Research Horizons


Coalition for Pediatric Medical Research Lays Out Priorities

Logos of pediatric associations that support the policy brief Photo of Conrad Cole, MD, MPH, MSc

Focus areas include the PACT Act, loan repayments, diversity among investigators

— Post written by Conrad Cole, MD

Following a successful virtual convening in February, the Coalition for Pediatric Medical Research held a convening in Washington, DC, on May 5, 2022, to review a policy brief developed based on the recommendations proposed during the virtual convening.

The theme of the convening was “Developing the next generation of diverse pediatric researchers.” This effort was led by Conrad Cole, MD, MPH, diversity liaison and medical director of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Cincinnati Children’s, with grant support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and individual academic medical centers that make up the coalition.

With the changing demographics of the United States (in 2020, 50% of children were people of color) and with widening gaps in disease outcomes based on self-identified race and gender, it is important to increase investment in child and adolescent health research and for this work to be conducted by diverse child and adolescent health researchers.

Most adult diseases have their origin in childhood, which suggests that early intervention can lead to life-long health improvement. Unfortunately, health disparities also start early in life. Reducing disparities can be achieved sooner when early intervention research is conducted by scientists who more closely represent their communities. Their success can impact individual children, their families, communities, and the economic, educational, and life-long health of our nation.

Working groups formed

The objectives of the convening were to “Develop and promote legislative priorities to increase the number and ensure the career success of diverse pediatric researchers.” Two working groups, formed after the February meeting, recommended the following legislative priorities for further advocacy:

  • Support and expand the Pediatricians Accelerate Childhood Therapies (PACT) Act of 2021 (H. R. 3773/S. 1357)
  • Support loan repayment for child and adolescent health researchers
  • Fund a cross-institutional cohort for child and adolescent health researchers from underrepresented groups
  • Invest substantially in career pathways to ensure a strong workforce of diverse child and adolescent health researchers who will improve the health of our children and the adults they will become.

The convening began with attendees deliberating on a policy brief drafted by Tina Cheng, MD, MPH, chair of Pediatrics, chief medical officer, and Research Foundation director at Cincinnati Children’s. Numerous organizations involved in pediatric research have endorsed the brief. Attendees agreed that advocacy is urgently needed to expand the PACT Act and to support prioritizing diversity in these crucial training programs.

Read the policy brief

Leaders urge advocacy

The opening panel discussion focused on Addressing the Early Career Research Gap and Increasing Diversity and was moderated by Paige Cooper, PhD, program officer for the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The panel members included Alison Cernich, PhD, ABPP-Cn, deputy director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Traci Mondoro, PhD, Bbranch chief, Division of Blood Diseases and Resources, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Christopher Russell, MD, MS, research director, Division of Hospital Medicine, associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Keck School of Medicine at USC; Robert Valdez, PhD, MHSA, and Francis Chesley, Jr., MD, of the Agencies for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The keynote speakers were Michael Lauer, MD, deputy director, NIH Extramural Research, and Carrie Wolinetz, PhD, deputy director for Health and Life Sciences – White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). They both focused on “Developing the Next Generation of Diverse Pediatric Researchers and the Importance of Research Early in the Life Course.” They encouraged participants to provide information for the administration regarding the gaps and the next steps forward.

Other speakers included Louis Muglia, MD, PhD, president of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and Samsher Singh Gill, president of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, along with key legislative staffers from the House and Senate and junior investigators from underrepresented groups in medical research.

Input on the policy brief also was received from the Academic Pediatric Association, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Board of Pediatrics, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, American Pediatric Society, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, American Society of Pediatric Nephrology, Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs, Association of Pediatric Program Directors, Child Neurology Society, Coalition for Pediatric Medical Research, Council of Pediatric Subspecialties, Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics, Federation of Pediatric Organizations, North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Organization of Neonatal Program Directors, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Society for Pediatric Dermatology, Society for Pediatric Research, and all of the pre-convening work group attendees.

Next Steps

The time to act is now. At the end of the convening, it was determined that advocacy was important and more professional and patient groups who are involved in child health need to be engaged. The convening group plans to have a Hill briefing in the summer, and at that time, will distribute the brief more broadly and work on focusing the message.

“There is great momentum to make change,” Cheng says. “The convening and activity around the policy brief led to an action plan related to legislative priorities. Work groups are being formed to implement next steps. We welcome your participation.”

Contact to learn how you can get involved in increasing the diversity of the next generation of child health researchers.

View the May 5 convening program guide