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Expanding Care for Children with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Dr. Maria Oliva-Hemker, Stermer Family Professor of Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Dr. Maria Oliva-Hemker, Stermer Family Professor of Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Pediatric gastroenterologist Maria Oliva-Hemker, vice dean for faculty and director of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, knows that financial support that comes at key moments can be crucial for launching important new avenues of clinical care.

As the Stermer Family Professor of Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Oliva-Hemker received funding that has led to innovative research and treatment in pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

“Funding gave me the ability to breathe, pause, try new ideas, and plan,” she says. “Young faculty need flexibility to pursue unexplored pathways.” Such funding supports time to develop new programs and research, stretch grant funding, and kickstart pilot programs, she notes.

The endowed Stermer Family Professorship seeded her vision for the then brand-new Pediatric IBD Center at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. “Our care to children with IBD wasn’t unified or multidisciplinary,” Oliva-Hemker says. “With the professorship, I could focus on academic program-building so that the number of patients with IBD being seen at the Children’s Center grew from about 50 children annually to close to 600 patients being followed today.”

Recently, Oliva-Hemker’s colleague Tony Guerrerio established a specialty clinic for children with very-early-onset IBD, a growing subgroup within the IBD population.

That’s the difference Richard and Audrey Stermer wanted when they made their gift in appreciation of the care their older children received from Oliva-Hemker and others at the Children’s Center. “We know how painful these diseases are,” Audrey says. “It robs them of the joy of being a child.”

Under Oliva-Hemker’s leadership, the Children’s Center has been part of multiple international collaborative pediatric IBD studies, including the 2017 RISK study, the largest prospective trial that followed 1,000 children with Crohn’s disease over a five-year period to compare those who received immunotherapy to those who did not. “It showed us that the children receiving early therapy had less aggressive disease, and it started the pathway of looking into gene signatures to predict more aggressive disease,” she explains.

Having funding meant that Oliva-Hemker could explore novel research that didn’t yet have national funding, like her work with fecal microbial transplantation in children.

Funding, she says, creates “uneventful” patient visits, which are her favorite kind: “Once a patient has a personalized management plan that gets them into full remission, I can spend more of the visit asking about school, sports, hobbies and other aspects of their lives. Our goal is for our patients to feel so well that the family’s focus can switch from the child’s gastrointestinal tract to their regular activities.”

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