Biobehavioral Health News :: The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital

Featured Research, Grants and Awards

Cynthia A. Gerhardt, PhD, Recognized by the American Psychological Association

Cynthia A. Gerhardt, PhD, director of the Center for Biobehavioral Health and a psychologist in the Pediatric Psychology and Neuropsychology Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, has been selected by the American Psychological Association (APA) to participate in the 2014-2015 Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology. Dr. Gerhardt is a principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health, as well as program director for the Patient-Centered Pediatric Research Program.

Dr. Gerhardt was selected in recognition of her outstanding career achievements and demonstrated leadership potential in academic, clinical, consulting, and other professional settings. The mission of the APA’s Leadership Institute for Women in Psychology is to prepare, support, and empower women psychologists as leaders to promote positive changes, and to increase the diversity, number, and effectiveness of women psychologists as leaders.

Dr. Gerhardt also serves on the physician team for Pediatric Psychology and is a faculty member for the pediatric psychology postdoctoral fellowship and the psychology pre-doctoral internship programs at Nationwide Children’s. In addition, Dr. Gerhardt is an associate professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Her primary research focus is on risk and resilience factors associated with family adjustment to bereavement and childhood chronic illnesses, such as cancer.

March of Dimes Grant Funds Project on the Efficacy of Dietary Supplementation in Improving Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes for Toddlers Born Prematurely

Sarah Keim, PhD, a principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, was recently awarded a general research grant from the March of Dimes to study the efficacy of dietary supplementation in improving cognitive and behavioral outcomes for toddlers who were born prematurely. Specifically, the March of Dimes will fund the project for $270,000 over a period of three years.

"Preliminary data demonstrate that this study is feasible and that the intervention will be beneficial in toddlers, especially since children's dietary intakes of DHA at baseline are positively correlated with cognitive ability," explained Dr. Keim. "Toddlerhood is a critical period for neurodevelopment, and early intervention is critical to long-term outcomes."

Dr. Keim and her team will be conducting a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy of dietary docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation during the second year of life, for children born very or extremely preterm. The benefits of DHA supplementation for cognitive development during early infancy is fairly well-established, but studies have not yet been conducted to determine if supplementation during the active period of neurodevelopment in the second year of life would benefit children born preterm.

Significant Gaps in Communication between Physicians and Parents

Recent work by Cynthia Gerhardt, PhD, and Kathryn Vannatta, PhD, has shown significant gaps in communication between physicians and parents, as well as associations with parent and child distress. For more information, visit the NCI Communication Grant page.

Buying Breast Milk Online is Likely to Cause Illness in Infants

Research conducted by Sarah Keim, PhD, and her team, in collaboration with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and The Ohio State University, found more than three-fourths of breast milk samples purchased over the Internet contained bacteria that can cause illness, and frequently exhibited signs of poor collection, storage or shipping practices. The study, published in the November 2013 issue of Pediatrics, is the first to examine the safety of selling breast milk to others over the Internet, a trend that has become more frequent in the past several years.

NCI Grant Funds Study on How Families Cope with Childhood Cancer after Treatment 

Cynthia A. Gerhardt, PhD, a pediatric psychologist and director of the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is studying the impact of stress on children and families, especially related to chronic childhood illnesses like cancer. She hopes that her findings will help healthcare providers and families learn how to best support children after treatment. “As we cure more children with cancer, it becomes even more important to understand how treatment affects their development and quality of life in the long-term,” said Dr. Gerhardt. “In addition, many families don’t realize that survivors may have long-term side effects and need close screening after treatment.” 

To help guide best practice in supporting families of children with cancer, Dr. Gerhardt and her colleague, Kathryn Vannatta, PhD, a principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s, have been collaborating on a multi-center study led by Bruce Compas, PhD, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Funded by the National Cancer Institute, over 350 families have participated in this study after their child’s diagnosis of cancer.

Dr. Gerhardt’s team initially worked with families within the first few weeks of diagnosis to document how they coped and talked about cancer with the child. The research team then evaluated associations between coping, communication, and adjustment over the first year of the illness, sometimes asking the families to come to the lab to be observed while talking about cancer. A continuation of this study, also funded by the National Cancer Institute, will assess similar outcomes for families in early survivorship, at three and five years following diagnosis.   

Dr. Gerhardt says that studying how families cope during the entire spectrum of childhood cancer, from diagnosis to survivorship or end-of-life, will facilitate improved quality of life for all family members even after they have left the hospital. “Many families are quite resilient over the long-term,” said Dr. Gerhardt.  “But it’s important to support families through all phases of the illness and ensure survivors have the best care and quality of life possible.”

Diets Low in Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids May Be a Problem for Youngsters

In the first study to closely examine the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) intake among U.S. children under the age of 5, Sarah Keim, PhD, has found what might be a troubling deficit in the diet of many youngsters. The study, published online in September 2013 by Maternal and Child Nutrition, used data on nearly 2500 children age 12 to 60 months from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

New Study Examines Injuries Associated with Baby Bottles, Pacifiers and Sippy Cups in the U.S.

Sippy cups, bottles and pacifiers are popular items used by many parents for their kids. However, a new study shows that these items can be dangerous if a child is walking or running with one of these items in their mouth. Watch as Sarah Keim, PhD, researcher in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at The Research Institute, explains simple tips to prevent injury.

NIH K23 Award Funds Study on Body Image in Adolescents with Craniofacial Conditions

Canice E. Crerand, PhD, a principal investigator at the Center for Biobehavioral Health and a psychologist at the Center for Complex Craniofacial Disorders and the Cleft Lip and Palate Center, was recently awarded a K23 award from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a three-part study on body image in adolescents with craniofacial conditions.

Youth with craniofacial conditions are vulnerable to specific psychosocial problems, including social inhibition, social anxiety, negative self-appraisal, depression, and lower quality of life. The psychosocial problems reported by adolescents with craniofacial conditions are often associated with negative body image. Negative body image is a known risk factor for depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders, and it is consistently associated with lower quality of life and self-esteem.

The proposed studies supported by this NIH K23 award will address gaps in the literature by 1) characterizing and evaluating the multiple dimensions of body image; 2) examining psychosocial correlates of body image disturbance and body image satisfaction in adolescents with and without craniofacial conditions; and 3) developing and piloting a cognitive-behavioral body image and social skills intervention for adolescents with craniofacial conditions.

The overall aim of these studies is to improve our understanding of risk and protective factors for psychosocial problems in youth with craniofacial conditions. These studies will also lay the foundation for the development of an empirically supported intervention designed to improve body image, psychosocial functioning, and quality of life in adolescents with craniofacial conditions.

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