UA Steele Children’s Research Center Receives $780k to Study the Perplexing Disorder, `Children’s Postinfectious Autoimmune Encephalopathy’

Funds will enable the University of Arizona Steele Children’s Research Center to launch clinical and basic science research in children’s postinfectious autoimmune encephalopathies.

The University of Arizona Steele Children’s Research Center has received $780,000 to begin conducting basic and clinical research in  “children’s postinfectious autoimmune encephalopathy (CPAE).”

The research funds came from the Arizona Department of Health Services ($250,000), the University of Arizona Health Sciences ($250,000), the UA College of Medicine — Tucson ($250,000), and the PACE Foundation ($30,000).

The research will be conducted through the newly established, Children’s Postinfectious Autoimmune Encephalopathy (CPAE) Center of Excellence at the UA Steele Children’s Research Center”—the first of its kind in the U.S.

“These funds will enable us to launch our CPAE research program to begin to unravel the causes of these perplexing disorders and develop new treatments for children,” said Fayez K. Ghishan, MD, professor and director of the UA Steele Center.

A Perplexing Disorder: Children’s Postinfectious Autoimmune Encephalopathy

CPAE, like other autoimmune disorders, occur when a child’s immune system, while fighting off a virus or infection, mistakenly targets a part of the child’s own body. CPAE is a spectrum of autoimmune disorders that result when the body’s immune system attacks the brain, as a result from an infection like strep throat.

CPAE causes a disturbing range of neuropsychiatric symptoms. Symptoms typically occur suddenly—sometimes overnight—and can include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), tics, severe anxiety, restrictive eating, headaches, depression, irritability and aggression, among others.

CPAE disorders are often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed and afflict between 1.8 and 2.9 million children in the United States, according to estimates.

CPAE disorders include PANS (Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome), and PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infection).

Clinical Research

Clinical research will be led by developmental pediatrician Sydney Rice, MD, MS, associate professor, and pediatric immunologist Michael Daines, MD, associate professor. Research will focus on developing data collection tools and protocols to create a national repository to support PANS/PANDAS research. In addition, clinical research will focus on medical interventions and treatments related to immune deficiency associated with PANS/PANDAS. This research will assess the need for immune modulation, determine the appropriate treatment and enroll patients in rigorous research studies to measure the response to immune modulation from an immune and behavioral standpoint.

Basic Science Research

Basic science research will be led by Pawel Kiela, DVM, PhD, associate professor, and Dr. Ghishan. Both Drs. Ghishan and Kiela are experts in the area of pediatric autoimmune diseases. This funding will enable the CPAE team to advance previous discoveries made into the triggers of autoimmune disorders, to now explore the molecular mechanisms that cause some children to develop CPAE disorders. The goal of this research is to identify immune modulators, genetic predisposition and biomarkers that identify this condition and treatments to alleviate the symptoms of the disorder.

About the UA Steele Children’s Research Center

The UA Steele Children’s Research Center is one of the prestigious Centers of Excellence at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson at the University of Arizona Health Sciences. It is the state’s only academic pediatric research center designated by the Arizona Board of Regents, and the only facility in Southern Arizona where researchers and physician-scientists are dedicated to advancing medical knowledge through basic and translational research to improve children’s health. As researchers, they seek to discover answers to children’s medical mysteries. As physician-scientists, they provide compassionate care to hospitalized patients at Banner Children’s at Diamond Children’s Medical Center and pediatric outpatient clinics throughout Tucson and the state. And, as faculty members with the UA Department of Pediatrics, they teach and train the next generation of pediatricians and researchers.

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences

The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UA Health Sciences includes the UA Colleges of Medicine (Phoenix and Tucson), Nursing, Pharmacy and Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona and the greater Southwest to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services. A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs almost 5,000 people, has nearly 1,000 faculty members and garners more than $126 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: