At 300 Longwood Avenue, Children’s is adjacent both to its teaching affiliate, Harvard Medical School, and to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. (Dana-Farber and Children’s jointly operate Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Care, a 60-year-old partnership established to deliver comprehensive care to children with and survivors of all types of childhood cancers.) In 2012, Children’s was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the nation’s number one pediatric hospital, along with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
With more than 680,000 square feet (63,000 m2) of state-of-the-art laboratory space, Children’s is home to the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center. Its discoveries have benefited children and adults since 1869. More than 1,100 scientists, including 9 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 13 members of the Institute of Medicine and 15 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, comprise Children’s research community. Children’s current initiatives are supported by a record US $225 million in funding, which includes more federal funding than is awarded to any other pediatric facility.
In the John F. Enders Pediatric Research laboratories, named for the Children’s researcher and Nobel Prize recipient who cultured the polio and measles viruses, hundreds of laboratory researchers and physician investigators search for answers to some of the most perplexing diseases.
In 2003, Children’s dramatically increased its research capacity with the opening of the 295,000-square-foot (27,400 m2) Karp Family Research Laboratories. The Karp family gift is one of many important gifts that support Children’s vital research enterprise.
In an effort to support the research community, Children’s Stem Cell Program investigator George Q. Daley, M.D., Ph.D., has made dozens of iPS lines developed at Boston Children’s Hospital available for use by other scientists through the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. To date, cell lines have been distributed to over 65 laboratories worldwide.
In 2010, a drug that boosts numbers of blood stem cells, originally discovered in zebrafish in the Boston Children’s Hospital laboratory of Leonard I. Zon, M.D., went to clinical trial in patients with leukemia and lymphoma.
Through the years, scientists at Children’s have set the pace in pediatric research, identifying treatments and therapies for many debilitating diseases, including those of adulthood.
Boston Children’s Hospital research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Real-time influenza tracking with electronic health records – May 13, 2016
- Drug ‘cocktail’ plus gene therapy could restore vision in optic nerve injury – January 17, 2016
- Medical millirobots offer hope for less-invasive surgeries – May 31, 2015
- Researchers Regrow Human Corneas: First Known Tissue Grown from a Human Stem Cell – July 5, 2014
- ‘Heart disease-on-a-chip’
- Potential peanut allergy breakthrough garners Genentech’s interest at Children’s Hospital
- Injectable ‘Smart Sponge’ Holds Promise for Controlled Drug Delivery
Early influenza detection and the ability to predict outbreaks are critical to public health. Reliable estimates of when influenza will peak can help drive proper timing of flu shots and prevent health systems from being blindsided by unexpected surges, as happened in the 2012-2013 flu season.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collects accurate data, but with a time lag of one to two weeks. Google Flu Trends began offering real-time data in 2008, based on people’s Internet searches for flu-related terms. But it ultimately failed, at least in part because not everyone who searches “flu” is actually sick. As of last year, Google instead now sends its search data to scientists at the CDC, Columbia University and Boston Children’s Hospital.
Now, a Boston Children’s-led team demonstrates a more accurate way to pick up flu trends in near-real-time — at least a week ahead of the CDC — by harnessing data from electronic health records (EHRs).
As Mauricio Santillana, PhD, John Brownstein, PhD, and colleagues describe in Scientific Reports, the team combined EHR data, historical patterns of flu activity and a machine-learning algorithm to interpret the data. This clinical “big data” approach produced predictions of national and local influenza activity that closely matched the CDC’s subsequent reporting.
“Our study shows the true value of considering multiple data streams in disease surveillance,” says Brownstein, the study’s senior investigator and Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. “While Google data provide incredible real-time, population-wide information, clinical data add a more accurate and precise assessment of disease state.”
Crunching EHR data
Instrumental to the study were data from collaborator Athenahealth, encompassing more than 72,000 healthcare providers and EHRs for more than 23 million patients.
The investigators first trained their flu-prediction algorithm, called ARES, with data captured from June 2009 through January 2012: weekly total visit counts, visit counts for flu and flu-like illness, visit counts for flu vaccination and more. ARES then used that intelligence to estimate flu activity over the next three years, through June 2015.
The team showed that ARES’ estimates of national and regional flu activity had error rates two to three times lower than earlier predictive models. ARES also correctly estimated the timing and magnitude of the national flu “peak week.” It was slightly less accurate in predicting regional peak weeks, but clearly outperformed Google Flu Trends on all measures.
The idea of capturing data directly from health care encounters definitely makes sense — assuming such data can be liberated from proprietary, HIPAA-bound healthcare IT systems. “As EHR data become more ubiquitously available, we will see major leaps in our ability to monitor and track disease outbreaks,” says Brownstein.
“Having access to near-real-time aggregated EHR information has enabled us to significantly improve our flu tracking and forecasting systems,” agrees Santillana, a member of Boston Children’s Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP), and also affiliated with Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Institute for Applied Computational Sciences. “Real-time tracking will enable local public health officials to better prepare for unusual flu activity and potentially save lives.”