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Skin-to-skin Care, Cholesterol Screening, Computational Tools in Cancer, Poor Sleep Risk Factors

Published on February 28, 2020 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 5 months 3 weeks ago


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This week’s In the News heads to Florida where Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Cardiac Center hosted a national conference that presented the latest research related to cardiac diseases in children. Also in this news roundup, researchers published findings in a leading medical journal that highlight new computational tools used to discover the role of alternative splicing in gene changes that lead to cancer. An engineering podcast hosts a researcher from the Center for Injury Research and Prevention. And new findings encourage screenings for sleep problems during early childhood.

CHOP Researchers Share Latest Cardiac Research

Several CHOP researchers presented study findings at the 23rd Annual Update on Pediatric and Congenital Cardiovascular Disease: Vision 20/20 Lessons from the Past, a Bold Look for the Future conference. Hosted by the CHOP Cardiac Center, the national conference took place Feb. 12 to 16 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

In one of the studies, researchers found that mothers and babies both experienced reduced stress before and after neonatal cardiac surgery if they used skin-to-skin care (SSC). Amy Lisanti, PhD, RN, CCNS, CCRN-K, nurse scientist and clinical nurse specialist in the Cardiac Center at CHOP, presented the findings from a study of 30 mother-infant pairs. Once before surgery and once after surgery, the infants joined the mothers for SSC for one hour. Before, during and after SSC, the researchers measured the mothers’ stress and anxiety, and infant pain and vital signs.

The mothers’ anxiety scores were lower during and after SSC, both before and after the surgery. In addition, their cortisol levels, which are indicators of physiological stress, also decreased. For infants, pain scores dropped during SSC before and after surgery, and heart and respiratory rates decreased during SSC before surgery. Before and after surgery, infant cortisol levels were stable before and during SSC. Infant cortisol levels increased after SSC.

In another study, researchers found that children at high risk for atherosclerosis, due to congenital and acquired heart conditions, were not screened sufficiently for high cholesterol and triglycerides. These high-risk children are recommended to undergo such screening earlier than other children.

Justin Berger, MD, PhD, cardiac fellow in the Division of Cardiology at CHOP, presented findings from the study, which involved assessing the rates of lipid screening by reviewing commercial and Medicaid insurance claims databases. After analyzing more than 5 million records, they found that lipid screening among high-risk children was almost the same as that in low-risk children (28% vs. 26%, respectively). The screening rate was slightly higher than the 19% screening rate for the general population. Patients who had undergone a heart transplant and those with cardiomyopathy had higher rates of screening (70% and 41%, respectively), but only 28% of patients with complex two-ventricle or single-ventricle disease underwent screening.

Find out about more of the studies in this CHOP press release.

New Tool Identifies Gene Changes Related to Splicing in Aggressive Cancers

CHOP researchers collaborated with several institutions to identify a link between a strong cancer driving gene and changes in proteins that regulate alternative splicing. The study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our study provides insight into the relationship between an important cancer driver gene and alternative splicing changes that could be used to guide the development of splicing-targeted cancer therapy,” said Yi Xing, PhD, director of the Center for Computational and Genomic Medicine at CHOP, and senior author of the study.

Alternative splicing is a process that cancer cells take advantage of to produce proteins that allow them replicate uncontrollably. To better understand alternative splicing’s role in cancer progression, Dr. Xing’s team created a computational program called rMATS-turbo. They used the tool to identify more than 13,000 alternative splicing events across 900 prostate tissue samples, which included healthy prostate tissue, and localized or aggressive prostate tumor tissue.

Next, they developed an analytical tool called PEGASAS (Pathway Enrichment-Guided Activity Study of Alternative Splicing), which they used to find genes and pathways that may be related to the alternative splicing changes. This tool found that Myc, a gene that is amplified in many cancers, was linked to alternative splicing changes. The researchers also applied the PEGASAS strategy to breast cancer and lung cancer datasets, and found a similar association.

“Given the involvement of oncogenic pathways such as the Myc pathway in pediatric cancers, these tools could reveal pathways and targets for treating pediatric cancers as well,” Dr. Xing said.

For more information on the study, check out the CHOP press release.

Podcast Features CHOP Research on Autonomous Vehicles, Automotive Safety

SAE International’s (formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers) SAE Tomorrow Today podcast recently hosted Valentina Graci, PhD, a research scientist at the CHOP Center for Injury Research and Prevention. Dr. Graci discussed automotive safety and autonomous vehicles, particularly why such vehicles should consider children’s unique safety needs. Dr. Graci also discussed why CHOP is committed to research on autonomous vehicles, the proper use of booster seats, and when children may ride in autonomous vehicles without parents.

To hear the full podcast, check out SAE International.

Risk Factors Linked to Poor Sleep in Children

A study published in the journal Sleep explored the cumulative effects of family and environmental risk factors on poor sleep habits in young children.

Ariel Williamson, PhD, DBSM, psychologist and assistant professor of Psychology at CHOP and University of Pennsylvania, and Jodi Mindell, PhD, psychologist and associate director of the Sleep Center at CHOP, authored the study.

The researchers focused on healthy children between 2 and 5 years old, with an intentional over-representation of lower income families for a larger sample of social detriments of health. Risk factors included having a caregiver with symptoms of depression and living in a single-caregiver household.

The results of this study indicated that more than 80% of children engaged in at least one unhealthy sleep habit, the most common being the presence of an electronic device in the child’s bedroom. The probability of greater sleep issues rose by 9% to 18% for each additional risk.

Although the majority of social risks are difficult to change, these findings encourage screenings for sleep problems during early childhood.

Find out more in this CHOP press release.

Who’s Ready for March Madness … for Research?

Round one of voting is open March 2 to March 9 for STAT’s “STAT Madness 2020,” a March Madness-like bracket competition to honor the best biomedical research of 2019. Our researchers are in the running!

Vote for a genetic discovery by our own Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD, and Yoav Dori, MD, PhD, that lead to a precise treatment for a child with a severe lymphatic disorder. Popular vote will determine the winners of each matchup, so be sure to vote CHOP to victory!

For more information, visit:


Catch up on our headlines from our Feb. 14 In the News:

  • Breakthrough Treatment for Peanut Allergies
  • CHOP Awarded Support for Growing Resilience in Teens Project
  • Multiple Factors Influence Pain Treatment of Injured African-American Patients
  • CHOP-based Consortium Awards Seed Grants for Pediatric Medical Device Development

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