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Hartford, CT (Jan 12, 2023) - The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Juan C. Salazar, MD, Physician-in-Chief at Connecticut Children’s and expert in infectious diseases and immunology, one of eight research grants to refine new technologies for early diagnosis of severe illnesses resulting from SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) infection in children. The new awards follow grants issued in 2020 to foster methods for diagnosing children at high risk for Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare, severe, and sometimes fatal after-effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection or exposure in children.

Juan Salazar, MD, Physician-in-Chief, Connecticut Children's

This grant award will allow Dr. Salazar and his team of researcher colleagues to continue their efforts to develop a tool that can easily diagnose MIS-C, which presents similar symptoms to COVID-19 and to Kawasaki disease, another rare condition affecting children. Faster identification of those most at risk will allow for earlier interventions to prevent severe health effects.

“We’re trying to use bedside point-of-care technology to help differentiate COVID vs. Kawasaki vs. MIS-C,” Salazar said, “which is a big problem right now because we don’t have a good way of doing that readily at this point.”

The study is a collaborative effort involving researchers from the University of Connecticut Storrs, University of Connecticut Health Center, the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, New York Department of Health, New York University, and the Food and Drug Administration. Over the past two years, 630 children with MIS-C, COVID-19, Kawasaki disease, respiratory viral disease, and no disease (healthy controls) have been enrolled from sites in Connecticut and Cali, Colombia, and their blood and saliva have been studied to identify proteins and bacteria that are unique to MIS-C. The point-of-care test is using cutting-edge chip technology developed by Ciencia, Inc. (East Harford, CT) that can test for multiple proteins simultaneously. Preliminary results are promising, with the identification of 19 proteins that distinguish between MIS-C and other diagnoses, and eight proteins that distinguish between MIS-C and Kawasaki disease.

Juan Salazar, MD stands with his team of researcher colleagues.

Salazar says the technology could have broader implications. “If it goes well, this kind of diagnostic capability could be used for many other conditions,” Salazar said. “This chip could be quite innovative, and it’s being built right here in East Hartford.” The awards come from NIH’s Predicting Viral-Associated Inflammatory Disease Severity in Children with Laboratory Diagnostics and Artificial Intelligence (PreVAIL kIds) initiative. “These highly innovative technologies and tools have the potential to greatly improve the care of children with SARS-CoV-2 infection and other fever-causing illnesses,” said Bill Kapogiannis, M.D., of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which oversees the grants. Although some children develop mild or no symptoms from COVID-19, others will develop more severe effects, including MIS-C, which results in inflammation of one or more organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract. MIS-C first emerged in Connecticut in the spring of 2020, appearing in children weeks after they experienced asymptomatic COVID-19. The CDC reports an MIS-C death rate of 0.8% and 0.7% for pediatric COVID-19. Dr. Salazar and his team at the Connecticut Children’s Research Institute are also part of the RECOVER initiative, a national study created by the NIH to study the long-term effects of COVID-19 in children, including complications associated to MIS-C.

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