Tucson children’s research center bringing attention to largely undiagnosed illness

KOLD News 5-5:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 7:00 PM MST|Updated: Jan. 10, 2022 at 12:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A first-of-its-kind children’s research center in Tucson, UA Steele Children’s Research Center, is raising the profile of a largely undiagnosed illness in kids.

“We struggled all through elementary school and middle school just treating the symptoms, but Abigail seemed to have all of them,” said mother Abigail Wichers.

She said her daughter Abigail had quite a few infections as a child but little did they know it would lead to a debilitating condition.

“It can be hard to pick-up because in kids there can be changes in mood, movement and behavior just because they’re kids,” said Dr. Michael Daines, an associate professor of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.

Dr. Sydney Rice, a professor of pediatrics, said Children’s Postinfectious Autoimmune Encephalopathy can start showing symptoms almost overnight.

“They’re developing normally and within three days of having an infection they develop mental illness, they develop severe obsessive-compulsive disorder,” she said.

Abigail developed juvenile arthritis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD and even had seizures.

Five years ago, Dr. Sydney Rice and Dr. Michael Daines started studying neuropsychiatric disorders in kids at the UA Steele Children’s Research Center. They’ve since developed methods to diagnose and treat it.

“We work with centers across the country but are the only ones that have that breadth for this condition,” Dr. Rice said.

They helped to connect the dots for Abigail’s family. The team found her infections as a child caused the autoimmune reactions she’s experienced.

“Probably three percent of kids that have an infection will develop OCD after the infection. Whether that’s severe enough to make the whole diagnosis or have them at a center like this to be evaluated, is something to be aware of,” Dr. Daines said.

Abigail’s family hopes to spread awareness so others can connect the dots and get treatment like physical and psychological therapy sooner.

“Just very satisfying knowing what happened, and we’ve worked it out,” Abigail said.

Learn more about the child research center, HERE. The team is actively recruiting for a clinical trial that will see how antibody drugs work with the disorder.

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