Author: Nancy Fliesler

An iPhone and a bucket help diagnose vestibular problems in dizzy children

dizziness vestibular bucket testDizziness is fairly common in children, but it can be very hard to diagnose the cause. Any number of conditions can produce dizziness, and children are a special challenge since they often can’t describe what they’re feeling.

“One of the toughest things to figure out is, is it a problem with the vestibular system, or is it part of something else, a heart problem or an eye problem?” says Jacob Brodsky, MD, director of the Balance and Vestibular Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Then, the next challenging part is determining whether it is an inner ear problem or a central vestibular disorder — a problem with the brain.”

A definitive answer often requires a battery of tests that few providers outside Boston Children’s can perform in children, as they require sophisticated and expensive equipment. But with an ordinary bucket, an iPhone, an $18 app and some Velcro, Brodsky can quickly get a good indication of whether a child has a vestibular problem—and specifically an inner ear problem.

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8 winning innovations at Hacking Pediatrics

general hackersHacking Pediatrics, now in its third year, continues to experiment with its format. 2015’s “Mashup” had a greater focus on partnerships, curation and delivering value to innovators at Boston Children’s Hospital. The brunt of the idea pitching and team formation took place in advance, allowing the event, on November 14, to be collapsed into one day.

The Hacking Pediatrics team (Kate Donovan, Mike Docktor, Meg McCabe, Cassandra Bannos and Leila Amerling) brokered collaborations with a dozen industry partners such as Microsoft, Cerner, Box, CVS Health and Boston Scientific. Over the course of a hectic 12-hour day, they worked with 17 teams of Boston Children’s innovators and experts from partner organizations who presented their final ideas to a panel of judges.

In another change for 2015, the Hacking Pediatrics team issued nine awards — but no immediate prizes. This was meant to incentivize teams to continue to work and meet milestones to earn real rewards, like a $10,000 design prize offered up by design firm Mad*Pow.

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An unusual dog, a new approach to muscular dystrophy: Stimulating a protective gene

Vieira with Ringo
Vieira with Ringo

Ringo was a golden retriever that defied the odds. Despite having the gene mutation for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), he remained healthy. And he’s provided a new lead for boosting muscle strength in DMD, one of the most common forms of muscular dystrophy. Unlike other dogs with the dystrophin mutation, who are weak and typically die by 2 years of age, Ringo was able to walk and run normally and lived to the age of 11, within the normal range for golden retrievers.

What made Ringo so resilient?

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The future of pediatric precision medicine: opportunities, barriers

“Precision medicine” looks to be heading down the same path as “big data” and “innovation”: The term is becoming so widely used that it threatens to detract from the real impact it is already having in patients’ lives.

But for children, who are still developing and have the most to gain, precision medicine is more than a bumper sticker. On the micro scale, early genetic testing—perhaps routinely, someday, in newborns—can help guide medical care, targeted therapies and preventive strategies based on a child’s genetic makeup. On a macro scale, big data from the larger population becomes a predictive tool, guiding medical decisions that could be life-altering in a still-malleable child.

“If you can make an early diagnosis, you can amplify the effects of what you do, rather than try to change the highways once they’re built,” said Wendy Chung, MD, PhD, of Columbia University Medical Center during a panel discussion last week at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards (#PedInno15).

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Storify: The Global Pediatric Innovation Summit in tweets

Global Pediatric Innovation Summit AwardsWe’ve been covering the science and innovation news out of the Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards all week. We close out with the event’s best one-liners and the attendees’ collective take on the talks, panels and announcements. Props go to @ldtimmerman and @cgcarlson for being the event’s top tweeters.

Read on for Day 1 and Day 2 highlights. For more, watch the video highlights and read the day-to-day blog coverage.

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Two big wins for rare disease

Two new developments offer glimmers of hope to patients with rare, hard-to-diagnose conditions—validation of the power of crowd sourcing and the prospect of bringing cognitive computing to rare disease diagnosis. Both developments were announced at the Boston Children’s Hospital Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards (#PedInno15).

The crowd-sourcing challenge, CLARITY Undiagnosed, yesterday announced the findings of 21 teams that competed from seven countries. The winning team, Nationwide Children’s Hospital (Columbus, OH), was awarded $25,000. Invitae Corporation (San Francisco) and Wuxi NextCODE Genomics (Cambridge, MA) were named runners-up.

Each team received DNA sequences and clinical data from five families whose illnesses had eluded many prior diagnostic attempts—in some cases, even prior genomic sequencing.

“These were the toughest of the tough,” says Alan Beggs, PhD, co-organizer of CLARITY Undiagnosed and director of the Manton Center for Orphan Disease Research at Boston Children’s.

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Questioning authority: A conversation with Martine Rothblatt

The more you listen to Martine Rothblatt, the more the fact that she’s transgendered becomes one of the less interesting things about her. Instead, you get caught up and inspired by her journey—from satellites to organ farms, from founding a pharmaceutical company to BINA 48, a “mindclone” robot that embodies her wife Bina’s beliefs, attitudes, memories and feelings.

Rothblatt, currently chief of United Therapeutics, is among the world’s highest paid female CEOs. Her motto is, “Do the right thing and the money will take care of itself.”

This is a lightly edited excerpt of her interview with Jane Clayson, guest host of NPR’s On Point.

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Hollywood SFX take medical training to a new level of realism

When critical care physicians at Boston Children’s Hospital practice cannulating an infant going on cardiopulmonary support, they’ll no longer have to cut through hard plastic mannequins with tubes for blood vessels. Instead, they’ll puncture a soft layer of realistic baby skin, dissect through subcutaneous fat and spread muscles that look and feel like the real thing.

They’ll insert the cannula into an internal jugular vein and carotid artery that are thin and flexible, after dissecting through their covering sheath. As they advance the cannula, the blood will have the right viscosity.

These mannequins are not your father’s Resusci-Anne. They’re the creation of the special make-up effects company Fractured FX, whose current credits include Cinemax’s The Knick, and Boston Children’s simulator program, SIMPeds.

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Pediatric solutions: Which 5-minute pitch will ‘ignite’ the Taking on Tomorrow audience?


Affordable home dialysis, a device to triage heart murmurs, a cardiopulmonary support enhancer, a novel technology to treat septic shock and a better system for studying neurological function. Which of these ideas will catch fire?

The audience will decide November 10 at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Ignite Talks Competition. Hosted by Chris Duffy, Host of WBUR’s You’re the Expert and presented by Deloitte, the event will close out the hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2015.

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An eye on epilepsy: The work, life and innovations of Tobias Loddenkemper, MD

Epileptologist Tobias Loddenkemper, MD, director of clinical epilepsy research at Boston Children’s Hospital, is a seizure whisperer. He keeps a close watch on his patients, trying to discern seizure patterns and head off the developmental and learning problems that seizures can cause. A pioneer in the emerging field of chronoepileptology, he has partnered with Empatica and other companies to develop reliable seizure detection devices that could help doctors better time medication dosing and help prevent death from seizures, a real risk in children with severe epilepsy.

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