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Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research interests

Dr. Steven Hicks' translational research identifies molecular biomarkers that inform child growth, neurodevelopment and disease. He is also the director of the Pediatric Clinical Research Office in the Department of Pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine.

His largest projects involve:

  • saliva biomarkers for early detection of childhood autism;
  • the impact of the breastmilk micro-transcriptome on infant health outcomes; and
  • micro-ribonucleic acid (microRNA) expression in concussion.

Dr. Hicks' research in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has identified "alterations" in the oral microbiome and microtranscriptome of children with ASD that may aid early diagnosis. This research has been supported by the NIH, the Brad Hollinger Fund and Quadrant Biosciences, resulting in numerous peer-reviewed manuscripts (including Autism Research, The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Frontiers in Genetics). In 2019, these studies led to a CLIA-certified diagnostic aid for ASD.

Dr. Hicks' research on breastmilk micro-transcriptomics seeks to understand how non-coding RNA factors within maternal breast milk may be transferred to the infant, impacting health outcomes such as weight gain and atopy. This research has defined the small RNA landscape of breastmilk and identified maternal and environmental factors that impact milk RNA composition. This research has been supported by the Gerber Foundation and the Center for Research on Women and Newborns.

Dr. Hicks' research on concussions explores the microRNA profile of saliva to identify molecules that may aid diagnosis, prognosis and clinical management for patients with traumatic brain injuries. This research was published in JAMA Pediatrics. It was included in the "10 Most Talked About JAMA Peds Articles of 2018" and was called the "Top Genomic Study of 2017" by DNA Genotek. The findings were featured on National Public Radio, Sirius XM Doctor Radio and CBS News.

Teaching and educational interests

As a clinician educator, Dr. Steven Hicks works with undergraduate students, medical students, residents and fellows, teaching them the skills necessary for careers as physician-scientists.

In the Outpatient Pediatrics Clinic, he teaches clinical skills to third-year medical students. He also works with pediatric residents during their acute outpatient pediatric experience.

He has provided formal research mentorship to more than 25 students. Together, these trainees have presented posters at regional conferences, given platform presentations at national conferences, co-authored peer-reviewed articles and received independent research grants and research scholarships.

One of Dr. Hicks' students was the primary author on a publication named in the "Top 10 Pediatric Articles of 2018" by the New England Journal of Medicine. Another student was the primary author on a paper that was one of the "10 Most Talked About Articles of 2018" in JAMA Pediatrics.

Each year, Dr. Hicks delivers the Evidence-Based Medicine lectures to the pediatric residents as part of their didactic training. Dr. Hicks also contributes a significant amount of time to educating Penn State faculty about translational research. Since arriving at Penn State in 2015, he has lectured at Pediatric Grand Rounds, Pediatric Research Day (2016 and 2017), the Penn State College of Medicine Core Facility Symposium, the Center for Medical Genomics Seminar, the Berlin Lecture Series, the Pediatric Departmental Research Series, the Neuroscience Lecture Series and the ASD @ PSU Symposium. These outreach efforts have helped foster research scholarship clinical faculty and germinated numerous collaborative projects.

Clinical interests

As a general pediatrician, Dr. Steven Hicks provides primary medical care for children at Penn State's outpatient pediatrics clinic. He also sees patients in the acute care clinic during evening hours.

Dr. Hicks is certified in the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and uses this skillset to evaluate children at high risk for autism as part of his weekly clinic. This service has helped to reduce wait times for autism evaluations within the Department of Pediatrics. Given that early autism diagnosis can improve developmental outcomes for children, these in-house assessments have the potential to profoundly improve health outcomes for the clinic's patients.

Dr. Hicks has been actively involved in several quality improvement initiatives to improve patient care at the outpatient pediatrics clinic. He participated in a critical appraisal of the clinic's developmental screening practices and advocated for the adoption of a standard developmental surveillance tool within the electronic medical record. He also studied the impact of influenza vaccination recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on pediatric vaccination rates. This investigation was the first to show that elimination of Flumist (the live attenuated influenza vaccine) did not reduce childhood vaccination rates in U.S. clinics – a finding that was featured in the AAP's national newsletter.

In Dr. Hicks' role as director of research for the Division of Academic General Pediatrics, he oversees all studies that involve patients at the outpatient clinic, ensuring that investigators are employing rigorous study designs and ethical research standards. His goal is to safeguard quality care for clinic patients while supervising novel research with the potential to advance delivery of that care. He is also the physician director of the Pediatric Research Resources Office and diagnostic thrust leader for Penn State's Center for Biodevices.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Education/Academic qualification

Residency, SUNY Upstate Medical University

… → 2015

MD, SUNY Upstate Medical University

… → 2012

PhD, SUNY Upstate Medical University

… → 2012

BS, Marist College

… → 2005


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