Pediatrician holding a young patient

SRHS part of pediatric network to receive grant

USC School of Medicine Columbia Lands $1.6 Million NIH Grant to Establish Statewide Pediatric Research Network.

Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System pediatrician Hanna Sahhar, MD, is part of a South Carolina network of pediatricians to receive the TRANSFORM SC grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

NIH awarded a four-year, $1.6 million grant to the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Medicine to establish a statewide Pediatric Clinical Trials Network. The purpose of the network is to boost participation in “research that makes a difference” for children and families across South Carolina. The grant places particular emphasis on clinical research to better understand and improve health outcomes for children and families living in rural and medically underserved areas of the state.

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Health Sciences South Carolina (HSSC) will join the USC School of Medicine in leading the TRANSFORM SC clinical trials and research network. This shared leadership team will provide support to pediatricians and staff in sites across the state who are committed to enhancing their research capacity. This support includes linking teams through education, training, research-enabling informatics tools developed by HSSC, and a virtual clinical trials office facilitated by the Telehealth Research and Innovation Program at MUSC.

TRANSFORM SC is part of the NIH ECHO Program – short for Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes – and is part of a national effort to better understand the factors that impact child health and the long-term development of chronic diseases that continue into adulthood. The program targets conditions of high public health importance, including obesity, autism and ADHD, respiratory diseases like asthma, and factors that occur around birth that impact the long-term health of children.

Focused on building a patient- and family-centered program, the TRANSFORM SC grant will establish research sites throughout the state, thus enabling children and families with health issues to more readily participate in outcome-changing research studies. Findings and best practices will be tested with other states participating in the ECHO program and shared nationally to improve the health of all children. TRANSFORM SC sites include:

  • AnMed Health
  • Greenwood Genetics
  • McLeod Health
  • MUSC Children’s Hospital
  • Palmetto Health
  • Self-Regional
  • Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System
  • University of South Carolina School of Medicine

Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System is part of a core of physician champions and nurse coordinators supporting this program. Their goal is to improve the health of children across South Carolina.

“The TRANSFORM SC grant allows us to work with all children’s hospitals in South Carolina toward a unified goal of improving the health and wellness of the kids in our community and state though clinical research on environmental exposures,” said Hanna Sahhar, MD, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System pediatric intensivist and medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit. “Specifically, we are interested in investigating four areas with a high public health impact; upper and lower airway infections, obesity, pre/post and perinatal outcomes as well as neurodevelopment.”

Christine Turley, MD, the USC vice chair for Pediatric Research in the Department of Pediatrics and chief medical officer at HSSC, is joined by Lisa Knight, MD, an assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics, USC, and Andrew Atz, MD, interim chair, Department of Pediatrics, MUSC, as co-principal investigators overseeing the grant. Turley, who is also a practicing pediatrician, said the grant’s “family-centered” approach has profound implications for South Carolina’s children, pediatricians and the state’s future.

“This is very much about helping families raise healthier kids. South Carolina’s children have high rates of asthma, obesity, diabetes, and conditions such as ADHD, autism, depression and anxiety, all of which are concerning to parents and impact our future as a state. Thanks to the NIH grant, we will be able to establish a research infrastructure that will engage pediatricians, researchers, parents, and children and help find solutions to conditions that threaten children’s health,” said Turley. “In many cases, children in rural communities are disproportionately affected by poor health, which makes it even more important to involve their families in pediatric research to discover solutions.”

Turley said the first six months of the grant will focus on establishing research sites around the state, putting informatics and telehealth infrastructure in place, and recruiting and training new pediatrician researchers. The sites will then begin creating a registry of families interested in participating in future research studies. She assures parents this program is about helping our children have a hopeful future, by discovering factors that contribute to pediatric health. Once South Carolina’s Pediatric Clinical Trials Network is up and running, the state will be well positioned to attract more federal funding for research and parents will have more opportunities to participate in studies relevant to their children’s health.

“We are so honored that the NIH chose South Carolina for this grant,” Turley said. “The healthier South Carolina’s children are, the healthier the future of South Carolina will be.”