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In The News: COVID Breathalyzer, Distinguished Career Awardee, Kids’ COVID Vaccine, Youth-Onset Type 2 Diabetes, Mental Health and Greenspace

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August 6, 2021
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mccannn [at] chop.edu (By Nancy McCann)

In this week’s roundup of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia research news, discover the possibility of diagnosing COVID with a breathalyzer, who among us was honored with a Distinguished Career Award, and the relationship between greenspace and mental health. Learn about the clinical trial of the Moderna vaccine for kids being conducted here at CHOP, and the long-term complications in youth-onset type 2 diabetes.

Audrey Odom John, MD, PhD

Audrey Odom John, MD, PhD

Can SARS-CoV-2 Be Diagnosed From the Breath of Children?

“Yes, it can,” said CHOP’s chief of Infectious Diseases, Audrey Odom John, MD, PhD, who was the primary investigator and senior author of a study published in ACS Infectious Diseases. With compelling evidence from canine biosensors and studies of adults with COVID-19 suggesting that infection reproducibly alters human volatile organic compounds (VOC) profiles, researchers in the John Lab, including first author Amalia Berna, PhD, set to work to determine if pediatric infection is also associated with VOC changes. Their ultimate goal is to develop a rapid noninvasive method to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The team recruited and enrolled SARS-CoV-2 infected and uninfected children admitted to CHOP. They collected breath samples and analyzed them through a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer, which isolated 84 targeted VOCs. Next, they validated candidate biomarkers that correlated with infection status in a second, independent cohort of children. Six VOCs were “significantly and reproducibly increased in the breath of SARS-CoV-2 infected children.” Of these, the research team was especially interested in three aldehydes (octanal, nonanal, and heptanal), as aldehydes are also elevated in the breath of adults with COVID-19.

“Together, these biomarkers demonstrate high accuracy for distinguishing pediatric SARS-CoV-2 infection and support the ongoing development of novel breath-based diagnostics,” Dr. John said. “What’s nice about having those actual breath compounds is that we’re coming up with a tunable sensor array — literally a COVID breathalyzer for kids.”

To read the open access paper, click here, or go to CHOP News for more information.

Garrett Brodeur, MD

Garrett Brodeur, MD

Dr. Garrett Brodeur Receives Distinguished Career Award

Congratulations go out to Garrett Brodeur, MD, director of the Cancer Predisposition Program at CHOP, who received the Distinguished Career Award from the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology (ASPHO). Dr. Brodeur, who is also a professor of Pediatrics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was recognized during the ASPHO Conference in July for his contributions in research, patient care, and advocacy.

Dr. Brodeur’s research focuses on nanoparticle drug delivery and cancer predisposition. He aims to develop more effective and less toxic therapy for pediatric cancers, especially solid tumors such as neuroblastoma. He is also interested in identifying novel cancer predisposition genes and developing enhanced surveillance techniques to identify cancer early in predisposed individuals with the hope of improving outcome and reducing side effects.

“Receiving the Distinguished Career Award from the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology is a tremendous honor, and it is the highlight of my professional career,” said Dr. Brodeur. “It is especially meaningful because it comes from my peers, other Pediatric Hematologist-Oncologists. Although I am extremely honored to receive this award personally, I fully realize that my lifetime of accomplishments was built on the work of mentors and role models that came before me and made possible by the trainees and colleagues with whom I have had the pleasure to work.”

Learn more at CHOP News.

Jeff Gerber, MD, PhD

Jeff Gerber, MD, PhD

CHOP Leader Discusses Clinical Trial of COVID Vaccine for Children Under 12 Years of Age

Jeff Gerber, MD, PhD, who is leading the year-long KidCOVE clinical trial of the Moderna vaccine at CHOP, discussed the trial and why getting kids vaccinated is essential for their mental, emotional, and physical health, in a Q&A with Penn Today, University of Pennsylvania’s daily newsletter.

KidCOVE is a combination phase 2/3 trial involving dose-escalation and age de-escalation. It’s randomized, observer-blind, placebo-controlled, and intended to infer the effectiveness of Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 6 months to less than 12 years. CHOP is one of more than 80 study sites, located mostly in the United States. Approximately 7,000 children are included in the overall trial, and CHOP is expected to enroll about 200 diverse participants, intended to resemble the Philadelphia area CHOP serves.

The primary endpoints of the study are safety and immunogenicity, said Associate Chief Clinical Research Officer Dr. Gerber: “The type of immune response the vaccine generates: What are the side effects? Are there adverse events, both minor and serious? And what the antibody profile is, compared to what’s been seen in older subjects from previous trials.”

Read the whole story to learn how the researchers plan to follow participants in the study and get the information needed about side effects, immune response, and infection rates; handle informed consent; and much more.

“The public health benefit of vaccinating kids goes beyond preventing infection,” Dr. Gerber said. “It’s also about social-emotional development and mental health.”

Lorraine Katz, MD

Lorraine Katz, MD

Follow-up Study Reveals Long-term Complications in Youth-Onset Type 2 Diabetes

A follow-up study to the landmark Treatment Options for Type 2 Diabetes in Adolescents and Youth (TODAY) research — of which CHOP was one of 15 clinical sites — found that those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during childhood and adolescence have a high risk of developing serious health complications by early adulthood. These diabetes-related complications, ranging from high blood pressure to kidney and eye disease, accumulate rapidly, and 60 percent of participants in the study developed at least one complication by early adulthood. Two or more complications were found in nearly 30 percent of participants. TODAY2 involved 500 participants of the original study.

“The results of this important study show that type 2 diabetes in children is a severe disease — more severe than in adults — and so we need to treat the disease aggressively at an earlier point on the timeline, ideally at the pre-diabetes stage,” said Lorraine Katz, MD, director of Center for Human Phenomic Science and principal investigator of the CHOP site for the TODAY2 Trial. “We also must explore better therapeutic options for young people with type 2 diabetes to prevent the disease from worsening and leading to serious complications.”

The New England Journal of Medicine published the TODAY2 findings. To learn more about this study go to CHOP News or this NIH press release.

Ran Barzilay, MD, PhD

Ran Barzilay, MD, PhD

Tree-rich Greenspace Plays Protective Role on Mental Health During COVID-19 Pandemic

In the latest study from the COVID-19 Resilience Project, run by the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI), a collaboration of CHOP and the University of Penn, researchers discovered living close to greenspace during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic may have buffered against depression and protected overall mental health. Frontiers in Sustainable Cities published the findings.

The researchers investigated the association between tree-rich greenspaces, based on U.S. zip code data and four mental health parameters: COVID-19-related worries, anxiety symptoms, depression symptoms, and a composite of all three. The results showed that increased nearby greenspace, such as parks or nature preserves, showed a significant protective effect for depression and composite mental health scores. The largest effect was seen among the oldest participants (age 51 and older) and those ages 31 to 38.

“This study supports that in times of isolation and quarantine, greenspaces, specifically those with tree canopy, become important factors at maintaining mental health,” said senior author Ran Barzilay, MD, PhD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and assistant professor at LiBI. “The pandemic may have increased the importance of greenspaces, as they not only provide tranquil respites from urban streetscapes, but also uniquely serve as social gathering locations for those observing social distancing precautions. We echo the growing recommendations for making parks and greenspace more accessible to preserve mental health, now and in future pandemics.”

ICYMI

Catch up on our headlines from our July 23 In the News:

  • Research Collaborators to Validate a New Tool to Measure Progressive Vision Loss
  • Aggressive Pediatric Bone Disease Treatment Nears FDA Approval
  • Gil Binenbaum, MD, MSCE, Appointed New Ophthalmology Division Chief
  • Sarah Tasian, MD, Appointed Chief of Section of Hematologic Malignancies
  • Screening Tool to Measure Anxiety in Children with Food Allergies

Keep up with our news, stories, and updates in real time by following us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Or subscribe to our newsletter, Research Insider, to get an email sent every other Friday by signing up here.