Richard J. Traystman Endowed Chair for Anesthesiology Research
Co-director of the Pediatric Neurocritical Care Program
Research Scientist at Kennedy Krieger Institute
Director of the Pediatric Brain Injury Program at the Center for Nanomedicine
Sujatha Kannan joined the Johns Hopkins PICU faculty in 2011 and currently serves with Dr. Courtney Robertson as co-director of the Pediatric Neurocritical Care Program. She and Dr. Robertson are responsible for standardization and optimization of care for children with acute neurologic injury in the PICU and during transport to the PICU from the operating room, emergency department, and, most commonly, other hospitals. The core neurocritical team comprises Dr. Kannan, Dr. Robertson, Theresa Ruddy (nurse practitioner), and a neurocritical care fellow. They are available 24/7 as a resource for any clinician with questions related to neurocritical care. As an attending physician, Dr. Kannan treats children with all types of critical illness, although her clinical focus is on patients with acute neurologic injuries. She leads a PICU team that consists of residents, nurse practitioners, fellows, respiratory therapists, bedside nurses, a pharmacist, and a dietician.
In her research, Dr. Kannan studies the role of inflammation in the developing brain. Because the brain is still growing and many structures are still forming, the presence of inflammation has a more profound effect in children than in adults. After pediatric brain injury, a child’s brain must not only undergo repair, but also resume developmental processes, which can become arrested. Interestingly, microglia are crucial for both normal brain development and inflammatory processes, but they function differently in these two conditions. After a pediatric brain insult, the microglia are recruited away from development to become involved in the injury process. Consequently, the injury can have deep and long-lasting consequences. Dr. Kannan is using dendrimer nanoparticles to target microglia in an attempt to switch their function back to that of growth. In laboratory studies, the dendrimer nanoparticle that they have developed has been able to reverse the motor deficits seen in an animal model of cerebral palsy. At birth, these animals exhibit the motor deficits and spasticity seen clinically in children with cerebral palsy, but one injection of the nanoparticles can improve function within 5 days. Currently, Dr. Kannan is looking at the long-term effects of this treatment and optimizing it for clinical trials. Amazingly, she and her team have found this strategy to show promise in a host of other neuroinflammatory disorders, including pediatric conditions such as autism, neonatal stroke, adrenoleukodystrophy, pediatric Rett syndrome, and traumatic brain injury and adult disorders such as multiple sclerosis and cardiac bypass-associated brain injury. Dr. Kannan hopes that this technology will yield treatments for pediatric conditions that currently have no cure.
Dr. Kannan graduated from medical school in 1995 from the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research in Pondicherry, India. After a transitional year at the University of South Dakota and a 1-year pediatric internship at the University of Illinois, she undertook a 2-year pediatric residency (1998-2000) followed by a 3-year pediatric critical care fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan (2000 to 2003).