Neuroscience Research

Within the Center for Neuroscience Research at the CHOC Research Institute, our team of expert pediatric neurologists and neurosurgeons are focused on understanding a full spectrum of adolescent neurological disorders related to brain, spine, muscle, central and peripheral nervous systems.

Our pediatric neurology and neurosurgery research fuels discovery, testing and implementation of treatments for rare conditions. This research helps to support our mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children in Orange County and beyond.

Neuroscience Research Leads to Innovative Care

The Neuroscience Institute at CHOC partners closely with the Neuroscience Research team to identify patients with rare conditions or conditions that are not responding to traditional treatments. We are devoted to finding innovative solutions for each child entrusted to our care.

Click here to see a list of conditions we treat at the CHOC Neuroscience Institute.

Are you a pediatrician looking to refer a patient to the Neuroscience Institute? Submit referrals here.

Neuroscience Research Areas at CHOC

Under the umbrellas of neurology and neurosurgery, our team conducts research studies to develop innovative treatments and therapies for rare neurological conditions. Our areas of neurological research include concussion, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, movement disorders, neuromuscular diseases, neuro-oncology & brain tumors, and stroke.

Concussion

  • Neurology and the Emergency Department have partnered with NeurOptics to evaluate pupillometry as an objective biomarker of persistent post-concussive symptoms in children and adolescents.
  • Neurology and Gastroenterology have partnered to conduct a prospective, randomized controlled trial examining the effectiveness of an auricular neurostimulation device called Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Field Stimulation (PENFS) in treating adolescents with persistent post-concussive symptoms. This device targets the autonomic nervous system which is may be dysregulated after concussion or mild traumatic brain injury.

Epilepsy

  • Our Comprehensive Level 4 Epilepsy Program is a national leader in pediatric epilepsy care, offering cutting-edge diagnostics, innovative medical approaches and advanced surgical interventions from the nation’s foremost epilepsy experts.
  • We have active participants in many national clinical trials that allow us to offer investigational therapies to patients with rare epilepsy syndromes.
  • We partner with colleagues around the nation to exchange treatment strategies and outcomes, and to aggregate patient data to increase sample size and statistical power.
  • Our research has led to less invasive methods for Epilepsy surgery, such as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), vagus nerve stimulation and use of mini-grid technology. These procedures eliminate the need to remove parts of the patient’s brain that cause seizures. These innovative care solutions lead to minimized seizure activity, as well as lowered complication rates post-operation and decreased recovery time compared to typical epilepsy surgery.

Hydrocephalus

  • We are the region’s leader in complex multicystic hydrocephalus research. Our research focuses on avoiding shunt failure and lesions that occur from multiple surgeries involved with a hydrocephalus diagnosis.
  • We have helped pioneer two neurosurgeries to remove cerebrospinal fluid in a child’s or baby’s brain, eliminating the need for a valve. Our research advancements in minimally invasive neurosurgery have helped decrease pain after surgery and increase recovery time for patients.
  • Research is underway to learn more about what causes shunt failures, develop catheter-free mechanical solutions and develop pharmacological treatments to prevent hydrocephalus.
  • In the long-term, innovative care coming from our research helps to combat the neurological conditions that result from hydrocephalus, such as developmental delays and cranial bulging.

Movement Disorders

Neuromuscular Disease

  • CHOC has earned a national reputation for excellence in pediatric neuromuscular diseases, specializing in spina bifida, muscular dystrophy (MD), scoliosis, cerebral palsy, spasticity and other pediatric neuromuscular diseases and rehabilitation.
  • CHOC was chosen as a center for an intrathecal catheter study for the administration of Spinraza for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy.
  • We participated in a Managed Access Program that allowed us to offer an investigational therapy to patients with an extremely rare genetic neuromuscular disorder.
  • CHOC is the only pediatric clinic in Orange County designated by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, giving us access to additional access to national research.

Neuro-oncology & Brain Tumors

  • These areas focus on genomic research and genome sequencing
  • Genomic Research allows us to identify individualized treatments for children and adolescents based on the molecular profile of their cancer. Pediatric cancer has typically seen an 80% cure rate. Advancements in precision medicine through neuro-oncology research gives us hope to reach the 20% of pediatric cancer patients who have yet to find a cure.
  • Our connection to Children’s Oncology Group (COG) allows us to be the only medical center in the southwestern U.S. that offers COG Phase 1 clinical trials, providing access to research studies that may lead to improved survival rates or reduction of side effects in neuro-oncology patients.

Stroke

  • CHOC is a member organization of the International Pediatric Stroke Study (IPSS), the largest stroke registry study in the world, with a global network of over 100 participating institutions in 34 countries. Research efforts focus on improving care for infants and children suffering from strokes.
  • Dr. Rachel Pearson, Director of Brain Injury Medicine at CHOC, leads a study aimed at characterizing stroke prevalence and barriers to the diagnosis and treatment of acute ischemic stroke. The goal of this research is to optimize health systems and improve quality of care.

Advancing Pediatric Neuroscience Research

    US News and World Report badge honoring CHOC neurology and neuroscience as a top specialty in 2021-22

  • CHOC Children’s Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the neurology/neurosurgery specialty.
  • CHOC was the first in Orange County to perform an endoscopic third ventriculostomy as a surgical procedure for treatment of hydrocephalus.
  • Dr. Michael Muhonen, pediatric neurosurgeon at CHOC, has developed the first “smart shunt” for children with hydrocephalus to measure intracranial pressure at home or determine if the shunt is failing.
  • Our Neuroscience Research team has pioneered many minimally invasive neurosurgery procedures, including minimally invasive ablation of intracranial tumors and epileptogenic lesions, temporal sclerosis and radiation necrosis; endoscopic removal of brain tumors and cysts; and cranial remodeling.
  • CHOC was among the first institutions worldwide to study the use of automated pupillometry in pediatric populations. Pupillometers provide reliable and objective data to assist with early detection of subtle neurological changes seen in stroke, traumatic brain injury and concussion.
  • Our neuroscience research has received grants for cutting-edge research, including from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), California’s Stem Cell Agency CIRM and the Pediatric Epilepsy Research Foundation (PERF).
  • CHOC’s affiliation with UC Irvine brings advanced treatment and valuable University resources, like Beckman Laser Institute, to patients.

Neuroscience Research Stories

Chromosomes

The Fragile X Clinic at CHOC will be devoted to the diagnosis, treatment, and study of the rare genetic condition of Fragile X syndrome.

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Boy riding mechanical bull outside

A first-of-its-kind study by CHOC found that awareness and safety precautions are vital to prevent severe injuries from mechanic bull riding.

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CHOC doctors discover the possible efficacy of treating PCS with the GI device IB-Stim. A clinical trial is underway.

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boy in glasses with Down syndrome

The study will examine biochemical markers in the blood of children with Down syndrome for a likelihood of them developing Alzheimer’s disease in adulthood.

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graphic depiction of nanoparticles

The patent for light-emitting nanoparticles will significantly advance CHOC’s research to develop non-invasive treatments for brain injuries.

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hand touches illustrated image of brain

Dr. Autumn Ivy and her team study physical activity during periods of brain development that are highly sensitive to early-life experiences.

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