The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia follows the largest and most diverse population of children with neurologic, psychiatric and developmental disabilities in the country. In recent years, breathtaking discoveries have improved our understanding of the nervous system, providing an unprecedented opportunity to study the causes of these disorders and to develop new therapies. Outstanding clinical and basic scientists partner with the Hospital's clinical care programs to harness new knowledge for practical applications in children's health. The Neuroscience Affinity Group fosters these collaborations to rapidly translate basic research into clinical treatment. The group focuses on four themes: autism/complex neurobehavioral disorders, epilepsy, neuroprotection and stress biology.
A troubling number of children have diseases of the nervous system, including epilepsy, stroke, head trauma, autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Up to 5 percent of children will experience a seizure between 3 months and 5 years of age. Although stroke is often associated with the elderly, recent studies show that neonates are also at increased risk of stroke. Autism has been estimated to afflict as many as one in 150 children. Many genetic disorders, including those that result in altered metabolism, are often accompanied by brain dysfunction. There is evidence to suggest that the incidence of some of these nervous system diseases is increasing, further highlighting the critical need for neuroscience research.
Neuroscience investigators at Children's Hospital are currently conducting a pediatric stroke program and a multisite study on stroke in children and adolescents. Researchers are also examining the changes in neurons that lead to epilepsy and studying novel therapeutic approaches. One goal is to understand how a ketogenic diet - high in fat, low in carbohydrates and protein - reduces seizures. Autism research at Children's Hospital is supported by The Regional Autism Center (RAC), which provides assessment and management for research in children and adolescents with autistic spectrum disorders.
Neuroscience Affinity Group members are actively involved with the institutional Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC), which has been coordinating mental retardation research at Children's Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania for over 15 years. The IDDRC provides services to more than 90 NIH-funded projects, which have an aggregate value of more than $22 million. Affinity group researchers also collaborate with the Center for Dynamic Imaging and the Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Center.
The Neuroscience Affinity Group aims to provide a fertile training ground for the next generation of clinician-scientists. This commitment is strengthened by the Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Training Grant, which supports postdoctoral fellows, the Training Grant for Pediatric Neurologists, which supports clinical fellows, the Leadership Development through Interdisciplinary Training (“LEND”) program and a yearly post-doctoral fellows' poster presentation. The group also organizes a seminar series and meetings that attract esteemed scientists from around the world.