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STORIES

New Area of Emphasis at the Children’s Mercy Research Institute Focuses on Emerging Infections to Help Protect Children and Public Health

STORIES

New Area of Emphasis at the Children’s Mercy Research Institute Focuses on Emerging Infections to Help Protect Children and Public Health

Headshot of Rangaraj Selvarangan, PhD
Rangaraj Selvarangan, PhD
Director, Clinical Microbiology & Virology Laboratories; Director, Research, Laboratory Medicine; Professor of Pathology, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Clinical Professor of Pathology, University of Kansas School of Medicine
Full Biography

The Children’s Mercy Kansas City Research Institute (CMRI) announced the establishment of “Emerging Infections” as an Area of Emphasis (AOE) dedicated to recognizing and surveilling new and reemerging pediatric infectious diseases around the world in an effort to help improve the prevention, protection and treatment of emerging diseases in children.

Rangaraj Selvarangan, BVSc, PhD, director of Clinical Microbiology and Virology Laboratories, and director of Laboratory Medicine Research at Children’s Mercy, will lead the Emerging Infections AOE.

Dr. Selvarangan has nearly two decades of infectious disease research at Children’s Mercy. He has been the principal investigator of the Kansas City-New Vaccine Surveillance Network (KC-NVSN) team since 2009, which was recently awarded a five-year, $7.25 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to perform population-based, laboratory-confirmed, acute surveillance of acute gastroenteritis illness and acute respiratory illness in children. In addition, Dr. Selvarangan leads the multi-disciplinary COVID-19 Diagnostics and Investigations Empowering the Family (CODIEFY) study, which uses COVID-19 testing and single-cell genomic sequencing technology to create evidence-based COVID-19 education about the virus. Children’s Mercy is also one of the pediatric hospitals participating in the national Collaborative Long-term study of Outcomes for COVID-19 in Kids (CLoCk) consortium.

“As everyone is now well aware, viruses have the ability to significantly impact our lives - we’re more than two years into the pandemic and the virus continues to mutate and spread,” said Dr. Selvarangan. “The world’s experience with COVID-19 underscores the need for greater preparation by monitoring viruses in the community - the more prepared we are, the better we can handle any situation and the better we can help protect public health.”

There is a critical need to identify and prioritize which emerging infectious diseases pose the greatest risk to society.”

Tom Curran, PhD, FRS
Senior Vice President, Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer

The Emerging Infections AOE will focus on surveillance and outbreak investigations, pathogenesis of emergent infections, vaccine trials, industry-sponsored trials, emergency and pandemic preparedness, and support stewardship activities to make sure the right diagnostic test is done on the right patient, at the right time.

“There is a critical need to identify and prioritize which emerging infectious diseases pose the greatest risk to society,” said Tom Curran, PhD, FRS, Senior Vice President, Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer. “We have already built a solid foundation and expanding this area of research will allow us to do even better surveillance and epidemiology, which will enhance our ability to handle any current or emerging situation.”

What makes the CMRI unique is the translational approach to research. The CMRI fosters an integrated research environment where no boundaries exist between science and medicine. Dr. Selvarangan noted a vast majority of his research has been done collaboratively with many other divisions and departments, which includes Infectious Diseases, Emergency Medicine, Laboratory Medicine, Genomic Medicine and Immunogenetics, Population Health, Neonatology, Adolescent Medicine, Nephrology, Gastroenterology and Precision Therapeutics.

“The research being done at Children’s Mercy touches multiple populations across our health system, and the collaborations between our research and clinical teams are vital when identifying new viruses or infection outbreaks,” said Rob Lane, MD, Executive Vice President, Physician-in-Chief. “This bench to bedside approach allows us to take results directly from the laboratory into the clinic to provide groundbreaking care for our patients.”

The other CMRI AOEs include:

  • Genomic Medicine - The Genomic Medicine Center is one of the very few pediatric genome centers in the world carrying out clinical whole genome sequencing and single-cell genomics.
  • Precision Therapeutics – Uses patient-specific information to optimize treatment for individual patients, which is supported by one of the largest pediatric clinical pharmacology programs in the nation.
  • Population Health – Research focused on the communities we seek to help, and identifying the personal, social, economic, and environmental factors that influence the health of a child.
  • Health Care Innovation – Identifies and advances products and processes that optimize the medical, surgical and therapeutic management of disease in children.

The CMRI was established in 2015 to accelerate precise diagnoses and treatments for complex childhood diseases and move kids to the forefront of research discoveries. The CMRI opened its new 9-story, 375,000 square-foot, pediatric research facility located on the hospital’s Adele Hall campus in the heart of downtown Kansas City in February 2021.

In addition, Dr. Selvarangan has also been appointed the William R. Brown Missouri Endowed Chair in Molecular Genetics and Molecular Medicine and will be formally invested at a ceremony this fall. His efforts as the Brown Endowed Chair in Molecular Genetics will be to build the research enterprise in molecular microbiology/virology with a focus on the newly created research area of emphasis in emerging infections.