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Our Most Read Stories of 2018 Celebrate Diversity, Data, and Discovery

Published on December 31, 2018 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 3 months 3 weeks ago


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As the new year approaches, we look back with gratitude for yet another year packed with scientific breakthroughs in children’s health. Continuing a remarkable run for personalized gene therapies, 2018 marked the European Commission’s approval of two gene therapies pioneered at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, as patients in the European Union (EU) may now be treated with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy for aggressive forms of leukemia, and the very first gene therapy developed for inherited blindness. Meanwhile, both the Center for Autism Research (CAR) and PolicyLab at CHOP turned 10, commemorating a robust decade of research that has led to improved outcomes for so many patients. 

We wanted to peek into our Cornerstone data to see which stories from our blog captivated our readers the most. We were excited to learn that stories of diversity in scientific inquiry, of individual researchers and collaborations, and of the potential for big data to drive change in pediatrics ranked high on our “most read” list. The following six stories give us immense pride in our community at the Research Institute — and even more hope for the future of children’s health. We invite you to read on and get inspired, too!

Wise Words From Women in Science at CHOP

To celebrate Women’s History Month this past March, we spotlighted the scientists at CHOP who thrive in fields that have, historically, been under-represented by women. Leaders of the Research Institute’s Centers of Emphasis nominated scientists on their teams to be featured in a Cornerstone photo gallery. The result: Four scientists from distinct disciplines shared not just their research projects and ambitions, but words of wisdom to inspire the next generation of researchers aspiring to careers in STEM-M (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine.) Not surprisingly, the story became our most read blog post of 2018, widely popular across our social media channels and beyond. 

“My one word of advice to young women interested in pursuing science is to persist,” said Julia Parish-Morris, PhD, a scientist for autism research who was featured in our photo gallery. “The value of diversity in scientific inquiry cannot be understated.” 

Check out and meet our remarkable scientists.

John Maris, MD, Named Outstanding Investigator

Many of our principal investigators have worked persistently at the same pediatric research problems for years; for some, decades. One such investigator, John Maris, MD, oncologist at the Cancer Center at CHOP, first became captivated by the mysteries of neuroblastoma, a cancer of the peripheral nervous system, as a lab technician in the 1980s. Last year, the National Cancer Institute bestowed their Outstanding Investigator Award to Dr. Maris, an accolade that supports accomplished leaders in oncology research who make significant contributions toward the understanding and treatment of cancer. In a Cornerstone feature that ranked as the second most read story of 2018, we highlighted the numerous breakthroughs Dr. Maris and his lab have made into the genetic architecture of neuroblastoma and the development of targeted treatments. Dr. Maris also shared what he plans to do with the seven-year support of the award.   

Learn more about Dr. Maris’ career in neuroblastoma research.

Big Data Research Gets a Boost With New Center

This year, we welcomed Yi Xing, PhD, to his new role as inaugural director of the Center for Computational and Genomic Medicine at CHOP. Establishment of the new Center heralds an exciting era of discovery in which Dr. Xing and his team are utilizing the rich resources at CHOP  — from electronic health record to biorepositories  — in order to gain unique insights into children’s health and disease. Dr. Xing and his team of investigators, about 20 of whom came to CHOP with him from the University of California Los Angeles, now work in a hybrid computational and experimental lab focusing on how gene regulation is controlled at the level of ribonucleic acid molecules. We covered the exciting news of the new Center in a Cornerstone blog post that, based on the popularity of the story across social media and beyond, got our readers excited, too! 

Read more about the new Center.

A Summer of STEM-M For High School Students

One of our most read stories of the year followed the steps of students selected for the CHOP Research Internship for Scholars and Emerging Scientists (CHOP-RISES) offered by the Office of Academic Training and Outreach Programs. Stretching across six weeks during the summer, the program gives students from local under-resourced schools the opportunity to explore careers in science and medicine. In a Cornerstone blog that ranked high on our most read stories of the year, we shared the unique adventures of this year’s six CHOP-RISES students, from testing out the driving simulator utilized by scientists at our Center for Injury Research and Prevention to working in various labs like that of Matthew Weitzman, PhD, who studies the molecular relationships between viral infection and cellular DNA damage response pathways, and Ian Krantz, MD, who studies genomics related to Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.

Read about more adventures from this year’s CHOP RISES students.

Discussing Diversity With Fellow Melvin Bates, PhD

This year, we invited our readers to meet three new scholars in the CHOP Postdoctoral Fellowship for Academic Diversity, a program that aims to expand our community of researchers from unique backgrounds and academic experiences. Our Q&A with one of those scholars, Melvin Bates, PhD, became one of our top six most read stories of the year, as Dr. Bates shared how he made his way from California State University to the neuroscience lab of Seema Bhatnagar, PhD, an associate professor in the Division of Stress Neurobiology at CHOP. When asked what inspired him to study neuroscience, Dr. Bates replied: “It was through neuroscience that I felt that most of the curiosities that I had about life could be answered. This led me to pursue graduate studies in neuroscience.” 

Read the Q&A with Dr. Bates

A Diverse Team of Researchers Aim to Reach Answers for Hemophilia A

This year, we shared news of a five-year grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute that allows researchers across diverse disciplines at CHOP and the University to Pennsylvania to establish one of three Centers for the Investigation of Factor VIII (FVIII) Immunogenicity. Scientists from a range of career levels and backgrounds, including structural biology, immunology, genomics, and cancer immunotherapy, will tackle key questions in hemophilia A research  — including why some young patients with the inherited bleeding disorder develop inhibitory antibodies, also known as FVIII inhibitors, to protein replacement therapy. Our Cornerstone coverage of the new FVIII center garnered much attention from our readers, and the center’s synergistic approach had Valder Arruda, MD, PhD, researcher in the Division of Hematology at CHOP and principal investigator of the project, excited for its potential.

“I think it is important to bring people from completely different backgrounds to provide new insights and give them the freedom to see each other as scientific partners instead of competitors,” Dr. Arruda said. “This is a very fresh environment that the NIH has created. Together, we can finally overcome the serious challenge of the formation of FVIII inhibitors in patients with congenital hemophilia.”

Read the full story.