A startling number of children are afflicted with diseases of the nervous system. These disorders include epilepsy, stroke, head trauma, autism, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. In addition, many genetic disorders, such as inborn errors of metabolism, manifest with primary brain dysfunction. Concern for pediatric health related to these disorders has heightened because of evidence that some have had an increased incidence over the past three decades.
Although some of these disorders, like stroke, have been traditionally associated with the elderly, recent studies suggest that children are also at risk. Additionally, the incidence of autism and seizures are troubling. These disorders collectively place a significant strain not only on children and their families but also on society.
Children’s Hospital follows the largest and most diverse population of children with neurologic, psychiatric, and developmental disabilities in the country. Outstanding clinical and basic researchers complement the clinical care programs throughout the Hospital. Led by Michael Robinson, PhD, the Neuroscience Research Affinity Group facilitates the development of targeted investigation and fosters the interactions necessary to rapidly translate research into best clinical practices. The affinity group targets four areas of research priorities: neuroprotection, epilepsy, stress biology, and autism/complex neurobehavioral disorders. The group also organizes seminar series and meetings to attract esteemed scientists from around the world.
Neuroscience investigators at Children's Hospital are currently conducting a pediatric stroke program and a multi-site study on stroke in children and adolescents. Researchers are also examining the changes in neurons that lead to epilepsy and studying novel therapeutic approaches. One goal is to understand how a ketogenic diet - high in fat, low in carbohydrates and protein - reduces seizures. Autism research at Children's Hospital is supported by The Regional Autism Center (RAC), which provides assessment and management for research in children and adolescents with autistic spectrum disorders. The Center for Autism Research (CAR) is a multi-disciplinary center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania that coordinates and supports research on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). CAR's goals are to identify the neurobiological, environmental, and genetic causes of ASD, and to develop effective treatments.
Neuroscience Affinity Group members are actively involved with the institutional Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC), which has been coordinating intellectual and developmental disabilities research at Children's Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania for over 25 years. The IDDRC provides services to more than 90 NIH-funded projects, which have an aggregate value of more than $22 million. Affinity group researchers also collaborate with the Center for Dynamic Imaging and the Center for Management of ADHD.
The Neuroscience Affinity Group aims to provide a fertile training ground for the next generation of clinician-scientists. This commitment is strengthened by the Training Program in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, which supports postdoctoral fellows, the NSADA Training Grant for Child Neurologists, which supports clinical fellows, the Leadership Development through Interdisciplinary Training (“LEND”) program and a yearly postdoctoral fellows' poster presentation.