in polio eradication

Researchers tackle unusual challenge in polio eradication

poliovaccinationPolio is a tricky foe. One of the biggest hurdles in the World Health Organization’s polio eradication campaign is that the virus causes no symptoms in 90 percent of people who contract it. But these silently infected individuals can still spread the virus to others by coughing, sneezing or shedding it in their feces. And those they infect may become permanently paralyzed by or die.

Polio’s evasiveness has also led to a big speed bump on the road to eliminate the disease. As I report in the current issue of Inside Stanford Medicine, scientists are trying to figure out how to stop a form of poliovirus that is derived from one type of  polio vaccine. Oral vaccines, which consist of live poliovirus that has been inactivated, can occasionally mutate in someone’s intestines to regain infectiousness. And, in rare instances, these viruses escape to the environment in feces, spreading to other people via sewage-contaminated water.

These “circulating vaccine-derived viruses” are threatening to overtake naturally occurring, “wild” poliovirus as the main source of paralysis in the communities where polio persists. The CDC’s most recent report on polio infections in Nigeria says that during the first nine months of 2014, the vaccine-derived viruses caused 22 cases of paralyzing poliomyletis, whereas wild virus caused six cases, for instance.

To tackle the problem, researchers are investigating how the injected polio vaccine, which is made with killed virus, might be substituted for the oral vaccine. The injected vaccine has some potential disadvantages for use in developing countries, so it’s not necessarily an easy substitution. In my story, Stanford’s Yvonne Maldonado, MD, who is studying the problem with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explains:

“We don’t really understand how well the killed vaccine is going to work in kids in developing countries, where there is lots of exposure to sewage, and malnutrition leaves children with weakened immune systems,” Maldonado said.

Her Gates Foundation grant examines semi-rural communities in Mexico where children now receive routine doses of the killed vaccine, followed by twice-a-year doses of the live vaccine.

“It’s an opportunity for us to study a natural experiment,” Maldonado said. Her team wants to know if the primary immune response to the killed vaccine will reduce shedding and transmission of later doses of live vaccine. They hope that starting with one or more doses of the injected vaccine will give kids the best of both worlds: from the shot, protection against circulating vaccine-derived viruses; from the oral vaccine, intestinal immunity.

Previously: TED talk discusses the movement to eradicate polio and New dollar-a-dose vaccine cuts life-threatening rotavirus complications by half
Photo of children in South Sudan receiving oral polio vaccine by United Nations Photo

Ebola, Events, Genetics, Global Health, Patient Care, Pediatrics, Stanford News

Global health and precision medicine: Highlights from day two of Stanford’s Childx conference

Global health and precision medicine: Highlights from day two of Stanford's Childx conference

Childx Shah“I do think it’s possible to end preventable child death.” Those were the powerful words spoken by Rajiv Shah, MD, the former administrator of USAID, during his keynote address at the start of the second day of Stanford’s recent Childx conference. More than 6 million children die each year before age 5, mostly of easily preventible diseases, Shah told the audience.

Shah went on to describe some of the more daunting health and humanitarian crises he faced during his 5-year tenure at the helm of United States Agency for International Development, including the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the Somali famine that he helped to address with the U.S. government’s Feed the Future program. Speaking about visiting a severely overcrowded Somali refugee camp, he said, “If you looked closely, you saw signs of hope and innovation.” For instance, children were receiving the pentavalent vaccine that protects against five serious childhood diseases and that was, until quite recently, considered too expensive to distribute in this type of setting.

Shah also described how a rapid redesign of protective gear for health-care workers fighting Ebola was essential to helping get the highly contagious illness under control: The old gear was much too hot and cumbersome, as well as being difficult to remove safely, and may have been a factor in the high rates of infection among health care workers early in the Ebola outbreak. Several partners, including NASA, the Department of Defense, Kimberly-Clark and Motorola, worked together to make new protective equipment that was easier to use and better suited to intense heat.

Our capacity to innovate is essential for solving global health problems, Shah concluded. “…Saving children’s lives in resource-poor settings is not just… great and morally important,” he said. “It actually creates more stability in communities.” Families have fewer children and invest more in the education of those kids, including the girls, and the surrounding society begins to look more stable and prosperous, he said. Innovation and technology in the arena of child health are important “not just for health purposes but for shaping the kind of world that keeps us safe, secure and prosperous over many decades.”

Continue Reading »

Events, Health Policy, Pediatrics, Stanford News

Innovating for kids’ health: More from first day of Stanford’s Childx

Innovating for kids' health: More from first day of Stanford's Childx

Childx table“We are at the precipice of massive change in health care.”

That was the message from pediatrician Alan Greene, MD, speaking during a Thursday afternoon session on accelerating innovation in child and maternal health at Stanford’s inaugural Childx conference. (The conference continues today and will be live tweeted from @StanfordMed.)

Greene, a practicing pediatrician who in 1995 launched one of the very first websites to provide patients with health information, knows a thing or two about innovating in health care. “Patients are the biggest underused resource in medicine, and moms and their kids are the biggest underused resource in pediatrics,” he said, noting that the idea for his website came from the parents of his patients.

The kind of innovation he anticipates in medicine is happening elsewhere in society first, Greene said. Car service Uber and accommodation website Airbnb have rapidly become global leaders not because they own fleets of cars or chains of hotels but because “they have used people, existing resources, data and software to create this magic that just sprung out of nowhere, seemingly,” he said. Now, we’re on the verge of parallel changes in crowd-sourced medicine, for instance with patients now able to contribute their data to research through the quantified-self movement and with user-oriented collaborative medicine, which will allow patients not just to participate in research but also to help shape the research questions.

After Greene’s presentation, three Stanford scientists spoke about their approaches to innovation. Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, described Stanford’s SPARK program, now in its ninth year, that she launched to help scientists take their medical innovations past the “valley of death” – the gap between research and clinical use that kills many good ideas before they help patients. To date, the program has moved an impressive 57 percent of its projects to companies for clinical trials or pre-clinical trial work, or to clinical trials that are being conducted at Stanford itself.

Continue Reading »

Events, Health Policy, Pediatrics, Public Health, Research, Stanford News

“What we’re really talking about is changing the arc of children’s lives”: Stanford’s Childx kicks off

"What we're really talking about is changing the arc of children's lives": Stanford's Childx kicks off

Childx Guttmacher

Stanford’s Childx conference got off to a great start today. Shortly after Lloyd Minor, dean of the medical school, welcomed the attendees, keynote speaker Alan Guttmacher, MD, director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development, took the stage to talk about how scientific research needs to evolve to continue to advance children’s health.

Pediatric research has reached an inflection point, Guttmacher said. “I really believe the fundamental questions we need to ask are different,” he said. “This isn’t about health in a narrowly defined way. What we’re really talking about is changing the arc of children’s lives, and the medical model is useful but not sufficient.”

He mentioned several successes from the history of pediatric medicine, including large reductions in infectious disease, better care for preterm babies, and the “Back to Sleep” public health campaign that cut newborn deaths from SIDS by more than half. But he also highlighted several areas where children’s health now needs research that goes beyond a strictly medical approach to integrate social and environmental factors, such as learning how to prevent preterm birth, help children with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities participate more fully in society, understand how children’s lives are changed by cyberbullying, and make medical and ethical decisions about the possible use of newborns’ genomic data.

He anticipates that this type of research will bring new strength to pediatricians’ interactions with patients and their families. “I would hope that the pediatric practice of the future, in terms of anticipatory guidance, won’t be about the next six weeks, six months or even six years of [the child’s] life; it’ll be about the next six decades,” he said.

“We need to be a society that values children,” Guttmacher concluded, adding that we should view children as a shared societal responsibility and also a shared societal investment. He challenged the audience of pediatric researchers to ask themselves, “What do we need to do to … change the nature of research that would make real change, not just small blips, in the lives, especially of kids in the United States and globally?”

Continue Reading »

Global Health, Pediatrics, Sexual Health, Women's Health

Rape prevention program in Kenya attracting media attention, funding

Rape prevention program in Kenya attracting media attention, funding

stop rape signI’ve written previously about No Means No Worldwide, a non-profit that has partnered with several Stanford researchers to document the success of their self-defense programs for preventing rapes of girls in Nairobi, Kenya. Over the last week, the program has garnered some wonderful news coverage of its complementary program to educate boys about their responsibility for stopping rape, including a Reuters story that describes how some schoolboys halted the sexual assault of a young girl:

Having been trained to defend girls against sexual assault, the boy called other young men to help him confront the man and rescue the child.

“It would have been fatal,” said Collins Omondi, who taught the boy as part of a program to stamp out violence against women and girls in Nairobi slums. “If this man would have assaulted this kid, he would have thrown her inside the river.”

The Reuters story also mentions some very heartening news: Thanks to funding from the British government, all of Nairobi’s 130,000 secondary school students will undergo the six-week No Means No Worldwide programs for girls and boys by the end of 2017.

Upworthy has also covered the programs’ success. From their story:

In many parts of the world, assault prevention starts and ends with what women can do to avoid putting themselves in “high-risk” situations. These are not effective.

Researchers used Kenya’s scenario to test the two methods. One group of women received the No Means No [empowerment and self-defense] training while the other took a life-skills class. Girls who received the No Means No training saw a nearly 40% decrease in rapes in the year following the program. Girls who took the life-skills offering were raped at the same rate.

Not only is teaching women how to avoid “high-risk” situations ineffective, but it shifts the blame to the victim for being raped instead of putting it on the rapist for actually committing the crime.

Committing a crime is a choice, and the No Means No program empowers young boys to choose not to commit that crime.

Previously: Empowerment training prevents rape of Kenyan girls and Self-defense training reduces rapes in Kenya
Photo by Steve McClaughin

Events, Global Health, Health Disparities, Pediatrics, Stanford News

Countdown to Childx: Global health expert Gary Darmstadt on improving newborn survival

Countdown to Childx: Global health expert Gary Darmstadt on improving newborn survival

newborn-IndiaEach year, around the world, almost 3 million babies die in the first month of life. But it doesn’t have to be that way: For many newborns, simple changes in their care could make the difference between life and death.

I spoke about this conundrum recently with global health expert Gary Darmstadt, MD, who will be among the panelists at this week’s Childx conference at Stanford. Darmstadt, who recently arrived at Stanford from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has focused much of his career on improving newborn health in developing countries. The key, he says, is engaging community members as full partners in creating the solutions for how to care for newborns. Excerpts of our conversation appear below.

Registration for the Childx conference is still open, and those who can’t attend in person can watch the conference’s live stream at the Childx website.

Preterm birth has just passed pneumonia as the No.1 cause of death, worldwide, for children under age 5, and yet many deaths from prematurity could be prevented with simple, low-tech interventions. What needs to change?

We’ve known since the late 1970s that kangaroo mother care, in which the mother keeps the infant on her chest next to her skin, is very effective. But the rate of adoption has been very poor, about 5 percent globally in 35 years.

It was originally conceived as a substitute for an incubator: By holding babies skin-to-skin you provide a constant source of warmth. What I think happened was that, by making kangaroo mother care a medical intervention rather than a natural behavior, we’ve stigmatized it. Mothers may think, “If I was a rich person, my baby would be in an incubator. Being a provider of kangaroo mother care tells me something about me and my baby: We’re second class.”

We need to communicate that kangaroo mother care is for every baby, everywhere. It’s not just something that poor people get if there aren’t enough incubators. Yes, there are situations where an incubator is helpful, but in many ways kangaroo mother care is superior. An incubator can’t provide a mother’s heartbeat or the feel of her breathing, her voice and her touch. It can’t provide breast milk. It’s not something you form a bond with that lasts for a lifetime. People have picked up the message that the medical device is superior, and they may feel like “I’m an inferior version of a medical device” rather than understanding that the medical device is, for many babies, an inferior attempt to produce what the mother or other family members can provide.

What are some key examples from your research of how social and environmental approaches can help improve infants’ health and survival?

I’m part of a team that worked closely with communities in India to understand how they perceive newborns’ needs and their issues in dealing with them. From there, we developed a simple package of preventive care. It consisted of things like holding babies skin-to-skin, breastfeeding, keeping infants warm, and basic hygiene. Once it was implemented, we saw a 50 percent reduction in neonatal mortality over a 16 month period.

We found, for example, that these communities had no real concept that hypothermia was bad for babies. They had a term for fever and understood that fever was a danger signal, but didn’t have a word that brought the connotation of harm or danger together with cold for babies. When we realized that, the community ended up coming up with a term – they called hypothermia “cold fever.” It created a whole new dialogue around hypothermia, and new openness to trying things that might be helpful to your baby, particularly skin-to-skin care.

What we really sought to do was to bring the science into language that was simple and related to their everyday experience. So the messaging became, “In the same way that when you bathe in the river, when you come out, you feel cold and wrap yourself in a sari, when a baby is born, it’s wet and feels cold, and we need to wrap up the baby for the baby’s protection.” Without understanding the social construct, the environment, we couldn’t come up with those simple messages that would become part of the social fabric.

Continue Reading »

Patient Care, Pregnancy, Stanford News, Women's Health

New obstetric hemorrhage tool kit released today

New obstetric hemorrhage tool kit released today

pregnantbelly-3A few years ago, when my niece was born, my sister had a severe postpartum hemorrhage. I remember getting off the phone with my mom, who had just delivered the simultaneous news of the baby’s birth and my sister’s serious condition, and feeling terrified. My sister was being taken into surgery to try to stop the bleeding. What if she died? In the U.S., deaths from postpartum hemorrhage are rare, but they do happen.

The first thing that gave me a sense of reassurance, strangely, was a search of the medical database PubMed. After I got off the phone, I sat at my laptop looking at a multicolored flow chart that summarized how to stop an obstetric hemorrhage. All of the steps taken by my sister’s medical team were listed. Although she was hundreds of miles away, I felt comforted by the knowledge that her doctors were following well-established, evidence-based guidelines for what to do.

It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I realized the flow chart was developed by doctors I know. It was part of the Obstetric Hemorrhage Toolkit, a set of guidelines published by the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC). I had first heard of the toolkit from a Stanford obstetric anesthesiologist who helped put it together, but had never imagined it might save someone in my family.

The toolkit was developed because maternal hemorrhages are rare, risky, and extremely time-sensitive. The kit gives medical teams the information they need to rehearse for, recognize and treat these hemorrhages immediately, without wasting minutes that could save the patient’s life.

Today, the CMQCC is releasing a new version of the toolkit. The update strengthens several areas of the kit, providing clearer parameters for use of certain medications and blood products and more information about how to support patients and families after a maternal hemorrhage, for instance.

And the flow chart I found calming is still there, on page 21 of this .pdf file. I’m so happy to see it again because, for me, it symbolizes the doctors, patients and families who will benefit from the kit in the future.

As for my family’s story, my mom called back later on the evening of my niece’s birth to tell me that the bleeding had stopped and my sister was recovering. Her introduction to motherhood was rougher than most, but today my sister and her daughter are fine: My favorite moment of a recent family gathering was seeing my chubby-cheeked niece racing toward me yelling “Aunnnnntie Errrrin!” with my beloved sister in hot pursuit behind her.

Previously: In poorest countries, increase in midwives could save mothers and their babies, Cardiac arrest in pregnancy: New consensus statement addresses CPR for expectant moms and Program focuses on treatment of placental disorders
Photo by bies

Events, Pediatrics, Public Health, Research, Stanford News

Countdown to Childx: Q&A with pediatric health expert Alan Guttmacher

Countdown to Childx: Q&A with pediatric health expert Alan Guttmacher

jumpforjoyIt’s just a few weeks until the inaugural Childx conference, a TED-style meeting at Stanford that will highlight innovations in health problems of pregnancy, infancy and childhood. (Conference registration for the April 2-3 event is still open, with details available on the conference website.) Childx is attracting nationally and internationally prominent speakers: keynotes will be given by Alan Guttmacher, MD, head of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and by Rajiv Shah, MD, former head of USAID.

I spoke recently with Guttmacher about the upcoming conference. Because I spend most of my time working with scientists who focus their attention on specific research niches within obstetric and pediatric medicine, I was interested in getting his take on the “big picture” of these fields. An edited version of our conversation is below.

What are you planning to say in your keynote address at the Childx conference?

Children’s lives are about more than just health. While biomedical research is crucial to improving kids’ lives, we should put it in the larger context of kids’ lives and do not just research that has an impact on health, but also on children’s overall well-being.

Within the health sphere, I’ll talk about several areas where we need more research. We need to study how to do a better job of preventing prematurity, both to gain a better understanding of biological and environmental causes of preterm birth, and also of how to do a better job of employing the knowledge we already have.

Another topic I’ll address is vaccination: How do we both pursue the science of vaccination to figure out how to make more vaccines more effective, and also, how do we work with parents so they make decisions about kids’ lives that are in the best interests of the kids and are evidence based, rather than based on, say, something they recently read on the web?

I’ll also discuss the developmental origins of health and disease. Pediatricians have always been very invested in anticipatory guidance, telling families about the kinds of things to do to prevent future disease for their children. But this goes farther; this is the idea that health factors, not only in childhood but even in utero, have lifelong impact on health. For instance, what happens in pregnancy potentially has large impact on whether someone develops hypertension in their 60s or 70s. We’re beginning to do science that will tell us the connections between early factors and later health, that will actually influence health along the entire age span. It’s an area of very important research.

And I’ll address intellectual and developmental disabilities. We need research to figure out how to more effectively prevent intellectual and developmental disabilities, research to understand how to allow kids who have these disabilities to function more effectively in society, and also research to figure out how to have society function better in the lives of kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Continue Reading »

Pediatrics, Pregnancy, Stanford News, Surgery

A difficult decision that saved three young lives

A difficult decision that saved three young lives

Estrada-Triplets_013I first met Lily Estrada and her identical triplets almost a year ago. The three babies, who were nearly ready to go home from Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, looked pretty ordinary. In fact, that’s why I love the photo at the right, which was taken at the time. Baby Pedro, in blue, was gazing at his mom; Ayden, in orange, was wiggling; and William, in grey, was sucking contentedly on his pacifier.

But they had survived an extraordinarily complicated and rare prenatal disorder. The single placenta that connected all three boys to their mother during pregnancy developed a vascular problem called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. Blood flowing through the placenta was not being shared equally between the fetuses, straining their hearts and putting all of them at risk of dying before birth.

When Estrada was diagnosed in late 2013, she and her husband, Guillermo Luevanos, faced a difficult decision. A surgery on the placenta might help save the babies, but it was by no means a sure bet. And, at the time, no one at Stanford performed the procedure, although a new partnership between our maternal-fetal medicine experts and their counterparts at Texas Children’s Hospital, in Houston, provided an opportunity for Estrada to be treated there. In the Stanford Medicine magazine story I wrote about the case, Estrada described how her family felt:

“We were saddened and sort of confused,” Estrada says, recalling the first reactions that she and her husband had to the news. “It was: We could wait and see what happened, but the likelihood was that we were going to have no baby, or we could terminate one and see what happened with the other two, or take the risk, go to Houston, have the surgery and hope it worked for all three. But they didn’t guarantee anything.”

One piece of background that helped inform the couple’s decision was the fact that when the surgery worked, research had shown it helped moms stay pregnant about four weeks longer, allowing their babies more time to develop before birth. (Because the uterus gets so crowded, twins and other multiples are almost always born early, but a less premature delivery makes a huge difference for the babies’ health.) Sealing the connecting blood vessels also seemed to protect surviving fetuses in the event that one died. “We’re separating, or attempting to separate, their fates,” [Estrada’s obstetrician] Yair Blumenfeld, MD, says.

After a lot of counseling and discussion with the Stanford team, “we decided to go for it and do surgery,” Estrada says.

Once they had made the choice, they had no second thoughts. “My husband was a little bit stronger,” Estrada recalls. “He just wanted me to go for it, and see what happened.”

triplets-medresThe surgery, performed at Texas Children’s by Michael Belfort, MD, PhD, was a success. And, as my story describes, the collaboration between the two institutions is going well, too. Stanford researcher Christopher Contag, PhD, and colleagues are studying how to make better and safer surgical tools for future maternal-fetal surgeries, while surgeons here have advanced their capabilities and now offer the surgery for twin-to-twin transfusion here in Palo Alto.

Meanwhile, William, Ayden and Pedro are doing well. My favorite moment in preparing the story was when I got to see our new photo of them, above. As their mom told me, “They’re really happy babies.”

Previously: NIH puts focus on the placenta, the “fascinating” and “least understood” organStanford Medicine magazine reports on time’s intersection with healthPlacenta: the video game and Program focuses on the treatment of placental disorders
Photo of triplets as infants by Norbert von der Groeben; photo of triplets as toddlers by Gregg Segal

otolaryngology, Patient Care, Pediatrics, Research

A serendipitous save that changed treatment of the most common tumor of infancy

A serendipitous save that changed treatment of the most common tumor of infancy

IsabellaManley1stgrade-cropAt research institutions like Stanford, we often talk about the value of evidence-based medical care, the kind based on careful scientific comparisons of which treatments work best.

But sometimes, even the best-studied treatments fail. That’s what happened in 2008, when a baby named Isabella Manley was brought by her parents from their Sacramento, Calif., home to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford because of a tumor in her trachea that threatened to block her breathing. Her case illustrates that serendipity sometimes plays a key role in medical success.

Isabella had a hemangioma, the most common tumor of infancy. Most hemangiomas, which consist of extra blood vessels, create harmless red marks on a baby’s skin that fade with time. Isabella’s was much more serious. Although her doctors tried all the hemangioma treatments then reported in the medical literature, including high-powered steroid drugs and two types of surgery, her breathing problems persisted. Pediatric otolaryngologist Kay Chang, MD, who oversaw her care at Stanford, ordered an MRI to find out why. A story I wrote about her case explains what happened next:

“We found, to our horror, that this hemangioma was massive, surrounding her entire windpipe and also her heart,” Chang said.

“It was becoming tangled into every structure in her neck and crawling down into her chest,” said Mai Thy Truong, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist now with the hospital’s vascular malformations clinic.

… The tumor was too extensive for surgery and was still growing. Truong and Chang feared that it would soon block Isabella’s airway. They were not sure they could save her.

Continue Reading »

Stanford Medicine Resources: