A Message From the Director

You’ve probably heard friends say, “If I lost my cell phone, I’d lose half my brain.” Not only do they mean it, they’re right—at least metaphorically. Technology has become a virtual extension of our brain and an essential tool for managing our increasingly complex world. Both of these topics, technology and the brain, are actively being investigated at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

In this issue of ResearCHLA, “Digital Natives Go to the Doctor” explores the use of technology with young people who are growing up in the digital age—and the implications it has for their health care. Another story, “Game Boy”—about a generation raised with video games—shows how Todd Chang, MD, is using serious gaming techniques to help train future emergency room physicians. Read More.

As technology transforms the practice of medicine, new and more effective medical devices are being designed for and tested on adults. Similar to what happens in drug development, the use of new and better treatment options for children often lags behind. In “There’s a Hack for That,” read how Bibiana Jin Reiser, MD, of The Vision Center, is challenging the status quo. Applying leading-edge technology marketed for adult eye surgery, she is optimizing it for use in children while working toward her goal of lowering the incidence of pediatric blindness.

“Wake-up Call” is a story about a family who had to deal with the unthinkable—a child being diagnosed with a spinal tumor—and how they are investing in research in order to change the odds for other families in that situation. The Kort Family Foundation’s gift of $2 million will help develop noninvasive diagnostic techniques and more effective personalized treatments for brain and spinal cord tumors.

There are other ways that a child’s brain can be impacted that may not be as obvious as a tumor. Current estimates suggest that 1 in 5 children have learning or behavioral disorders. Genetics contribute, but research by Brad Peterson, MD, Pat Levitt, PhD, and Elizabeth Sowell, PhD—all part of our Institute for the Developing Mind—shows that environmental conditions also play a significant role. In the article “Why Does He Do That?” the investigators discuss opportunities to intervene and influence a child’s development—helping the child realize his fullest potential.

Also in this issue, Paul Viviano, the new CEO of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, shares his commitment to research as a critical component of an academic medical center like CHLA. Paul brings an extensive background in health care to his new role, and a dedication to the children whose care and treatment we are privileged to provide.

Please enjoy the magazine and thank you for your continuing support.


Brent Polk, MD

Director, The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Physician in Chief; Vice President, Academic Affairs; Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Professor of Pediatrics and Vice Dean for Child Health, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Read Less.

Featured Stories

How kids' intuitive use of technology advances care at CHLA

Physician Todd Chang is using serious gaming as a tool to train young doctors

Optimizing existing technology to treat glaucoma and cataracts in kids

A study looks at the reasons behind congenital heart defects

How early adversity can shape behavior

One family's health scare leads to new hope for children with brain and spinal cord tumors

The institute for Nursing and Interprofessional Research looks beyond biology to improve care

40 years at the forefront of pediatric cancer research

View ResearCHLA 2016 in the original magazine format

CEO with a Vision

“Research informs the excellent care that we provide to our young patients every day.” – Paul S. Viviano

Paul Viviano joined Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as president and CEO in fall of 2015. He has enjoyed three decades of success leading academic medical centers, for-profit health care organizations and nonprofit community hospitals. Most recently, he served as CEO of UC San Diego Health and associate vice chancellor of UC San Diego Health Sciences. There he oversaw the entire $1.7 billion UC San Diego health care enterprise, which includes leading-edge medical care; training of medical students, residents and fellows; responsibility for the faculty practice plan; and patient care delivery for two teaching hospitals. Read More.

Paul Viviano (left); Lynda Boone Fetter, co-chair of the Board of Trustees; Pat Levitt, PhD; and Arnold Kleiner, co-chair of the Board of Trustees

Q: How do you view the role of research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles?

A: As an academic medical center, CHLA is more than just a pediatric hospital. Along with serving the health care needs of our community—including complex, specialized pediatric care—we teach generations of future pediatric health care providers, and we develop new therapies and technology that improve the lives of our young patients. I view these three roles—patient care, teaching and research—to be equally essential in ensuring that CHLA remains among the top children’s hospitals in the nation.

Q: What is your vision for the future of research here?

A: Research informs the excellent care that we provide our young patients every day, and I am committed to improving and expanding research efforts of The Saban Research Institute. To this end, in late 2015, we commenced an exciting and collaborative strategic planning process to set the course for research over the next five years and beyond.

We know that we want to build on an already excellent reputation for leading-edge pediatric research. This interdisciplinary planning process—involving leadership, physicians, researchers, postdoctoral fellows and staff from across the hospital—will help us build the necessary momentum to leverage CHLA’s talent and resources and build our research profile.

This is such an exciting time for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and for me personally, as we embark on the strategic planning process that is designed to assess where we are today and where we want to be in the future, and develop a plan for how to get there.

Robert Adler, MD (left), Alan Wayne, MD, Marlon Duarte and Paul Viviano at the 2015 Nautica Malibu Triathlon

Q: What do you see as the key strengths and opportunities for research at CHLA?

A: I believe that, together, we will define the next big ideas for The Saban Research Institute and ensure an environment in which innovation and discovery thrive. Just a few of the obvious strengths on which to build are our excellent faculty researchers and their close affiliation with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, and the unique diversity of the patient population we serve in Greater Los Angeles. As the site of hundreds of clinical trials, we are able to bring discoveries from the lab to our patients’ bedsides, and then learn from our patients themselves what therapies are most beneficial. I am confident that we can provide the tools, infrastructure and support necessary to continue our leadership in this area—offering clinical trials that truly change the face of patient care here and throughout the world.

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The Saban Research Institute

The Saban Research Institute comprises basic, translational and clinical research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles—one of the few freestanding pediatric hospitals in the country where scientific inquiry is combined with clinical care devoted exclusively to children.

The Institute’s interdisciplinary research is organized around areas that fully explore the developmental origins of health and disease and address the most pressing national child health issues.

Originally established in 1992, The Children’s Hospital Research Institute became The Saban Research Institute in 2003 following a transformative gift in support of pediatric research made by Cheryl Saban, PhD, Haim Saban and The Saban Family Foundation. In fiscal year 2015, The Saban Research Institute received $32.7 million (prime and subawards) in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and $74.8 million in total funding. The Saban Research Institute ranks eighth in the nation among children’s hospitals in NIH funding.

The Saban Research Institute and CHLA maintain strong scientific and strategic affiliations with the University of Southern California (USC) and the Keck School of Medicine of USC, where our physicians and scientists hold faculty appointments. The Institute’s researchers also are involved in collaborative projects with academic institutions throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Sources of Funding

    Fiscal Year 2014–2015

  • National Institutes of Health (includes prime and subawards) $32,728,123

  • Other Federal Agencies $730,122

  • Non-federal $11,281,413

  • Industry $3,614,328

  • Intramural $26,469,207

  • Total $74.8 million

In the News

Michael Allen Pulsipher, MD, joined the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases as section head of Blood and Marrow Transplantation (BMT) and BMT clinical research chair. He is also current group chair of the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Consortium—an 80-member international clinical trials group recognized as a leading influence in the field of pediatric BMT. Read more.

Elizabeth Sowell, PhD, was awarded nearly $8 million from the National Institutes of Health as part of a landmark study about the effects of substance use on the developing brain.

In a study published in Nature Neuroscience, Sowell also reported that family income and parental education are linked to changes in the brain structure of children and adolescents. These findings received wide national coverage including feature stories in the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read more.

Douglas Nordli Jr., MD, joined CHLA as chief of the Division of Neurology and co-director of the newly announced Neurosciences Center. Previously, he was division head of the Epilepsy Center at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Read more.

Jodi Ogden joined CHLA as vice president of Research Administration. She oversees all business, financial and compliance operations pertaining to research and sponsored research activities at The Saban Research Institute.

Brent Polk, MD, received over $1.8 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders to study how stem cells in the colon respond to injury and inflammation.

Bradley Peterson, MD, reported that prenatal exposure to common air pollutants is linked to cognitive and behavioral impairment. The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were reported in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. He was also included in a separate feature in The New York Times Sunday Magazine about brain scanning and Freudian psychoanalysis. Read more.

Michele Kipke, PhD, has been awarded $8.4 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct research to improve HIV care and prevention in a study focusing on black, Latino and multiracial gay and bisexual young men—the group at highest risk for contracting HIV. Read more.

Johanna Olson-Kennedy, MD, received $5.7 million from the National Institutes of Health for the first multisite study of transgender youth in the U.S. The study will evaluate the long-term outcomes of medical treatment for transgender youth and will provide essential, evidence-based information on the physiological and psychosocial impact, as well as safety, of hormone blockers and cross-sex hormone use in this population. Read more.

A $2 million gift from Jill and Lee Kort will fund an endowment to support The Kort Family Foundation Brain and Spinal Cord Tumor Research Program, headed by Mark Krieger, MD, Division of Neurosurgery. Read more.

A $5 million gift from Tom and Holly Gores will establish The Gores Family Allergy Center to expand treatment and research into life-threatening allergies in children. The Center is the first of its kind in Los Angeles, specializing in more effective treatments for severe food allergies. Jonathan Tam, MD, serves as medical director. Read more.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, Vicente Gilsanz, MD, PhD, found that the spines of boys and girls differ at birth. While the difference aids in childbearing, it likely results in older women being more susceptible to scoliosis and osteoporosis. The report was featured in The New York Times. Read more.

Sebastien Bouret, PhD, was awarded more than $1.2 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to study neurodevelopmental pathways and molecular mechanisms involved in the development of metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Pat Levitt, PhD, was interviewed by The New Yorker magazine about the effects of poverty on the developing brain. Additionally, ABC TV News interviewed Levitt on how parents can more effectively support their child’s neurodevelopment.

A $2 million gift from the Larry & Celia Moh Foundation to The Vision Center will help establish the A. Linn Murphree Retinoblastoma Program Chair. CHLA ophthalmologist Murphree himself has pledged an additional $2 million toward the endowment for the chair. The inaugural chair is Jonathan W. Kim, MD, director of the Retinoblastoma Center. Read more.

The Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases (CCCBD) at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is one of the first sites in the world to offer a promising new therapy to treat pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Alan S. Wayne, MD, director of the CCCBD, is the lead principal investigator for the ZUMA 4 trial that is now open to patients with ALL whose disease is resistant to, or has relapsed following, standard chemotherapy or stem cell transplant. Read more.

New Faces

Ravi Bansal, PhD, joined the Division of Research on Children, Youth and Families. He is an expert in signal and medical image processing, including anatomical MRI, diffusion tensor images, functional MRI, and arterial spin labeling. He has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers in the development and application of cutting-edge imaging processing technologies to study normal brain maturation and developmental psychopathologies. Additionally, he has applied the mathematical and statistical methods that he developed to study the brain-based effects of environmental neurotoxicants. Bansal earned his PhD from Yale University and prior to joining CHLA, he was an associate professor at Columbia University for twelve years.

Lee Ann Baxter-Lowe, PhD, is Director of the HLA Laboratory at CHLA. Dr. Baxter-Lowe's research involves characterizing HLA polymorphism and determining its relevance in transplantation and human disease. In recent years she has been investigating the role of HLA antibodies in transplantation of solid organs and hematopoietic stem cells. Her laboratory has supported numerous single and multicenter clinical trials in transplantation and has been a core laboratory for the NIH Immune Tolerance Network. Her research has been reported in more than 125 scientific publications. Previously, Baxter-Lowe served as Director of the Immunogenetics and Transplantation Laboratory, at the University of California, San Francisco.

Jaclyn Biegel, PhD, FACMG, is the Chief of Genomic Medicine and the Director of the Center for Personalized Medicine in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at CHLA. She is an internationally renowned leader in pediatric cancer genetics with a focus on brain tumor research. Biegel founded the Clinical Cancer Cytogenetics Laboratory at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she focused on the development of state of the art testing for children with hematologic and solid tumors. She received her PhD in Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh, completed a fellowship at Duke University School of Medicine and served as a professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Gulnur Com, MD, has joined the Division of Pulmonology at CHLA. She specializes in pediatric sleep medicine, sleep-disordered breathing and cystic fibrosis and is the co-director of the Therapeutic Development Network Research Program of the Cystic Fibrosis Center. Com joins CHLA from the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She received her medical degree from Istanbul University, Cerrahpasa School of Medicine in Turkey. She completed her internship and residency at Michigan State University in Pediatrics and a fellowship in Pediatric Pulmonology at the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

Andrew Dietz, MD, has joined the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Blood and Marrow Transplantation. His research interests include rare inherited bone marrow failure syndromes such as dyskeratosis congenita, acquired marrow failure such as aplastic anemia, survivorship after cancer therapy and BMT and novel immunotherapy for leukemia. He earned his medical degree from the University of Minnesota Medical School and completed his residency and internship at Seattle Children’s Hospital, University of Washington. Dietz comes to CHLA after working at Rady Children's Hospital, University of California San Diego and Primary Children’s Hospital, University of Utah.

Xiaowu Gai, PhD, joined the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine as Director of Bioinformatics and Associate Professor of Clinical Pathology. His research aims at understanding human genetic variation at the molecular level and how it relates to human diseases using bioinformatics and genomics. Previously, Gai was Director of Bioinformatics and Associate Director of the Ocular Genomics Institute in the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School & Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston. Gai earned his PhD from Iowa State University and a master’s of science from the Institute of Genetics, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

Christian Hochstim, MD, PhD, joined the Department of Surgery. He earned a medical degree from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and completed a fellowship in pediatric otolaryngology at Stanford University with broad training in a range of complex problems including airway reconstruction, aerodigestive disorders, surgical treatment of obstructive sleep apnea and hearing loss. He also completed a PhD in developmental biology at Caltech. Hochstim’s current research focuses on stem cell and regenerative medicine-based approaches to laryngeal and tracheal reconstruction and prevention of stenosis.

Aaron Jensen, MD, MEd, has joined the Department of Pediatric Surgery at CHLA. Dr. Jensen earned his medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine before completing his residency in General Surgery and graduate training in Instructional Design and Educational Technology at the University of Washington. He completed fellowship training at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in pediatric surgery, surgical critical care, and pediatric minimally invasive surgery. Dr. Jensen’s research interests include translating educational interventions to improved clinical outcomes, as well as clinical research in the areas of nutrition, surgical critical care, and pediatric trauma.

Kattayoun Kordy, MD, recently joined the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. She earned her medical degree from the University of Texas San Antonio Medical School and completed her residency and internship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, with a focus on general pediatrics. Kordy completed a pediatric gastroenterology fellowship at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She is board certified in general pediatrics, pediatric gastroenterology, and clinical pharmacology. Her research focus is in infectious diseases in the gastrointestinal tract, in particular HIV and the microbiome. Her research is funded by the NIH K12 Child Health Research Career Development Award.

Marielena Lara, MD, MPH, has joined the Division of General Pediatrics. She is a graduate of the Harvard Medical School/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Lara completed her internship and residency in general pediatrics here at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program at UCLA, she took part in a post-doctoral fellowship in Health Services and Health Policy Research. In 2006, Lara was awarded a spot on the list of America’s Top Pediatricians. Some of her recent publications focus on childhood asthma and the health of Latino communities.

Mary Baron Nelson, PhD, RN, CPNP, received a faculty appointment after serving as a nurse practitioner since 2012 in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Blood and Marrow Transplantation. Her research interests focus on the mechanisms of brain injury from childhood cancer treatment through neuroimaging, and including neurocognitive and psychosocial late effects and development of interventions. She has been a nurse practitioner since 1995 and has primarily worked with children with brain tumors and childhood cancer survivors. Nelson has a MS degree in nursing from Boston College and a PhD in nursing from UCLA. She has been conducting research in childhood brain tumor survivors since 2007and is actively involved in the Association of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Nurses.

Michael Pulsipher, MD, has joined the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases as the Head of the Section of Blood and Marrow Transplantation (BMT) and Endowed Chair, BMT Clinical Research. He is also the group chair of the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Consortium and is recognized as a leader in the field. Currently, he is principal or co-principal investigator on six national, multi-center studies and a co-investigator on multiple additional clinical trials. His primary research interests are in transplantation, cellular, and immunotherapy for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Gordana Raca, MD, PhD, FACMG, is director of the Clinical Cytogenomics Laboratory in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. She is interested in the molecular and cytogenetic mechanisms of genetic disorders and in molecular and cytogenetic diagnostics. Her primary focus is on application of genomic technologies (chromosome microarray analysis and next generation sequencing) for studying hematologic malignancies and genetic diseases. Gordana earned her medical degree from the University of Novi Sad School of Medicine in Yugoslavia and completed fellowships at the University of Chicago and Emory University, in molecular diagnostics and clinical cytogenetics.

Sulagna Saitta, MD, PhD, FACMG, is the Director of Clinical Genetics at the Center for Personalized Medicine in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at CHLA. Her research and clinical work focus on microdeletion syndromes. Saitta received her MD and PhD in Molecular Biology at Jefferson Medical College. She completed her residency training at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia and a fellowship in Clinical Genetics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She held a faculty appointment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and subsequently served as Associate Director of Clinical Genetics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Mitchel Seruya, MD, joined the Department of Surgery specializing in pediatric hand and microsurgery. He earned his medical degree from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his internship and residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Georgetown University Hospital. Subsequently, Dr. Seruya completed a fellowship in hand and microsurgery at Royal Children’s Hospital. His research focus is on outcomes following nerve transfer for brachial plexus palsy, improved microsurgical techniques for congenital hand differences, management of upper extremity spasticity in patients with cerebral palsy, and objective assessment tools for facial paralysis and facial reanimation surgery.

Tai-Wei Wu, MD, has joined the Division of Neonatology and is an attending neonatologist in the Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit. After graduating from the University of Michigan and St. Luke’s College of Medicine, he completed his Pediatric residency training at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and then a fellowship in Neonatal-perinatal Medicine at the LAC + USC Medical Center. Recently, Tai-Wei Wu was a contributor to a study that measured brain temperature of infants who suffered from brain injury at around the time of birth. Brain temperature measurements may shed light on the effectiveness of hypothermia therapy in attenuating brain injury.

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