To celebrate “7 Great Achievements in Pediatric Research,” the American Academy of Pediatrics prepared this video, “to educate members of Congress and the public about the importance of sustained funding and support for pediatric research”:
Monday, we looked at the first item on the list: Preventing dreadful diseases and saving lives by using safe and effective vaccines.
Yesterday, three more great achievements were explored: Reducing SIDS deaths by putting babies on their backs to sleep; pushing cure rates of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia past 90%; and giving premature babies surfactant — a critical compound their immature lungs lack — allowing them a much better chance of survival.
Today, we’ll look at the final three great achievements which have rocked our world:
5. Preventing Mother-to-Baby HIV Transmission
The AAP reminds us that advancements in treatments of HIV have transformed this horrible infection from a fatal affliction to a chronic disease:
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that kills the cells comprising the immune system. The more these cells are killed, the harder it is for the body to fight infection. When enough of these cells are killed, HIV infection causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), with the affected person eventually dying from overwhelming infection.
HIV can be transmitted via the blood, vaginal secretions, semen, anal secretions and breast milk. Mothers infected with HIV can transmit the virus to their children before the child is born, during the birthing process and after the child is born via breast milk.
This mother-to-infant transmission of HIV can be as high as 40%. In 1991, the rate of mother-to-baby HIV transmission peaked to 1,650 newborns becoming infected with HIV.
Research demonstrated that combinations of antiretroviral medications could reduce the mother-to-infant transmission of HIV to less than 2%!
Currently, fewer than 200 babies become infected with HIV in the United States each year, even though more women with HIV than ever before are giving birth. Re- search has also led to a reduction in infant HIV infection worldwide with a goal for elimination in 2015.
HIV, research was critical in this dramatic reduction in HIV transmission. Other research initiatives have led to increased life expectancy for persons – including children – who are HIV-infected.
6. Increasing Life Expectancy for Children with Chronic Disease
While treatment breakthroughs have allowed children with chronic diseases to live longer — cystic fibrosis (CF) and childhood asthma immediately come to mind — the AAP chose to focus on sickle cell anemia:
Sickle Cell Anemia is an inherited disorder that causes a person’s red blood cells (RBCs) to change their shape and go from being round to forming a C-shape. This change causes the cells to be more easily destroyed and also to clump together forming clots.
Clotting prevents the blood from flowing normally, causing extreme pain, infection, and organ damage including strokes.
Sickle cell disease affects about 90-100,000 Americans. Forty years ago, the life expectancy for someone living with Sickle Cell Anemia was just 14 years.
Today, thanks to the ability to diagnose newborns, as well as the use of vaccines, prophylactic antibiotics and other medications, life expectancy for sickle cell disease (SCD) is more than 40 years of age.
7. Saving Lives with Car Seats and Seat Belts
Over the years, the AAP has championed legislation impacting the manufacturing of age-appropriate car seats and their use, along with seat belts:
In children younger than 1 year, using car seats decreases mortality by 71%. When compared to only using a seatbelt, car seats reduce the risk of injury by 54% in children 1-4 years old, and in children 4-8 years old, booster seats reduce the risk by 45%.
In older children and adults, the use of seat belts decreases the risk for death and serious injury by about 50%.
Over the last three days, we’ve been able to see some of the profound benefits of pediatric research. There’s a lot more still to be done and continued investments in pediatric research are imperative. Nothing less than the future of our children — and of those yet born — is at stake.