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Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Nephrology

Dr. David J. Askenazi is medical director of the Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Nephrology (PICAN) at Children’s of David AskenaziAlabama and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The PICAN Center works to improve the health and care of infants and children who are at risk for acute kidney disease.

Hospitalized children are at great risk to develop abrupt loss of kidney function. The risk factors for acute kidney injury include toxic side effects from drugs administered to treat a critical illnesses, shock from sepsis, decreased blood flow around the time of surgery and congenital conditions. Reducing those risks, and supporting the failed kidney during this time is the job of the Pediatric and Infant Center for Acute Nephrology (PICAN Center) established a year ago at Children’s of Alabama.

We take a three-pronged approach:

  • Clinical services, which strive to provide the best of care
  • Educational outreach here and throughout the country, which trains physicians and nurses to diagnose and support those with acute kidney damage
  • Research, which leads to a better understanding of the diagnosis, risk factors and outcomes and develops new strategies for prevention and treatment

This all requires coordination and cooperation not only within Children’s but throughout other pediatric care centers at home and abroad.

We are now leading the Neonatal Kidney Collaborative, an international group of more than 20 centers that are interested in the topic of neonatal kidney problems. This collaborative has emerged from observations and studies showing that babies in neonatal intensive care units frequently develop acute kidney injury. It’s not surprising. Normally, babies develop a full complement of nephrons—functional units that make up our kidneys—during the first eight months in the womb. After that, we no longer produce nephrons. However, when born prematurely, nephron production cycle is cut short and babies can end up with fewer nephrons than normal. That can make them more susceptible to short and longterm problems including chronic kidney disease and high blood pressure. By collaborating with other centers, we can look at much broader demographics and much larger numbers of patients, which will allow us to make stronger inferences. Our first study launches in March and will be titled AWAKEN (Assessment of Worldwide Acute Kidney Injury Epidemiology in Neonates. This study will improve our ability to diagnose acute kidney injury, understand risk factors, and determine how fluid provision affects kidney and other outcomes.

Meanwhile, Children’s has joined eight other hospitals nationwide to implement a program called NINJA (Nephrotoxic Injury Negated by Just-in-Time Action). This quality improvement project screens every patient admitted to the hospital for medications known to have toxic side effects to the kidney. Historically there has been a tendency to accept this damage as necessary, but we are showing that with risk assessment and daily evaluation of the medications we give our patients, we can reduce the incidence and severity of acute kidney injury. The pharmacy “NINJA’s” look through the hospital census daily and find those who with high risk of toxicity, then they work with care teams to minimize use of these medications, monitor levels of kidney function and to ask the question: “Is it in the best interest of this patient to be on this medicine?” By paying close attention to these risks, we can make a difference in the occurrence or severity of an acute kidney injury.

There are many other initiatives involving our center but one in particular is worth mentioning. It involves a dialysis machine that we are employing for babies. In the past we have relied upon adult dialysis machines for dialyzing babies with kidney failure. Because these machines are not designed for babies, they carry added risk of bleeding and low blood pressure. So we found an opportunity to work with an FDA-approved machine called the Aquadex FlexFlow. It was designed to remove fluids from patients with heart failure but it also happens to be the right size to use on babies. We’ve adapted the machine in the intensive care units of Children’s of Alabama to clean a baby’s blood, remove extra fluid and balance electrolytes. We have been able to do this while avoiding the risks inherent to adult-sized dialysis machine.

Visit our website at www.childrensal.org/pican for more information.

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