Congenital heart disease, lung infection and resistance to antibiotics are just some of the serious health issues affecting children. Now, 11 Washington University research teams are preparing to ask – and answer – critical questions about these and other pediatric health problems with help from $3.8 million in new grants from the Children’s Discovery Institute.
In one of the funded projects, David Rudnick, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics and of developmental biology, will study pathways that enable the liver to regenerate, with the potential to identify a group of drugs that might enhance care for a child with liver disease. Other grants will help teams led by Barbara Warner, MD, professor of pediatrics, and Gautam Dantas, PhD, assistat professor of pathology and immunology, study the “microbiome” — bacteria in the digestive tracts of normal babies that may play a key role in health, disease, nutrition and even resistance to antibiotic drugs.
Other newly-funded Institute projects will explore congenital abnormalities of the kidneys as well as the genetic causes of heart disease and abnormal fetal growth.
“In seeking new answers to questions about pediatric disease, we need to collaborate and think in bold new ways. That’s what these latest grants represent,” says Mary Dinauer, MD, PhD, scientific director of the Children’s Discovery Institute, the Fred M. Saigh Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Research at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine. “Thanks to our committed and generous donors, researchers may be among the first to discover some of the sources of childhood disease and chart a path to more effective treatments.”
The Children’s Discovery Institute encourages unique, productive collaborations among scientists at the School of Medicine, the university’s Danforth Campus and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Institute-funded projects constitute “discovery research” — preliminary studies that may point scientists down a path that, years in the future, could yield new treatments.
To date, awards from the Institute have resulted in significant progress in children’s health research. Awardees have leveraged their initial seed funding to gain additional funding resources from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other national organizations.
The Children’s Discovery Institute is a multi-disciplinary, innovation-based research partnership between St. Louis Children’s Hospital and the School of Medicine that has awarded nearly $23 million in scientific grants since its launch in 2006.
“The path from discovery to treatment is often long and winding,” Dinauer says, “but we can’t even take the first step without the kind of research funded by the Children’s Discovery Institute.”
The following are recipients of the February 2011 Children’s Discovery Institute awards:
- Sun Young Ahn, MD, instructor in pediatrics, will study genes that may cause babies to develop congenital abnormalities of the kidneys.
- Deepta Bhattacharya, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and immunology, will look at potential ways to improve flu vaccines for children.
- Kyunghee Choi, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and immunology, will lead a collaboration to study how heart cells might be regenerated.
- Dantas will investigate the bacteria present inside newborn babies to understand the diversity and development of antibiotic resistant genes.
- Ryan Gray, PhD, a postdoctoral research scholar in developmental biology, will examine the genetics of familial scoliosis (curvature of the spine), which affects 3 percent to 4 percent of all children.
- Patrick Jay, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics and of genetics, will investigate some of the genetic factors that may lead to congenital heart disease.
- Audrey McAlinden, PhD, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and of cell biology and of physiology, will look at the genetics that affect the growth of the limbs in the embryo.
- Rudnick will study pathways that enable the liver to regenerate, with the potential to identify a group of drugs that might enhance care of a child with liver disease.
- Michael Shoykhet, MD, PhD, instructor in pediatrics, will receive a Faculty Scholar award to help him set up a laboratory for the study of nervous-system injury in critically ill children.
- Jennifer Silva, MD, instructor in pediatrics, will create a registry of children who receive cardiac pacemakers, to provide a databank to help determine the most effective use of this treatment in children.
- Warner will expand her study of bacteria in the digestive tracts of normal babies that may play a key role in health, disease and metabolism.
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 fourth 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.
St. Louis Children‘s Hospital has provided specialized care for children for more than 130 years. The hospital is affiliated with Washington University School of Medicine, ranked the number four medical school in the country by U.S. News & World Report. In 2010, St. Louis Children’s Hospital again made the elite US News Honor Roll of the nation’s Best Pediatric Hospitals, in addition to receiving Magnet re-designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the nation’s highest honor for nursing excellence. In 2009, Parents magazine ranked St. Louis Children’s Hospital number five in the nation. St. Louis Children’s Hospital is a member of BJC HealthCare. For more information visit StLouisChildrens.org; or visit us on Facebook or @STLChildrens on Twitter.
The Children‘s Discovery Institute is a world-class center for pediatric research and innovation. The Institute funds the collaborative, multi-disciplinary work of creative scientists aimed at some of the most devastating childhood diseases and disorders. For more information about the Children‘s Discovery Institute, visit ChildrensDiscovery.org.