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Research & Innovation | Overview

The Boston Children's Hospital Brain Center team improves care in many ways. Some changes come from our scientific research: Understanding diseases deeply—even at the genetic, cellular or molecular level—leads to new drugs and therapies. Other improvements come from moments spent at the bedside, when doctors and nurses see opportunities to enhance current treatment methods.

Innovations play a critical role in our patients' health, so we are constantly creating new ways to treat, and prevent, brain diseases and injuries and mental health conditions. An innovation may be “small,” like finding a creative way to help a young patient take her medication. Or it may be a "big" discovery that changes the entire way in which a condition affecting the brain is approached.

Pioneering Psychiatric Research

Children’s is known for pioneering some of the most effective techniques in mental health diagnosis and treatment for children, and a significant part of our success comes from our commitment to research.  All our efforts focus on identifying and understanding critical problems, working to uncover answers that offer long-term solutions, and translating those answers into evidence-based clinical practice.  Our goal is to reduce the burden of emotional and physical illnesses on children and their families. 

One of our key areas of research is in the responses of children and their families to the psychological stresses associated with chronic illness, including cardiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.  Researchers at Children’s have developed and implemented innovative individual, family-based, and community programs for these and other conditions.  

Read more about the Department of Psychiatry's research efforts.


Curbing stroke’s inflammatory damage: A new target

In an ischemic stroke, accounting for nearly 90 percent of all stroke cases, it happens like this: When vessels supplying blood and oxygen to the brain are blocked by a narrowing or a clot, immune cells in the brain sense the low-oxygen conditions, suspect an invading organism and try to kill it by producing molecules known as reactive oxygen species or ROS’s.

These, unfortunately, have an inflammatory effect that actually damages the brain further, injuring and killing neurons.

“Stroke produces inflammation, and that’s one of the main things people have been after in trying to reduce stroke damage,” says David Clapham, MD, PhD, chief of the Basic Cardiovascular Research Laboratories at Boston Children’s Hospital...Read the full article.

Using high-tech resources to optimize brain surgeries

Surgery can play a big role in the treatment of complex conditions, like brain tumors or intractable epilepsy. Numerous studies have shown that the more precise the surgery, the better the child’s outcome.

In 2005, Children’s became the first pediatric hospital to use a full-sized Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine during operations. This means that our neurosurgeons can bring the magnet out from behind doors to take images before, during and after an operation. Using these images, we can then determine if additional tissue should be removed while the patient is still on the operating table. The precise imagery allows us to conduct the most complete tissue resection possible, while minimizing damage to healthy, nearby tissue.

Implementing innovative programs at Boston Children's

Boston Children's Psychopharmacology Clinic Chief Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, MD, (far right) and his team developed the RAGE-Control game.

RAGE-Control: Regulate and Gain Emotional Control

RAGE-Control teaches children to simultaneously focus, react, inhibit impulses, and keep their heart rate down in the context of a traditional space battle game. In order to score points, children must consciously overcome their instinct to get upset or angry while performing quick-reaction tasks. The game is also available as a family intervention, which teaches families how to help one another regain control of their emotions in challenging situations.

Read more
about the RAGE-Control game.