In Bench to Bedside: Finding Out Where It All Starts

May 3 2016

In Bench to Bedside: Finding Out Where It All Starts

Bench to BedsideThe latest issue of Bench to Bedside, our monthly newsmagazine, follows several researchers who are uncovering some of the earliest beginnings of disease processes.

As part of the Human Placenta Project, a multidisciplinary team of researchers at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania are helping to develop new imaging tools to monitor development and function of the placenta throughout the organ’s lifespan. Their goal is to identify a precise and easy to implement screening tool for placental dysfunction in early pregnancy.

“We are using a multimodal experiment design to tackle the problems of: How does maternal blood flow get to the placenta? How does blood flow from the placenta to get to the fetus? How does oxygen transfer occur in vivo? And how do all of these things depend on the placenta’s structure?” said Daniel Licht, MD, one of the study team’s leaders.

Another team of scientists are getting a glimpse of exactly how a gestating infant’s developing brain forms important connections. These discoveries show the earliest scenes yet in the story of how healthy brains develop as children grow up.

“We found that brain regions are developing heterogeneously,” said Hao Huang, PhD, an investigator in radiology at CHOP and research associate professor at Penn, who leads this research. “In certain periods, some brain regions develop at faster rates. Although it’s heterogeneous, it’s not random. There is a well controlled, organized pattern at work.”

Also investigating early brain formation, researchers in the lab of Stewart Anderson, MD, of CHOP’s department of Psychiatry, described in the journal Cell Reports how interneurons reach their destination in the cerebral cortex with the help of mitochondria during fetal brain development. They suggest that some pregnancy complications could reduce the fetus’ mitochondrial energy production and leave the interneurons stranded. This may partly explain why many patients with mitochondrial disease experience neurological symptoms, like seizures, that are suggestive of a failed function by the inhibitory interneurons.

“The implications of these findings are that some of the solutions may be even harder to achieve than we had previously appreciated,” Dr. Anderson said. “The idea that the problem might be altered placement versus altered function of the interneurons shifts our thinking.”

Read the full articles and more in the April issue! Other stories include: the appointment of CHOP pediatric oncologist Peter Adamson, MD, to advise the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative; how researchers are teaching a computer to see like a dermatologist; and a new study researchers are conducting to fill the knowledge gap about why concussion causes cognitive impairment.

If you are involved with research at CHOP and have tips for future stories, contact Jennifer Long at We love to hear from you!