In This Section

Team Science for Autism, Youth Violence, Award at PAS Meeting, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Published on May 6, 2016 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 4 months 1 week ago


Subscribe to be notified of changes or updates to this page.

6 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.

Our weekly compilation of research news, happenings, and achievements helps keep you up to speed. Find out why the autism community is excited about a unique opportunity to catalyze research. Hear about an adolescent homicide study that hit home in Harrisburg. Congratulate our faculty and staff who shared their expertise at the Pediatric Academic Society Annual Meeting. And learn how better surveillance could lead to a better response to neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Center for Autism Research Helps Launch Nation’s Largest Autism Research Study

The Center for Autism Research (CAR) at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will team up with 20 other medical institutions in a new online initiative dubbed SPARK, designed to become the largest autism study ever undertaken in the U.S. Sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, SPARK will collect information and DNA for genetic analysis from 50,000 individuals with autism and their families.

Autism spectrum disorder has a strong genetic component, researchers say, but while 50 genes that definitely play a role in autism have already been identified, scientists estimate about 300 or more are involved. By joining forces with researchers across the country, CHOP will aid in compiling large sample sizes to chip away at the unknown.

"Team science and collaboration is the only viable path forward for rapidly making progress, and SPARK provides us with just such an opportunity," said Robert T. Schultz, PhD, director of CAR, who is leading CHOP’s research site in the study along with clinical neuropsychologist Juhi Pandey, PhD, a senior scientist at CAR.

The study's organizers are encouraging members of the autism community to connect with them and help create a large pool of research, to be widely accessible to participating researchers, allowing them to study participants' DNA for specific scientific questions. Registering for this first-of-its-kind initiative can be done entirely online in the convenience of one’s home and at no cost. DNA will be collected via saliva kits shipped directly to participants.

“Recent, rapid advances in genetic testing capabilities have enabled us to bring research to families’ homes, suddenly making it possible for a vast number and diversity of people to participate and effect real change,” Dr. Pandey said. “We’re honored to be among the distinguished autism and genetic research centers working to pave the way for precision medicine that can be tailored to individuals on the autism spectrum.”

For more information, visit, and see the CHOP press release here.

Research on Blight, Youth Violence Gets Attention in Harrisburg

A news report on blight in Harrisburg cited a recent study by Alison Culyba, MD, MPH, an adolescent medicine physician in the Craig-Dalsimer Division of Adolescent Medicine at CHOP, that looked at the association between certain environmental features and adolescent homicides.

Since 2013, Harrisburg has seen 63 homicides, 40 of which involved a victim between the ages of 17 to 30. Harrisburg Police Chief Tom Carter told FOX43 News that he thinks seeing blighted buildings every day definitely affects juveniles.

"All they see is run down properties, vacant properties, blighted properties, burnt down properties,” Carter said. “That has to have some sort of psychological play in their minds."

While acknowledging that homicides stem from a complex interplay of factors at individual, family, community, and socioeconomic levels, Dr. Culyba’s research findings contributed new evidence about the potential role of physical surroundings in shaping violence. In examining features of the natural surroundings of participants, the presence of a park or a maintained vacant lot were both associated with significantly lower odds of homicide.

The FOX43 News report describes some of the ways Harrisburg officials are trying to remove blighted buildings and install brighter streetlights to create better lit sidewalks. Dr. Culyba pointed out in her interview that simple, low-cost remediation, such as trash removal or creating a community garden, has fact-based evidence that suggests it reduces crimes or makes communities feel safer.

"I think it's really exciting to see the efforts and money that Harrisburg is putting in to revitalize urban spaces," Dr. Culyba said. "People are realizing that these are low-cost investments that may bring a very large return on investments across the city and the communities they're designed to serve."

CHOP Fellow Receives Award at PAS Meeting

Faculty and staff from CHOP attending the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in Baltimore April 30 to May 3 participated in dozens of platform presentations, poster sessions, and workshops. One of those outstanding experts, Laura Figueroa-Phillips, MD, a pediatric hospital epidemiology and outcomes training Fellow at CHOP, received the Richard D. Rowe Award for Clinical Research. Dr. Figueroa-Phillips gave a platform presentation titled, “Development of a Clinical Prediction Model for Pediatric Outpatients at Risk for Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infections.”

Read more about Dr. Figueroa-Phillips’ research featured on Cornerstone.

Better Data Essential for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in Pennsylvania

The number of cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a postnatal withdrawal syndrome usually caused by opioid exposure during pregnancy, is skyrocketing across the country. In a guest blog written for PolicyLab at CHOP, Laura Johnson Faherty, MD, MPH, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar, working with PolicyLab and the Center for Perinatal and Pediatric Health Disparities, asserts that more robust data is needed to help families affected by NAS.

As part of her preliminary research, Dr. Faherty and colleagues have shown that a group of young mothers of infants with NAS in Philadelphia have a high prevalence of several mental health conditions that have lasting negative impacts on both the mother and child. In the first two years of life, infants with NAS had more inpatient admissions and fewer well-child visits than those without NAS.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced that NAS is now a reportable condition, which means all babies born dependent on opioids must be reported to the state along with key data about the mother. Dr. Faherty suggests that making NAS a reportable condition in Pennsylvania may provide critical information on the mother and child, which can lead to better surveillance and better interventions.

“In Pennsylvania, let’s address NAS not with judgment, stigma or stereotyping,” Dr. Faherty wrote. “Rather, let’s use a high-quality surveillance system to design creative, compassionate and family-centered solutions to this complex public health challenge. Accurate data is imperative to better understand the impact of NAS on infants, families and communities.”

Learn more about Dr. Faherty’s research here.


In case you missed it, this week on Cornerstone we brought you a snapshot of the April issue of Bench to Bedside, which includes an innovative study that is part of the Human Placenta Project, a glimpse into how healthy brains develop as children grow up, and more.

We also reported on the annual Ruth M. Colket Nursing Research and Evidence Based Practice Grand Rounds held Tuesday at CHOP. Read quick summaries of five outstanding research projects that nurses presented during the event, which was held in conjunction with national Nurses Week 2016.

Last week’s “In the News” summary highlighted a significant discovery and new treatment option in a heart surgery complication that affects young patients; a study of how to predict infants’ later obesity risk; and a CHOP cancer immunotherapy story hitting the world stage at an international conference.

Keep up with our news, stories, and updates in real time by following us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Or join our email list to get a summary of Cornerstone blog posts sent every other Friday by entering your email address in the box on the upper right of this page.