Conducting innovative research that will improve the quality of care and quality of life for children and families is part of Shriners Children’s mission. What began more than 40 years ago as a small program with a budget of just $12,000 has become a strong, respected research program with a multimillion-dollar annual budget. The work has made strides in areas spanning genetics, musculoskeletal conditions, severe burns and spinal cord injuries.
A history of discoveries that make a difference
Shriners Children’s researchers have made landmark discoveries and advances that make a significant difference in treatment approaches and in the lives of our patients, including:
- Artificial skin and improved wound-healing techniques for severe burns
- Effective treatments for X-linked hypophosphatemia and osteogenesis imperfecta (OI)
- Refining the use of functional electrical stimulation to help some children with spinal cord injuries, as well as those with cerebral palsy, to stand, walk and use their hands more effectively
- Discovery that a mutation in the gene for fibrillin is responsible for Marfan syndrome
- Improving the survival rate and quality of life of persons with severe burns
- Elaboration of a treatment for OI that involves infusion therapy and has become a standard of care
- Advancing in utero surgical techniques for fetal repair of spina bifida
- Discovery of a protein, biomarker CXM, which mirrors the child’s rate of bone growth, giving physicians the ability to quickly predict growth rate and make more-informed treatment decisions
An ongoing goal to grow
Building on the success of groundbreaking research, the Shriners Children’s strategic plan prioritizes the creation of tools and affiliations that will align with our clinical goals and raise the profile of our research program, including:
Genomics and precision medicine: The Shriners Children’s Genomics Institute continues its mission to perform DNA sequencing of samples from our patients and their families. Our Mexico City hospital is now included in this effort, which enhances our data and possibilities.
The availability of advanced DNA sequencing to our medical and scientific staff is driving new areas of clinical research and inspiring collaborative efforts. Recently funded genomics-related projects include studies of genetics and cerebral palsy, genetic links to opioid efficacy in patients with burns, and genetic links to facial asymmetry.
Motion analysis: In the Shriners Children’s motion analysis centers, care teams use high-speed cameras, reflective markers, force platforms and
muscle sensors to record and measure how a child with a mobility impairment is moving, allowing clinicians to create more accurate, individualized treatment plans.
Our researchers and engineers collaborate with universities and other institutions on new technologies in motion analysis that provide similar information with significantly less staff time. In addition, these systems are portable, potentially allowing us to bring motion analysis to more kids in more places, a major goal of Shriners Children’s. We are also exploring wearable sensors that monitor joint motion and activity levels, providing a more accurate picture of the way a patient walks during the day.
Additionally, researchers are examining how patients can use virtual reality and games to help surgeons measure the outcomes of upper extremity surgeries.
Artificial intelligence (AI): AI is becoming increasingly important in pediatric medicine. At Shriner’s Children’s, we are applying AI to early intervention in idiopathic scoliosis. Working with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, our research aims to help develop models that will automate the calculation of various spinal measurements used to diagnose scoliosis, ultimately improving clinical management. This machine-learning endeavor involves “training” computers with 1,000 spinal X-rays of patients with scoliosis.