2021 Grant Recipients

In October 2021, Leadership Circle awarded four grants that will advance the important work of these talented physicians and research scientists. The impact of their work will significantly enhance the world-class care for patients and families at Phoenix Children’s.

Funded projects

Dyslexia Screening Questionnaire (DySQ)

Principal Investigator: Carla C. Allan, MD
Department/Division: Psychology
Amount Requested: $149,711

Dyslexia is a common learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language. People with dyslexia have normal intelligence and usually have normal vision. Without timely diagnosis and treatment, children with dyslexia are much more likely to have poor academic achievement, anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. They are also more likely to drop out of school, which in turn results in limited employment opportunities, poor health outcomes and lower life expectancy. Although there is no cure for dyslexia, early assessment and intervention result in the best outcome.

This project addresses the critical challenge that many children diagnosed with dyslexia are diagnosed too late to optimally benefit from intervention. Although pediatricians routinely screen for many developmental milestones, they do not routinely screen for dyslexia because there is no tool with which to do so. Instead, the general pediatric community relies on the public education system to identify children with dyslexia. Ironically, often the public education system relies on the pediatric community to facilitate the formal diagnosis of dyslexia. In order to solve this problem, we developed a dyslexia screening questionnaire (DySQ) for pediatricians to use in order to screen for reading disorders in children finishing kindergarten or enrolled in first grade at the time of their 6-year well-check visit.

The primary outcome of this project is to prove that the DySQ works (i.e., it accurately screens positive for children with dyslexia and accurately screens negative for children who do not have dyslexia). In order to accomplish this, we plan to have the parents of 600 children complete the DySQ in a pediatrician’s office while their respective children meet with the ASU team and complete the current “gold standard” tests necessary to diagnose dyslexia. The ultimate goal of this project is to have a screening questionnaire that accurately screens for dyslexia and may be used nationally by all pediatricians.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Bone Marrow Transplant Patients and Their Families

Cady Berkel, PhD

Principal Investigator: Cady Berkel, PhD, Data Analyst
Department/Division: Palliative Care/Bone Marrow Transplant
Amount Requested: $39,766

Bone marrow transplant (BMT) is a critical lifesaving intervention used to treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases at Phoenix Children’s. However, children undergoing this treatment—and members of their families—are at significant risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a serious mental health diagnosis that does not go away without intervention. However, no pediatric hospitals systematically screen for or treat PTSD symptoms for BMT patients or their families.

We propose to develop a system that would allow us to use validated and freely available screeners to monitor BMT patients and families for PTSD symptoms prior to each regularly scheduled visit for a year following transplant. We will link families who report symptoms to mental health support. We will also use the information as part of a research project that would allow us to be more proactive in providing support for families who are likely to develop symptoms. Once the system is built, it can be used on an ongoing basis for all BMT families. It can also be used as a model for other programs at Phoenix Children’s.

Home Clinical Exercise Monitoring: Unraveling the Exercise Potential

Rajeev Bhatia, MD

Principal Investigator: Rajeev Bhatia, MD, Pediatric Pulmonologist; Pulmonology Division Chief
Department/Division: Pulmonology
Amount Requested: $127,509

Cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET) provides a global assessment of lung, heart, blood and skeletal muscle systems under stress. CPET is becoming increasingly crucial as exercise capacity is a significant predictor of health outcomes (e.g., the mortality rate in cystic fibrosis) in nearly every chronic disease state, particularly in patients with heart or lung disease. These indicators are not evident in regular testing done at rest with the routine clinic or hospital visits. Though the exercise response may change rapidly over weeks to months, the burden of equipment and resources to perform CPET in the clinic or hospital setting makes frequent testing impractical. For example, a typical hospital-based lab may only perform five or six clinical studies per day.

This project seeks to develop new equipment and software that are miniaturized and portable so that CPET may be performed more frequently and in different environments such as the patient’s home—something extremely relevant in our current environment. This project would supplement existing hospital testing to allow more frequent home assessment without overloading the hospital resources.

A portable system would also allow us to evaluate a patient in unique environments, which may be relevant for athletes or for those who live at elevation, which is among the several environments we cannot replicate in the more sterile laboratory setting. The benefits of home exercise testing could significantly impact children with pulmonary and congenital heart disease and many other children with chronic disease states (e.g., muscle disorders, chest deformity and sickle cell disease) or concerning symptoms during exercise.

A Complete Solution Suite for Fetal Cardiac MRI: Accurate Cardiac Gating, Motion Correction and 3D Reconstruction of the Fetal Heart

Luis Goncalves, MD

Principal Investigator: Luis F. Goncalves, MD, Pediatric Radiologist; Director of Fetal Imaging
Department/Division: Radiology
Amount Requested: $129,380

In Arizona, which recorded 80,393 births in 2018, congenital heart disease (CHD) is expected to affect approximately 8,000 children per year. CHD is responsible for 28 percent of neonatal deaths due to birth defects and 50 percent of deaths occurring during the first two to 12 months. A large number of these children seek advanced clinical and surgical treatment at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, often after being diagnosed while still in the mother’s womb. These fetuses require advanced fetal imaging to achieve a precise prenatal diagnosis that can lead to an optimal transition from fetal to postnatal life and improved outcome.

Although fetal MRI already plays a large role in the prenatal diagnosis of the more challenging cases of CHD, there is tremendous room for improvement. Current technology provides superb evaluation of larger anatomical structures and pathologies and thus helps us identify additional anomalies (for example the brain) that may also be present in these fetuses. However, the inherent motion of the fetus coupled with the small size of the fetal heart and the extremely fast fetal heart rate make it challenging to image the fetal heart in order to provide clinically useful interpretations.

To solve this problem, computational pipelines have been recently developed to compensate for sources of motion (namely the beating fetal heart, gross fetal body motion and maternal breathing), synchronize the fetal heart rate with the images, and increase the original resolution. These computational pipelines, although promising, currently suffer from two major problems: (1) the lack of a user-friendly interface, which requires 24/7 availability of a professional with advanced skills in computer engineering for implementation, and (2) a substantial amount of processing time of approximately 24–36 hours before images are available for interpretation.

Our proposal is to solve the two problems described above by producing a fast, user-friendly software for post processing of fetal cardiac MRI that can be used clinically by any technologist or radiologist to generate diagnostic-quality 2D and 3D images of the fetal heart. The entire cost for this project is the initial cost of creating the software. Once the software is incorporated into clinical workflow, the technologists that regularly process our images will be able to process fetal cardiac scans. This project will be completed and result in a workflow with zero additional cost to the Radiology Department after the first year.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: Equipment and Supplies to Evaluate How Sex Hormones Influence Brain Function

Theresa Currier Thomas, PhD

Principal Investigator: Theresa Currier Thomas, PhD
Department/Division: Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, NeuroTrauma Lab
Amount Requested: $99,924

This research will impact adolescent and postpubescent pediatric patients with known endocrine or neurological deficits. Identification of sex differences in brain function will further drive personalized medicine, improving quality of care for female pediatric patients with translatability to adult female patients.

Historically, females are underrepresented in preclinical and clinical research trials across all disciplines, especially in neurosciences. Therefore, preclinical research data from males is often generalized to females for clinical translation, making dangerous assumptions that the neurobiology is the same and putting female patients at higher risk for adverse effects.

Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders are more prevalent in females and often have a basis in dysregulation of the neuroendocrine axis. While receptors for hormones are located on all cells in the body, the impact of circulating sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, etc.) on neurotransmission in both sexes is poorly understood.

The proposed project is aligned with Phoenix Children’s mission, vision and strategic foci as it seeks to improve female patient care through innovative research that capitalizes on the unique skill sets and knowledge of current Phoenix Children’s employees and the use of state-of-the-art equipment in order to lead the nation in the evaluation of sex differences in basic neurotransmission, after neurological insult and during recovery. Publication of results will highlight the growth and expansion of Phoenix Children’s research programs, which is associated with training residents, graduate students, etc. Publications are available worldwide, enhancing the geographic presence of Phoenix Children’s.