Father, daughter team up to study autism; Unusual partnership has flourished at Kennedy Krieger Institute
Capital - 6/17/2018
Dr. Eliza Gordon-Lipkin is more like her father than her two siblings.
She looks most like him. The two have similar personalities - deliberate in the way they approach work, but with a silly side. And now Gordon-Lipkin is following the career path of her father, Dr. Paul H. Lipkin, a well-established autism researcher at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.
She has spent the past four years as a fellow at Kennedy Krieger, where her father is her mentor and oversees her work. They have written numerous papers together, one of which appeared in a reference manual used by professors around the country.
In March, the pair's first joint paper was published in the journal Pediatrics. The study found that children with both autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder had a much higher risk for anxiety than autistic children without ADHD.
Gordon-Lipkin never planned to follow in her father's footsteps. As a child she was interested in "the big puzzle of the brain" and dreamed of becoming a neuroscientist.
She graduated with a degree in biopsychology from Tufts University and then earned a medical degree from the University of Maryland. During her pediatrics residency at Mount Sinai Children's Hospital, Gordon-Lipkin discovered her calling.
"That is when I found out I had a passion for how neurological disease affects the developing brain of children," she said.
Her father suggested she come across town to the Kennedy Krieger Institute to hone her skills. She began a residency program fellowship at Kennedy Krieger in 2014, nearly three decades after her father started a fellowship at the institute, which was then known as the Kennedy Institute for Handicapped Children.
Lipkin said it came as a pleasant surprise that his daughter had the same career interest as he did.
Lipkin, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said he never pressed any of his children to pursue certain careers. Another daughter is an engineer, while his son works at the Anti-Defamation League. Lipkin's wife is an obstetrician and gynecologist.
"It was not anything we as parents talked about," Lipkin said. "It was not a part of the kitchen table conversation. It was something she acquired on her own and we never pushed her in one direction or another. It was interesting to watch Eliza gravitate little by little on her own. She really found her own path."
Parents working with their children is unusual at Kennedy Krieger. Dr. Bruce K. Shapiro, the institute's director of training, said there has been one other case since he joined in 1975. In that case, the father finished his fellowship in 1973 and the daughter in 2013.
Shapiro said the fathers and daughters worked individually enough that there weren't concerns about having them both at the institute. Lipkin-Gordon and her father had similar personalities, he said.
"I think that I was impressed by their brightness, their commitment to the field of developmental disabilities and their setting of high standards for themselves," he said.
Lipkin's path was similar to his daughter's, though many years earlier.
He wanted to work with people and considered psychology and social work. Ultimately, he decided he had the best aptitude for the hard sciences.
Lipkin received his undergraduate degree in biology from Rutgers University and attended medical school at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. He too discovered his calling during his pediatric residency at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.
His interest in the subject deepened even more at the Kennedy institute.
"I got exposed to children who weren't developing normally and was attracted to their needs and the medical side of their care," he said.
Gordon-Lipkin's brother, Seth, said it is kind of fitting that his sister followed in their father's footsteps. She, after all, was most like him.
"I see a different side of them than their work side," he said. "I see that they are both silly people and have great sense of humors and are able to keep things light. I think this works well in their professional lives when they are presented with real challenging issues and are able to have a calming sensibility about them."
The father and daughter said their working relationship runs pretty smoothly. They try to address each other by formal titles, but sometimes slip. Patients who don't know the relationship sometimes look at them quizzically when they are together because they look so much alike.
They let close patients in on the secret.
"The families who have gotten to know her well, they sort of like meeting me," Lipkin said.
They don't tire of each other because they don't interact every day.
"We actually go weeks without seeing each other," Gordon-Lipkin said.
When they are not at Kennedy Krieger, they don't talk much about the job.
Gordon-Lipkin took the lead on the research looking at the combined affect of autism and ADHD. Lipkin talked her through strategy and approach, but she wrote much of the paper.
She said it was much like his reviewing her college essays, but on a different scale.
The study, which also involved other researchers at Kennedy Krieger, used data from the Interactive Autism Network, a group run by Lipkin that created a database of information from tens of thousands of children with autism and their families. Scientists from around the country access the data to broaden their research.
The correlation between autism, ADHD and anxiety has been studied in the past, but the database allowed Gordon-Lipkin and her father to look at a larger sample than other studies. They examined data from more than 3,300 children in the database from 2006 to 2013.
They found that children with both autism and ADHD had more than twice the risk of anxiety and mood disorder than the children with autism alone. The next step is to study why this is the case.
"We have known that ADHD and anxiety and mood disorders such as depression are high in kids with autism," Lipkin said. "That has all been previously described. What our database allowed us to do is really look at thousands of children."
Lipkin and his daughter presented their findings together at two professional conferences.
Gordon-Lipkin said that while working with her father she discovered how much like him she is.
"Our study styles, as it turns out, are really quite similar," she said. "In medicine we are both similarly balanced between our love for both clinic and research. We dovetail nicely in a similar style."
Kennedy Krieger has changed some since Lipkin first started. It's much bigger - there are 2,600 employees to 300 back then. The scope of research has advanced.
"I think that we have evolved to incorporate the advances in genetics and neuroimaging that were not present when Dr. Lipkin started," Shapiro said. "We are understanding more about the mechanisms of developmental disorders, what causes it and what is going wrong."
In a conference room at Kennedy Krieger hang portraits of each fellowship class at Kennedy Krieger. Lipkin had a head full of thick, curly hair, which he jokes is largely gone now.
He is proud his daughter's photo adorns that same wall. Gordon-Lipkin finishes her fellowship at Kennedy Krieger at the end of June and will take a job at the National Institutes of Health. The two plan to continue to do some research together.
Lipkin said he has high hopes for his oldest child.
"Every parent wants to see their child do as well as they do, if not supersede them," Lipkin said. "And she is going to supersede me."
Credit: By Andrea K. McDaniels - The Baltimore Sun - firstname.lastname@example.org;twitter.com/ankwalker
Caption: Dr. Eliza Gordon-Lipkin has spent the past four years researching autism as a fellow at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, where her father, Dr. Paul Lipkin, a well-established autism researcher, has been her mentor and overseen her work.
Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun