Current Environment:

The Samara Jan Turkel Clinical Center for Pediatric Autoimmune Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital is a leader in caring for children and teens with complex autoimmune diseases. For the past two decades, we have provided answers to nearly 5,000 patients from around the country, and around the world, who are facing the complexities of living with an autoimmune condition. Our experts treat many rare and serious diagnoses, including Kawasaki disease, multi-inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis, primary immunodeficiencies, and disorders of immune dysregulation.

About Samara

Samara Jan Turkel was the inspiration for the Samara Jan Turkel Clinical Center.Samara lived her whole life in just a few short years. A born leader, Samara used her imagination and love of the dramatic in her play, and inspired other children to become involved. When Samara laughed, it was infectious; everyone laughed with her. She was wise, lovable, and kind. Her empathy and concern for others were remarkable.

Other than few ear infections, Samara was never sick. When she was 4 years old, her doctor heard a heart murmur. The doctor was not alarmed but consulted a specialist, who requested a baseline cardiac stress test. Samara died suddenly during the test. An autopsy revealed a dilated aorta with inflammation of the arterial wall, suggestive of autoimmune disease and possibly Kawasaki disease.

Samara’s parents were devastated. They mobilized personal resources, as well as support from family and friends, to establish The Samara Jan Turkel Center for Autoimmune Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital. Over the past 20 years, their generous gift in celebration of Samara’s life has benefited a large number of children with autoimmune diseases. This has allowed Samara’s empathy and concern for others to live forever.

Our approach to treating autoimmune diseases

With the global COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changing the world, many thousands of individuals have experienced the severe inflammation and immune dysregulation that was once thought to occur only in rare diseases. As the coronavirus and the pandemic continue to evolve, we anticipate that the coming year will bring new challenges in the care of children with inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. This dramatic increase in cases has served to highlight the importance of the mission of the Samara Jan Turkel Clinical Center — to bring together rheumatologists, immunologists, immunogeneticists, cardiologists, and other specialists throughout Boston Children’s to provide deeper insights to these complex disorders and to innovate care for our patients.

Our comprehensive strategy includes:

  • providing cutting-edge care that incorporates the latest diagnostic methods and treatment options
  • coordinating services to address all aspects of pediatric autoimmune diseases in both the inpatient and outpatient settings
  • furthering our understanding of autoimmune disorders through our commitment to research and education and applying the findings to improve outcomes for patients

Organization of the Turkel Center

The Samara Jan Turkel Clinical Center for Pediatric Autoimmune Diseases is led by Mary Beth Son, MD. Dr. Son also heads the center’s Services and Outreach programs, which comprise:

  • The Kawasaki Disease Program and MIS-C research and care
  • The Multiple Autoimmunity and Immunodeficiency (MAID) Clinic and the Integrated Lupus Clinic

Janet Chou, MD, leads the center’s research and education efforts, which include:

  • The Immunogenomics Program
  • Translational research
  • Visiting professorships and seminars

Responding to COVID-19 and MIS-C

Our experts are well positioned to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and to address the severe inflammation and immune dysregulation that some patients are experiencing as a result of the virus. Since some patients with COVID-19 are also experiencing a rare and potentially serious condition called MIS-C, which appears to be similar to Kawasaki disease, we are also building on our deep expertise in this area to address the impact MIS-C is having on multiple organ systems.

Treating a patient with COVID-19 and MIS-C

Our expertise in identifying rare immune disorders led us to treat the first MIS-C case before this diagnosis was even recognized.

Tom, a 14-year-old, had become ill with a cold and developed large bruises on his arms. Although the symptoms resolved in a few days, testing by a Boston Children’s hematologist discovered Tom had a low platelet count that prevented his blood from clotting properly. His white blood cell count also began to decline. Through a translational research study, our team identified a potential genetic cause of Tom’s autoimmune disorder. This is just one of more than 24 immune dysfunction disorders we have discovered in the past decade.

Then in the spring of 2020, Tom developed COVID-19 and experienced autoimmune anemia caused by the virus. This caused him to become very sick with what we now know is MIS-C. He was admitted to our Intensive Care Unit, where a team of intensivists, immunologists, rheumatologists, hematologists, and infectious disease specialists treated him with a combination of intravenous immunoglobulin and steroids to suppress his immune system. This approach was effective, and Tom recovered fully.

We have been able to use the knowledge we gained from Tom’s case and others to successfully treat more than 33 children who have been hospitalized at Boston Children’s with MIS-C. All have recovered from this acute illness.

Graphic: MIS-C with atoms and molecules in background

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a complex, post-COVID-19 spectrum of illness that has affected a small number of children and adolescents. At its core is a hyperinflammatory response that we do not yet fully understand.

Advancing understanding and care for childhood autoimmune diseases

We develop new approaches for improving the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric autoimmune conditions to improve children’s quality of life.

We are:

  • studying the epidemiologic and biologic drivers of pediatric lupus with the goal of characterizing the lifetime impact of this disease in children through a grant to Dr. Mary Beth Son from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The information gleaned from the national level will be applied to improve outcome of patients in our Lupus Clinic.
  • discovering clinical predictors of severity for autoinflammatory and autoimmune diseases
  • identifying pathways triggering inflammatory and autoimmune diseases to target
  • developing national clinical guidelines and providing outreach and education at Boston Children's and beyond

Our translational research integrates with our clinical work. Learn more about our research and innovations.