Children’s Discovery Institute funds new projects

The Children’s Discovery Institute has approved funding for three large-scale research initiatives focusing on heart and lung diseases in children.

Together, the projects will receive $1.5 million over three years.

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 more than $23 million in scientific grants since its launch in 2006.

One of the new grants, the Airway Epithelial Cell Core (AECC), will facilitate studies into the causes and therapeutic strategies for pediatric lung disorders such as asthma, respiratory virus infections, cystic fibrosis and lung transplant rejection.

The grant is a renewal of an existing core resource within the Institute and is led by Steven Brody, MD, associate professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine. Since 2007, the AECC initiative has provided more than 30 principal investigators at Washington University with hundreds of respiratory tract cell preparations, a repository of normal and diseased lung tissue and technical training. It has also contributed to more than 200 publications and more than a dozen additional grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other organizations.

The second large initiative will establish the Translational Cardiovascular Tissue Core (TCTC), a centralized system for acquiring, storing, using and distributing pediatric cardiovascular tissue samples.

These samples will be used for studies of the molecular and genetic causes of congenital heart and vascular defects. The results will be integrated into databases with clinical information to facilitate collaborations among scientists and to accelerate the application of novel research findings to patient care.

The TCTC repository will be directed by Jeanne Nerbonne, PhD, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology in Developmental Biology and an expert in the molecular basis of heart failure.

Finally, Beth Kozel, MD, PhD, an instructor in pediatrics who specializes in medical genetics, is the latest recipient of a Faculty Scholar Award from the Institute.

Kozel will use her award to establish a research program to study the genes and molecular pathways that cause defects in bundles of proteins called elastin, which can lead to hypertension and vascular abnormalities. Specifically, Kozel will investigate the factors that determine the severity of vascular disease in patients with elastin fiber disorders such as supravalvular aortic stenosis and Williams syndrome.

“Core resources are such a valuable resource for scientists across Washington University Medical Center,” says Mary Dinauer, MD, PhD, the Fred M. Saigh Distinguished Chair of Pediatric Research and scientific director of the Children’s Discovery Institute. “This new round of funding enables further investment in the maintenance and growth of Dr. Brody’s Airway Epithelial Cell Core and establishes a new Core to facilitate research on pediatric heart and vascular disorders. They are the fuel that keeps the Institute’s research engine operating efficiently and advancing our progress towards solving these complex pediatric diseases.”

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.

The Children’s Discovery Institute, a partnership between St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, 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

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 US News & World Report. In 2011, St. Louis Children’s Hospital again made the elite U.S. News Honor Roll of the nation’s Best Pediatric Hospitals.