Children’s Discovery Institute announces four new pediatric research awards

Bringing new technologies to pediatric medical research is the focus of four new awards granted to researchers at Washington University by the Children’s Discovery Institute (CDI).

The awards, which began July 1, total nearly $2.5 million and will enhance research efforts in all centers within the institute.

• Todd Druley, M.D., Ph.D., instructor of pediatrics, will serve as the primary investigator for a project titled “Accelerating Novel Genetic Discoveries via Next-Generation DNA Sequencing.” New, next-generation sequencing technology has led to more than a 100-fold decrease in the cost of DNA sequencing. With co-investigator Robi Mitra, Ph.D., assistant professor of genetics, Druley has developed pooled sample sequencing techniques, which further accelerate the value of next-generation DNA sequencing to detect and quantify rare mutations.

This unique equipment, along with the new methods Druley and Mitra developed, will enable investigators to rapidly and inexpensively tease apart the genetic underpinnings of complex pediatric diseases. The $1.125 million award ensures that equipment and trained personnel will be available for use by all CDI researchers.

• Jeff Leonard, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and of neurosurgery, remains the primary investigator for the CDI Pediatric Brain Tumor Bank, which has been awarded $700,000 in new funding. Joshua Rubin, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, of neurology and of neurobiology, continues as co-investigator on the project. With pediatric brain tumors, the extreme difficulty in obtaining and culturing brain tumor cells has severely hampered research. The brain tumor bank aims to overcome that limitation.

To date, the tumor bank has collected about 100 brain tumor specimens, from which genetically faithful tissue culture and graft models have been created. The award will enable expansion of tumor types and characterization of models to ensure they faithfully mirror the original disease.

• George Van Hare, M.D., the Louis Larrick Ward Chair in Pediatric Cardiology at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and director of pediatric cardiology at the School of Medicine, has received a $200,000 award to bring a novel electrocardiographic imaging modality to the CDI’s Heart Center research effort.

This noninvasive technology is capable of accurately representing electrical potentials and activation patterns from the surface of the heart. Investigators from pediatric cardiology, biomedical engineering and pediatric cardiac surgery will use the technology in their research efforts aimed at improving outcomes for patients with congenital heart disease.

• David Ornitz, M.D., Ph.D., the Alumni Endowed Professor of Developmental Biology, has received an award of $450,000 to support CDI investigations that use mouse models to study the genetic cause of disease. The grant will support a newly developed cryopreservation protocol for managing the mouse lines used in research, which are expensive to develop and maintain.

The technique, which uses cryopreservation of sperm and proprietary sperm injection techniques, can reduce risks to mouse lines from natural disaster, infertility, genetic contamination, disease outbreaks and spontaneous mutations.

With the addition of these four awards, CDI has made grants of more than $6.5 million in 2009.

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