Children’s institute launched with goal of curing deadliest diseases

St. Louis Children’s Hospital and the School of Medicine have launched The Children’s Discovery Institute (CDI), a unique and bold partnership aimed at curing some of the deadliest diseases attacking our nation’s children.

The collaboration will focus on accelerating cures for childhood disease in four areas: congenital heart disease, cancer, lung and respiratory disorders and musculoskeletal diseases.

Joining a group of children to kick off St. Louis Children's Hospital's $125 million
Joining a group of children to kick off St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s $125 million “Building for Care, Searching for Cures” campaign Jan. 25 were (from left) Joe Buck of FOX Sports and a trustee of Children’s Hospital; Jonathan D. Gitlin, M.D., the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics and professor of genetics and of pathology and immunology; Lee Fetter, president of Children’s Hospital; and Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“We already have the sequence of the human genome, much of which was mapped at Washington University in St. Louis,” said Alan L. Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D., the Harriet B. Spoehrer Professor of Pediatrics and head of that department, and pediatrician in chief at Children’s Hospital.

“The CDI is a unique plan to build a high-speed connection between this fundamental knowledge of our genetic code and the patient’s bedside, so the knowledge can flow and translate directly into cures for disease. This isn’t being done anywhere else.”

Children’s Hospital publicly launched a $125 million fund-raising campaign, “Building for Care, Searching for Cures,” Jan. 25. The goals of the campaign, one of the largest in the city’s history, include launching the CDI and expanding Children’s Hospital’s facilities to accommodate this vision. The campaign is part of a $355 million long-term endeavor.

To date, private donors have given more than $100 million toward the campaign, led by a $20 million gift from the McDonnell Family Foundation. The remainder of the total cost will come from BJC HealthCare and Children’s Hospital reserves and other funding.

“We have some of the most talented physicians and scientists in the world, and the CDI is going to enable us to attract even more,” said Lee Fetter, president of Children’s Hospital.

“Significant financial resources are necessary to fund these intellectual resources, new and robust technologies and facility expansion. Thanks to the tremendous outpouring of interest and support from lead givers, we are well on the way to achieving our goal.”

Children’s Hospital broke ground on its expansion project last year. Construction is under way to add 95,000 square feet to seven stories of the hospital’s existing 12-story structure.

Eighty percent of the patient rooms in the improved facility will be private, giving Children’s Hospital more private rooms than any other pediatric facility in the bi-state area.

Structural upgrades will also include a 50 percent expansion of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, as well as considerable upgrades to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, operating rooms and therapy gym. In addition, the School of Medicine will add a seven-story physician’s office tower atop the Children’s Hospital visitor garage to accommodate the growing physician and faculty population.

“We have a responsibility to accommodate the growing number of patients referred to us from the bi-state area, across the region and around the world,” Fetter said.

“The development of the CDI and its activities related to pediatric disease will only add to these impressive numbers.”

A key component of the CDI will be its approach to research, which is linked to the medical school’s BioMed 21 initiative and similar to the National Institutes of Health’s “Roadmap” strategy, both of which are designed to stimulate interdisciplinary research teams and accelerate medical discovery.

Teams of WUSTL scientists from pediatrics, nanotechnology, bioengineering, genetics, computational biology and developmental biology, among others, will convene to study the genetic basis for disease. The research teams will work closely with the School of Medicine’s Genome Sequencing Center to decode the diseases’ genetic blueprints.

“There’s no other children’s hospital that has the entire genetic blueprint in its back yard,” said Jonathan D. Gitlin, M.D., the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics, professor of genetics and of pathology and immunology at the School of Medicine, and director of genetics and genomic medicine at Children’s Hospital.

“There’s no place else that has this kind of capacity. Nobody’s doing it with the scale that we anticipate having.

“The Genome Sequencing Center is constantly coming up with new technology to decipher genetic code, and we anticipate having access to these most-advanced technologies as soon as they’re available.

“We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. Let’s use this explosion of knowledge and focus it on something everybody cares about — our children, our future. We have the opportunity to cure — to prevent — disease at a pace beyond most people’s wildest dreams.”