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Science & Heart

The Life-Changing Power of Pediatric Research

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Science & Heart
"The breakthrough discoveries happening at Child Health Research Institute (CHRI) have a global impact in transforming children’s care. At CHRI, by resolving or finding cures for diseases affecting the children and families in our community, we set new standards for excellence in child health for the rest of the pediatric community; therefore, 
we stand as a global leader in children’s care."


Research has the power to unlock mysteries and restore childhoods. Sometimes it adds years, and sometimes it adds quality of life, but it’s always changing the lives of real people for the better. This means that research is not a cold or abstract concept; ultimately, it is direct and very personal. An investment in pediatric research is an investment in children today and for generations to come. 

Collaborating for Children\

The Child Health Research Institute (CHRI) is an innovative partnership between Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), launched to change—and save—young lives. The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska established CHRI on June 1, 2017, as a University of Nebraska Medical Center Institute—one of only three institutes at UNMC. Formalizing this collaboration has allowed both institutions to most effectively promote discovery and innovation to improve children’s health in the state of Nebraska and become a global leader in child health research.

The purpose of CHRI is to focus attention on the needs of children and to address them using the most innovative and transformative ways, driving small and large changes forward to improve children’s health everywhere. An incubator and an accelerator for pediatric research, the institute is committed to attracting and mentoring talent, fostering interconnection between outstanding clinicians and committed investigators, and training the next generation of child health researchers—all while advocating for children.

This is an exciting time for pediatric research, where researchers now can sequence the entire genome from one-single cell to discover new gene defects and deliver effective gene therapies to correct those defects using direct gene editing. Computational health sciences can use large sets of clinical and translational data, along with artificial intelligence, to support precision medicine, personalizing the care and cures for each child, treating them with the right medicines and therapies based on their unique genetic code.

CHRI is at the frontline of this cutting-edge research. 

The Vision & Mission

The Child Health Research Institute has a clear vision, and to achieve that vision, researchers are focused on a single, ambitious mission.

Vision: Improving the health of children everywhere.

Mission: To improve the health of children through innovative research, collaborative discovery and community engagement.


By leveraging Omaha’s medical research community and its global reach, and by inspiring and supporting people to discover, we believe we can help make a real difference in improving the lives of children and their families. CHRI’s inspirational vison and mission have set the roadmap for high, but achievable strategic goals, including: 

•    Promoting an environment that attracts and cultivates present leaders while supporting the development of future leaders in child health research. 

•    Fostering, sustaining and integrating pediatric research across Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, University of Nebraska campuses and the communities they serve.

•    Maximizing collaboration and resource-sharing to increase overall impact on child health research.


Child Health Research Institute researchers are pursuing their passion for discovery and carrying out leading-edge research in the following main areas of emphasis:

•    Early Life Origins of Diseases and Emerging Therapeutic Opportunities for Children 

•    Molecular Pathogenesis and Therapeutics Innovation for Childhood Cancer

•    Innovation in Global Child Health Research

•    Improve Health and Healthcare for Children and Adolescents with Lifespan Diseases

•    Research and Innovation in Children’s Heart Diseases 

•    Health Services and Policy Research to Improve Health and Healthcare for Pediatric Populations

Core Values:

To support the vision and shape the culture, pediatric researchers are committed to living out core values:

•    Listen 

•    Include

•    Inspire 

•    Empower 

•    Communicate 

•    Transform 

•    Deliver 

•    Excel


As a pediatric hematologist/oncologist, Dr. Coulter believes in the profound power of partnerships in pediatric cancer research. He is one of two researchers behind the development of the groundbreaking new P3 Oncology Protocol, a system that uses precision medicine, incorporating genomics and real-time tumor analysis into treatment planning. Through CHRI’s membership in the Children’s Oncology Group, investigators are able to access the best and brightest minds in medicine, to advance research. Dr. Coulter’s research also focuses on certain malaria medications and the impact they’re having on pediatric solid cancer tumors. Treating kids with cancer is fundamentally different than treating adults. By focusing on decreasing toxicity and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of medicine, kids can be treated more appropriately with the safest options available, enhancing and increasing abilities to cure.


"My focus is on cancer—and on collaboration. I don’t think researchers should be doing anything in isolation, especially when you’re dealing with diseases in children. We should be working together, as a team, because that’s what these kids and these families deserve."



As Executive Director of CityMatCH, a program aimed at improving the lives of women, children and communities, Dr. Abresch’s research is focused on eliminating perinatal mother-to-child HIV transmissions. Helping to fuel that progress is the Best Baby Zone, a project anchored in understanding how neighborhoods have a profound health impact on a child’s health. By looking closely at policy and systems through the lens of improving birth outcomes and the ultimate goal of better child health, Dr. Abresch works to design communities and policies around this shared goal, implementing policy-level, long-term sustainable outcomes and clinical-level enhancements.

 "CHRI really thrives because of the collaboration between Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and UNMC’s Department of Pediatrics. To be able to leverage the strengths of two of our state’s fundamental institutions is important.



As a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Hammel is trained to know precisely how to care for kids undergoing open heart surgery. To him, investment in research is an investment in outcomes, as clinical improvement is spurred by continuous quality improvement research. Dr. Hammel and all of Children’s cardiac team, collaborate with other institutions, partake in national surgical trials, including virtual trials—and feels this participation is integral to improving care. By participating in national databases and by sharing quality information, outcomes and study data, his team continues to advance the greater practice of medicine.

Dr. Hammel is currently using the national database to study best practices about how to improve outcomes for patients following the Norwood procedure. He is also studying the efficacy of a surgical technique he helped to pioneer: flowing blood throughout the body during aortic arch reconstruction versus the more conventional practice of using deep hypothermia and total circulatory arrest. His work will ultimately help prevent complications and enhance patient outcomes. 

"Surgeons are, by nature, problem solvers. They are constantly experiencing a flow of ideas. A research surgeon knows how to convert an idea into a question and a question into a research topic—and actually puts the time in to answer it."


RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: William Rizzo, M.D., CHRI Scientific Director

William Rizzo, M.D., the nation’s foremost expert on Sjögren-Larsson syndrome (SLS), is leading a Phase-3 clinical study that could revolutionize the way doctors treat this yet untreatable disease. Dr. Rizzo is credited with discovering the cause of SLS—an enzyme deficiency—more than two decades ago. The disease causes skin issues, developmental delays, seizures and some degree of leg spasticity. The drug under investigation, ADX-102, is delivered in a topical cream to treat the skin conditions. If it proves effective on the skin, an oral preparation will be developed to treat the neurologic symptoms. Phase 3, with sites in Omaha and at Yale University in Connecticut, began in the summer of 2018 and is expected to continue until 2021.

"Pharmaceutical companies are becoming more interested in rare diseases. They’re looking for alternate areas to focus on. We’re excited about that."



Antibiotic resistance is a growing global problem—and a primary research focus for CHRI investigator Dr. Simonsen. She continues to perform multi-center, industry-contracted, federally-funded, networked clinical trials to help bring new drugs to the market for pediatric use. She also works with a team to optimize care for children with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a driver of severe respiratory illness, primarily in premature and other fragile infants. In addition, Dr. Simonsen’s research focuses on healthcare quality at a systems level by striving to understand why infections occur in hospital settings and what can be done to prevent them. She led a task force to develop policies and procedures to ensure that Children’s is prepared to assess a patient with Ebola.

 "One of the amazing opportunities here at the CHRI is for us to really serve as an incubator for innovation."



Dr. McCulloh’s research is focused on ensuring acutely ill children with severe infections receive optimal treatment in order to heal in a timely manner. Dr. McCulloh’s team developed a mobile app, PedsGuide, a decision-support tool using evidence-based recommendations, to help improve decision-making in this area. Using a systemized approach, his research helps providers think through what they should and shouldn’t do in order to make a child feel better. Soon the PedsGuide app will expand its proven approach to best practices in prescribing antibiotics and asthma care, helping providers make better choices for children.

"A lot of what I do is focused on implementation science, which boils down to how do we get healthcare providers to change the ways they practice to best adhere to evidence and to optimize outcomes?" 


RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Meaghann Shaw Weaver, M.D. M.P.H.

Dr. Shaw Weaver says patient care compels her research—and research energizes her patient care. As the Division Chief of Pediatric Palliative Care at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Dr. Weaver’s research explores the impact of symptom burden on patient and family perceptions of wellness. Her research areas include pediatric palliative care and hospice, patient-provider communication, integrative and complementary therapies, spirituality in healthcare and more.

"Palliative care research, particularly qualitative palliative care research, intrigues and energizes me because we explore the impact of symptom burden on patient and family perception of wellness."



As a specialist in neonatal-perinatal medicine, Dr. Peeples’ research includes newborn brain imaging and monitoring. Certain infant diseases are a result of low oxygen or blood flow to the brain at birth. Dr. Peeples’ research is focused on developing an effective supplemental therapy for such diseases like neonatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). By doing so, the lives and developmental outcomes of more than 750,000 babies worldwide will benefit. His lab research seeks to decrease the effects of neonatal brain injury at the cellular level, while his clinical research aims to improve family bonding to their infants with brain injury, decreasing stress and improving overall well-being. 

"If we could develop an effective supplemental therapy for HIE, we could save the lives and/or developmental outcomes of more than 750,000 babies around the world each year."




"Collaboration is key because it brings around the same table people who might think of something in a different way or have a different expertise. This allows us to advance more effectively and efficiently. That’s the incredible thing about the CHRI—we’re all working together for the common good of the health of children."



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