Robert O. Heuckeroth, M.D., Ph.D., has won a Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.
Heuckeroth, a Washington University pediatric gastroenterologist who treats children with Hirschsprung disease and other gastrointestinal disorders at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, was one of only four physician-scientists nationwide to receive the prestigious award, which supports established, independent physician-scientists dedicated to translational research – the transfer of work from the lab to the patient’s bedside.
The five-year, $750,000 award will support Heuckeroth’s research into the environmental risk for Hirschsprung disease, a potentially fatal disorder in which the end of the bowel is missing the enteric nervous system, a complex network of cells that controls intestinal function. The funding will support research to develop new approaches to prevent this disorder, which affects about one in every 5,000 children.
Although Hirschsprung disease is treated surgically, many children continue to have problems after surgery, suggesting the need for new strategies to treat or prevent the disease. More than a decade of basic research work by Heuckeroth’s laboratory and other investigators has led to a sophisticated but incomplete understanding of the molecules needed for normal development of the enteric nervous system. Based on these studies, researchers believe there are important gene-environment interactions that influence the occurrence of Hirschsprung disease.
Burroughs Wellcome Fund launched the Translational Awards program in 1997, and an investment of nearly $73 million has been made through 97 awards.
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.