Putting the Pieces Together: Packard and Stanford Form a Nexus of Pediatric Research in the Heart of Silicon Valley

By Ruth Schecter
Friday, January 1, 2010

Less than a generation ago, any child born with a congenital heart defect would undergo multiple open-chest surgeries to repair the damage. There would be long stays in the hospital, scars, and loss of normal activities. Many children would develop additional health problems from both the condition and the treatment, and most would not survive to see adulthood.

Today, frequently that child’s heart can be mended with minimally invasive, endoscopic surgery, using tiny tools specially designed for pediatric conditions. In fact, new diagnostic tests, screening methods, and imaging technologies allow physicians to spot problems and intervene even before the child is born.

Incredible progress has been made in recognizing and addressing all sorts of pediatric disorders, from heart malformations to spina bifida, cerebral palsy, sickle cell anemia, and diabetes. Breakthroughs are being made in biomedical specialties that didn’t even exist a few decades ago—fields like fetal surgery, intravascular imaging, bioinformatics, and pharmacogenomics.

At Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, a deep commitment to biomedical research has encouraged these kinds of advances. Thanks to Packard’s close alignment with the Stanford University School of Medicine, interactions between the laboratory and the hospital bedside are streamlined—a process known as translational medicine.

“Translational medicine creates a climate of innovation and collaboration to improve the lives of patients,” says Philip Pizzo, MD, the Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the School of Medicine. “It enables close interactions between physicians and scientists in different specialties, between students and trainees, and between basic science and clinical care.”

Packard Children’s also benefits from the diverse resources and proximity of the University, which encourages interactions among specialists in engineering, computer science, chemistry, physics, biology, and business—people who might not normally cross paths.

“Stanford has a long tradition of excellence, not just in specific disciplines but in interdisciplinary research,” says Ann Arvin, MD, vice provost and dean of research at Stanford and the Lucile Salter Packard Professor of Pediatrics at Packard Children’s. “Departmental boundaries are easy to cross, allowing researchers to learn from each other and to discover areas of common ground.”

The University’s approach was integral in shaping today’s Silicon Valley and still serves as the training ground for many successful entrepreneurs in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and high-tech enterprises who maintain close ties to the academic community.

“Packard is no ordinary children’s hospital,” says pediatric pulmonologist Hugh O’Brodovich, MD, the Adalyn Jay Physician-in-Chief and the Arline and Pete Harman Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics. “We have a unique combination here, with world-class scientists and faculty committed to finding ways to do things better. It’s a blend of talent, expertise, creativity, dedication, and shared resources. That makes a culture of innovation. And that ultimately will improve the health of all children.”

The stories in the Spring 2010 issue of Packard Children's News illustrate how the back-and-forth dynamic of translational medicine has fostered insights in molecular genetics, in surgical device design, and in regenerative medicine that can be applied to diagnosing and treating a wide range of pediatric disorders. Today, physician scientists at Packard and Stanford are engaged in research that spans a wide breadth of medical science, yet shares a common objective: better health for children worldwide.