A catalyst for children

A Catalyst for Children

What a growing partnership between Children's Healthcare and Emory means for Georgia's children

By Donna Hyland

At the beginning of 2010, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta made a major announcement that we would invest $75 million over the next five years in pediatric research.

Specifically, we committed to investing in eight initial key priority areas (see box below). Why did we take on this big commitment? The short answer is that the health of Georgia's children depends on it. Our mission is to provide the best clinical care that we can for the kids we serve, and already we are the largest pediatric health care system in the United States, with more than 600,000 patient visits in 2009. However, Georgia ranks only 42nd in child health and well-being in the United States. We want to substantially improve outcomes for children and move Georgia quickly into the top 10 in child health.

The best way to do that is to align research with clinical care. Pediatric research is the way we'll make real improvements.

While $75 million is a big investment, it would be only a drop in the bucket if we were starting from scratch. But that is not the case. We have a rich tradition of working with partners in Atlanta, not only Emory but also Georgia Tech, Morehouse, the CDC, and others. By leveraging our relationships, we think we can have a real impact.

For example, at Children's at Hughes Spalding, which Children's began managing for Grady in 2006, Emory and Morehouse contribute doctors who help treat more than 50,000 children each year. The facility, which treats primarily indigent children (91% are uninsured or on Medicaid), has garnered the support of Atlanta's business and philanthropic community since Children's took over its operation. And the substantial turnaround that we were able to provide with our partners has made all the difference in the care that children are able to receive there.


Progress for Georgia's Children

Autism: Discoveries in Emory's genetics laboratory about the genes that cause autism are being applied to clinical treatments at both the Emory Autism Center and the Marcus Autism Center.

Cystic fibrosis (CF): Better treatments for CF, a disease that used to claim lives long before any child reached adulthood, are allowing people to grow up and older, even into their 60s.

Crohn's disease (a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract): Findings from a joint study between Emory and Children's may allow clinicians to individualize therapy at the time of diagnosis and treat each patient accordingly.

Kidney failure: Children's, Emory, and Georgia Tech are refining new child-sized kidney replacement devices for children undergoing dialysis.

Cancer: With rates of childhood cancer survivorship above 80%, Children's and Emory are developing survivorship programs that can last beyond childhood—to help patients know when and how often to get further screening and diagnostic tests as they age.

Key research priorities

  • cancer center and blood disorders
  • cardiovascular biology
  • developmental lung biology
  • immunology and vaccines
  • transplant immunology and immune therapeutics
  • pediatric health care technology innovation
  • cystic fibrosis
  • endothelial cell biology

Planned research expansions

  • autism
  • neurosciences
  • drug discovery
  • outcomes/wellness
  • clinical and translational research

When two powerhouses come together

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta collaborates with Emory every day. The Emory-Children's Center (a joint venture between Emory pediatrics and Children's) is the largest pediatric multispecialty group in the state, and the vast majority of physicians who work at Children's at Egleston are Emory faculty.

The partners also benefit from shared leadership. Barbara Stoll, the first chair of pediatrics to be jointly recruited and hired by Emory and Children's, is now senior vice president and chief academic officer for Children's. In March 2009, Emory and Children's jointly recruited and hired Paul Spearman as chief research officer at Children's and as vice chair of research in Emory's department of pediatrics. These appointments solidify a long-standing commitment between the two partners to expand pediatric research in Georgia.

Emory helps lead the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute (ACTSI), in which Children's participates. The ACTSI is an NIH-sponsored partnership of Atlanta research and health care institutions working to accelerate basic research findings into new treatments. The collaboration has enabled the first dedicated pediatric clinical research unit to open at Children's.

Also Children's and Emory are making plans for a joint research building, funded in part by a $25 million grant from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation to Children's.

Many other places in the country focused on pediatric research lack a structure that allows them to work collaboratively. Children's and Emory are lucky in that regard. We have cultures that are interwoven, allowing us to have a true joint focus.

The second fastest growing institution in NIH funding in 2009, Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a proven capacity for quality research and clinical studies as well as a nationally respected pediatrics department. Add to that the clinical strengths of Children's and the sheer volume of patients we see (including the largest pediatric sickle cell patient population in the United States), and the result is a chance to make dramatic improvements in children's health in just a short time. By leveraging our abilities, we hope to transform pediatric health care, to become a real catalyst for change for children in Georgia and well beyond state borders.

Donna Hyland

Donna Hyland is president and CEO of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the country's largest pediatric health system. Managing more than 600,000 patient visits annually at three hospitals (Scottish Rite, Egleston, and Hughes Spalding) and 16 neighborhood locations, Children's is ranked among the top children's hospitals by Parents magazine and U.S. News & World Report.

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