Research Breakthroughs in Children’s Health: A Collaborative Program

Virginia Tech, the Children’s National Health System, and George Washington University have partnered in a unique program to create research breakthroughs in children’s health. The three institutions have contributed a total of $375,000 to support seven collaborative research projects, including three that involve the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.


Modeling Host Responses to Clinical Influenza Virus Isolates

Team Members

Josep Bassaganya-Riera, DVM, PhD, Professor of Immunology, Director of the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory, and Director of the Center for Modeling Immunity to Enteric Pathogens, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, Virginia Tech

Raquel Hontecillas, DVM, PhD, Assistant Professor of Immunology and Immunology Lead for the Center for Modeling Immunity to Enteric Pathogens, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, Virginia Tech

Roberta DeBiasi, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Principal Investigator, Children’s Research Institute, Children’s National Health System

David Diemert, MD, FRCP(C), Associate Professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Tropical Medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences


Antibody-Conjugated Endohedral Metallofullerene B7-H3 and IL-13 Nanoparticles for Targeted Neuroblastoma Diagnostic and Therapeutic Applications

Neuroblastoma is a common pediatric extracranial tumor in which most cases are high-risk with poor prognoses. The collaboration will target two molecular markers that the Sandler Lab has identified as being highly expressed in neuroblastoma cells. The Dorn Lab has demonstrated the ability to create metallofullerenes – spherical carbon structures with metal atoms at their cores – that selectively bind with these molecular markers. It is the hope of these two laboratories that their collaboration will be able to use these two developments to produce a reliable early detection diagnoses method and perhaps novel therapies for neuroblastoma.

Team Members

Harry Dorn, PhD, Professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, Professor of Chemistry at the College of Science, Virginia Tech, and A.C. Lilly Faculty of Nanoscience, Virginia Tech

Anthony Sandler, MD, Surgeon in-Chief at Children’s National Health System, Senior Vice President of the Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Center for Surgical Care at Children’s National Health System, and Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at George Washington University


Novel Bioinformatics Tools for Alignment of Genomic and Transcriptomic NGS Data

Team Members

Anelia Horvath, PhD, Research Associate Professor and Director of the McCormic Genomic and Proteomic Center, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

David Mittelman, PhD, Associate Professor, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and Department of Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech

Raja Mazumder, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences


Identifying Medulloblastoma Specific DNA Microsatellite Variance-Associated Targets to Create High Affinity Peptide-Based Ligands as Molecular Diagnostic Tools

Team Members

Enusha Karunasena, PhD, Research Scientist in the Informatics and Systems Division of Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, Virginia Tech

Harold “Skip” Garner, PhD, Professor and Director of the Informatics and Systems Division of Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, Virginia Tech

Brian Rood, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Principal Investigator at the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research, Children’s National Health System


Novel Polymer Composites For In Situ Visualization of Peripherally-Inserted Central Catheters

Team Members

Raj Shekhar, PhD, Principal Investigator in the Bioengineering Initiative, Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, Children’s National Health System

An Massaro, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Neonatology, Children’s National Health System

Karun Sharma, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Division of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiology and Principal Investigator in Bioengineering, Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, Children’s National Health System

Lissett Ramirez Bickford, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering and School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, Virginia Tech

Abby Whittington, PhD, Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, Virginia Tech


Mechanisms of Class-Specific Targeting and Topographic Map Formation in the Visual System

To process external stimuli, the organs for our senses must make precise connections with the central nervous system during development. Due to the ease with which scientists can access the organs and neurons involved in sight, it is a favorite subject of research projects studying neural targeting.

Retinal ganglion cells maintain an exact spatial relationship from their origin on the retina to their termination in the brain. In addition, each class of retinal ganglion cell extracts different forms of information from the visual scene, such as contrast, color, or motion, preserving parallel channels of information.

The scientists will investigate whether the maintenance of spatial relationships and the development of parallel channels of information are interrelated. The investigators will also study the molecular mechanisms that give rise to each phenomenon.

Team Members

Jason Triplett, PhD, Assistant Professor, Center for Neuroscience Research, Children’s National Health System

Michael Fox, PhD, Associate Professor, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science, Virginia Tech


Cellular and Molecular Basis of Focal Refractory Epilepsies

The collaboration will seek to identify changes in the genetic expression of mRNA and microRNA in people affected by epilepsies caused by cortical dysplasias and tuberous sclerosis. In addition, the researchers will investigate the role of CLOCK, a key regulator of the pathways responsible for generating circadian rhythms. CLOCK was recently identified by the Liu laboratory as being significantly downregulated in disruptions of neuronal firing.

Both laboratories will contribute to the interpretation and validation of candidate genes, the examination of changes in animals with modifications to candidate genes, and the creation of a neuronal culture system to study potential affects of genetic mutations in isolation.

Team Members

Gregorio Valdez, PhD, Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science, Virginia Tech

Judy Liu, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Principal Investigator, Center for Neuroscience Research, Children’s National Health System