Los Angeles Children’s Hospital receives $ 2 million to help tackle negative childhood experiences
LOS ANGELES–(COMMERCIAL THREAD) – Los Angeles Children’s Hospital received a $ 2 million grant from the State of California to study a precision medicine approach to screening for adverse childhood experiences in children. The three-year grant, which is part of the California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine—Was announced by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, in partnership with the Office of the California Surgeon General.
Adverse childhood experiences, also known as ECA, are potentially traumatic events early in life, such as neglect, abuse, racism, witnesses of violence, and economic hardship. These events can lead to toxic stress, a physiological response to severe adversity. ACEs can increase the risk of childhood developmental delay, as well as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and mental illness later in life.
The Children’s Hospital Los Angeles study aims to improve early detection of ACE by using precision medicine to identify specific biomarkers of stress early in life. Almost two-thirds of children in the United States have had at least one ACE, and 15-20% have had four or more.
“Excessive childhood experiences can cause toxic stress in children, and many studies have shown that this can have lifelong consequences for health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and mental illness. Says the principal principal investigator. Pat Levitt, PhD, scientific director, vice-president and director of Saban Research Institute from the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and the Simms / Mann Chair in Developmental Neurogenetics. “To improve outcomes for these children, we need to identify those most at risk as early as possible, because early interventions promote the best outcomes. “
“Red flag warning”
Currently, the only method of screening for ACE involves questionnaires for parents and caregivers. But screening rates are generally low in pediatric practices, and questionnaires are unable to identify which babies and children have a toxic stress response.
The Los Angeles Children’s Hospital team will investigate a potential new screening method that combines a robust questionnaire, the Pediatric ACEs Screening and Related Life Events Screener (PEARLS), with the development of a new laboratory test that measures potential disruption of critical cell structures called mitochondria, which are responsible for producing energy for cells to function normally. The biomarker measures the mitochondrial allostatic load (MAL). The group aims to show that MAL measures are a “warning flag” for toxic stress in infants.
Researchers from the Saban Research Institute and the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine will develop and test three different new tests to measure MAL in babies. This is the first time that such a test will be used in children. Samples will be collected using simple, painless oral swabs. Additionally, mothers will complete questionnaires, including the PEARLS questionnaire, and researchers will assess infant cognitive development and use new computerized methods to assess mother-baby interactions with colleagues at USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
The multidisciplinary collaboration brings together experts in precision medicine, clinical test development and validation, pediatric health care, child development, infant mental health, the use of new metrics to identify the health risks associated with stress and research on improving health equity.
“We believe this multi-pronged approach will improve our understanding of the mitochondrial stress associated with ACEs and ultimately lead to a cost-effective test that could be readily adopted by pediatricians statewide,” said the co-investigator. Xiaowu Gai, PhD, director of bioinformatics for the Personalized Medicine Center at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital.
The team aims to recruit 300 mother-baby pairs into the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital / AltaMed Health Services General Pediatric Community Clinic study. The two-decade partnership between Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and AltaMed has brought pediatric expertise to child care in local communities. AltaMed, one of the largest federally licensed health centers in the United States, provides care to medically underserved families in Southern California.
Families who test positive for ACEs will be referred to intervention services through a Los Angeles Children’s Hospital Behavioral Health Program that specializes in family-centered infant mental health and led by Marian Williams, PhD, Director of the Infant and Family Mental Health Program Stein Tikun Olam.
“Stress early in life is not evenly distributed,” says lead researcher Rajan Sonik, PhD, JD, MPH, director of research at the AltaMed Institute for Health Equity in Health Services AltaMed. “Social and economic hardships are disproportionately experienced by marginalized communities, resulting in critical racial / ethnic disparities. I look forward to working with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and our community partners to address these disparities, close the equity gap, and take action for a better future for all children and families.
California’s first general surgeon, Nadine Burke-Harris, MD, MPH, FAAP, has set herself the bold goal of halving ACEs and toxic stress within a generation. In 2019, Dr Burke-Harris shared these plans during a special visit at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, where she gave a presentation at the pediatric conferences.
The Los Angeles Children’s Hospital was one of four institutions chosen to receive a grant under the initiative. In total, $ 9 million in public funds will support proof-of-principle projects for patient populations with ACE, all studies using precision medicine to improve access, care and outcomes. The projects, which were selected from a pool of 39 applicants from across the state, will begin in July.
Contributors to the study
Other partners, collaborators and supporters include Alexander R. Judkins, MD, Alma Gharib, PhD, Hannah Perez, PsyD, Aime Ozuna, MPH, Jenny Kingsley, MD, MA, and Suzanne Roberts, MD, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; Gabriela Tovar, JD, AltaMed Institute for Health Equity; Lauren Klein, MS, and Maja Mataric, PhD, USC Viterbi School of Engineering; Irene Martinez, MSW, Fiesta Educativa Inc .; Natalia Garcia, Para Los Niños; Lorna Little, MSW, Sainte-Anne; and Frances Nova, MSW, Karsh Family Social Service Center.
About the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital
Founded in 1901, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is the highest ranked children’s hospital in California and fifth in the country on the prestigious US News & World Report honor roll of top children’s hospitals. US News ranks the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital in all 10 specialty categories. Clinical care at the hospital is led by medical faculty members of USC’s Keck School of Medicine through an affiliation dating back to 1932. The hospital also operates the world’s largest pediatric residency program at a free-standing children’s hospital in the western United States. The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles is home to all of the basic, translational, clinical and community research conducted at the hospital, enabling proven findings to reach patients quickly. Our mission: to create hope and build a healthier future. To find out more, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube and Twitter, and visit our blog at CHLA.org/blog.
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