Over 120 pediatric researchers with expertise and experience that span the breadth of medical disciplines comprise ACRI’s roster of investigators who work to fulfill its mission to improve children’s health, development, and well-being through high-quality research. Some of our major research programs are described below.
The Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center (ACNC) is a cooperative effort of the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and Arkansas Children's in collaboration with Arkansas Children’s Research Institute and UAMS. Established in 1994 on the ACH campus, the ACNC is one of six National Human Nutrition Centers funded through the USDA-ARS and one of two centers to focus primarily on pediatric/maternal nutrition and metabolic health.
The mission of the ACNC is to conduct cutting-edge research to understand how maternal-child nutrition and physical activity optimize health and development. The ACNC uses state-of-the-art procedures, equipment, and facilities to determine how early-life exposures to specific diet, dietary factors, and physical activity, and other factors can affect physiology, The ACNC investigates a wide array of biological systems including brain development, skeletal health, adipose tissue development, gastrointestinal health, immune system development, cardiometabolic health, and whole body metabolism. With approximately 54,000 ft2 of shared research space, the ACNC provides clinical research facilities, research laboratories, shared equipment, and core facilities designed for its team of over 75 scientists and support staff. ACNC investigators are also UAMS Department of Pediatrics faculty members within the section of Developmental Nutrition and receive funding beyond USDA-ARS, including NIH, non-profits, and industry partners. The ACNC also receives funding from the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, which was created as the major research component of the Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act of 2000.
The Arkansas ECHO ISPCTN Site (AREIS) is a member of the IDeA State Pediatric Clinical Trials Network (ISPCTN) and was initially funded in 2016 and renewed for an additional five-year prior in May 2021 (UG1OD024945). The primary mission of AREIS is to engage rural children in Arkansas in innovative clinical trial opportunities. AREIS is co-led by Tamara Perry, MD, and Paul Darden, MD. Primary efforts to meet AREIS’ mission include providing research expertise and leadership to the ECHO ISPCTN for the development and implementation of robust clinical trials in high priority disease areas, increasing clinical trials competency and leadership skills among AREIS faculty and staff, and leveraging existing resources to implement state-of-the-art community engagement and community partnership approaches that will enhance the participation of rural children in clinical trials. AREIS works with NIH program staff, other ISPCTN sites, as well as the Data Coordinating and Operations Center (DCOC) to accomplish these goals. The participation of rural children in trials will enhance the health of Arkansas children for generations to come.
The Arkansas Reproductive Health Monitoring System (ARHMS) is a well-established public health program in birth defect tracking. ARHMS, which is administered within Arkansas Children's Hospital, tracks birth defect trends, responds to inquiries from the public, provides the data infrastructure for scientific research, and performs prevention activities aimed at reducing the occurrence of birth defects. ARHMS seeks to identify and to describe patterns of birth defects in Arkansas in order to support scientific research to prevent birth defects among state and global populations.
The Asthma and Respiratory Disorders Research Program was established to address the growing problem of asthma morbidity among children. In addition to strong clinical services in asthma and allergic disease, this program provides novel research approaches to addressing pathogenesis of the disease, exploring new treatment modalities through clinical trials and translational research, and improving education and healthcare delivery through community-based health outcomes research. The Lung Cell Biology Laboratory, through its collaborative NIH funding and multi-disciplinary investigative team, employs novel human model systems to investigate disease pathogenesis and to explore potential targets for novel therapies. The rural health asthma program, RADAR (Reducing Asthma Disparities in Arkansas), uses state-of-the-art technology including telehealth and mobile application systems to target high-risk, underserved populations through its innovative rural healthcare delivery research. The program is currently testing the effectiveness of an mHealth Asthma Action Plan smart-phone based application for adolescents that provides real-time, personalized feedback, asthma education, and data logging/tracking capabilities with and without primary care physician data sharing (R01NR015988; PI: Perry).
In 2016, Arkansas Children’s Research Institute received a $9.4 million COBRE Phase 1 award to create a center for the study of childhood obesity. Led by Judy Weber, PhD, RD, the multidisciplinary Center for Childhood Obesity Prevention strengthens ACRI’s obesity research capacity and creates mentoring pathways for emerging scientists whose work is focused on pediatric obesity. The Center also serves as an anchor for the development of a comprehensive pediatric obesity program in the Arkansas Children’s Health System statewide. The focus of the CCOP is to better understand the origins of pediatric obesity, as well as the behavioral and environmental contributors, and to develop interventions designed to prevent and treat, and ultimately reduce, childhood obesity and its associated complications.
Current studies funded by the award range across the full translational spectrum, from investigating underlying basic metabolic factors to clinical effectiveness trials to population outcomes research. The award has established two biomedical scientific infrastructure research cores to support the thematic work of the Center: the Biostatistics Core and the Metabolism and Bioenergetics Core. Anticipated in the 5-year Phase 2 of the CCOP is the establishment of a third scientific infrastructure core, the Community Engagement Core. Unique to the CCOP is the direct involvement of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI), which houses the state body mass index (BMI) data warehouse. In establishing and growing the Center, the team will continue to work to prevent the rise in Arkansas childhood overweight and obesity rates. Currently among school-age youth in Arkansas, 23% have obesity and 17% are classified as overweight, according to ACHI. The goal is to reduce this rate significantly over the next 5 to 10 years. New discoveries and knowledge produced through the work of the CCOP and partners throughout the state are continually being translated into novel programs, interventions, and treatments necessary to make our children not only better today but healthier tomorrow.
In 2017, Arkansas Children’s Research Institute received its second COBRE Phase 1 award, for $11.5 million, to establish the Center for Translational Pediatric Research (CTPR) (P20GM12129; PD: Tackett). Led by Alan Tackett, PhD, the CTPR seeks to investigate how pediatric diseases develop from a systems biology and mechanistic approach, with the ultimate goal of identifying the intersections of disease and development, which will produce targets for therapeutic intervention and the development of new treatments for children. Systems biology is an integrated approach examining all events within cells, tissues, and organisms that lead to a particular outcome. By applying a systems biology approach to the study of pediatric diseases, the CTPR hopes to expand existing knowledge of pediatric disease development and contribute to new therapeutic targets.
CTPR junior investigators are examining the use of DNA-PK(cs) inhibitors as immunosuppression therapy for solid organ transplantation, oncogenic regulation through unique DNA structures in lymphoma, microbiome-derived therapeutic targets for chronic kidney disease, and mechanisms of microRNA-mediated regulation of cellular proliferation in vascular malformations. Three cutting edge core research units—Proteomics, Genomics, and Systems Biology Bioinformatics—provide support to CTPR researchers. The CTPR also partners with the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center and UAMS and its Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. The long-term goal of the CTPR is to build an innovative, multi-disciplinary pediatric research center that utilizes cutting-edge systems biology technologies and state-of-the-art translational research to study pediatric diseases.
The Food Allergy Research Program at Arkansas Children’s Research Institute has a long history of excellence in clinical and translational research for more than two decades. During the past 15 years, the food allergy research program has focused on developing novel therapeutics for children and adults with food allergy through innovative, multi-center studies within the NIH/NIAID-funded Consortium of Food Allergy Research and the NIH/NIAID-funded Immune Tolerance Network, as well as through research funded through private foundation grants and industry-sponsored clinical trials. This collaborative work has resulted in significant progress toward effective immunotherapeutic approaches to the treatment of food allergy. This multi-disciplinary team of investigators has also established the Eosinophilic Gastrointestinal Disorders Clinic and Research Program with the key mission to improve care, diagnostic capabilities and treatment for children with eosinophilic esophagitis through integrated network studies and the use of novel model systems.