Children’s Discovery Institute Awards $2.7 million in pediatric research grants

Understanding and solving the mysteries of tuberculosis and malnutrition, seeking answers that will help develop and improve outcomes for childhood cancers — these are some of the important new research projects under way at the Children’s Discovery Institute.

Eleven Washington University research teams will share $2.7 million in new grants from the institute, a research collaboration between St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

Some of this funding will go to pulmonary research into whether cilia, the tiny hairs lining the airways and nasal passages, can be employed to prevent lung disease. The research also will bring us closer to vaccines that fight common childhood lung infections, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

In another Children’s Discovery Institute project, Lori Holtz, MD, recipient of the 2013 Faculty Scholar Award, will study new viruses associated with disorders of the childhood digestive system. One such disorder, know as environmental enteropathy, leads to malnutrition and stunted growth and contributes to one-third of childhood deaths worldwide.

Meanwhile, scientists specializing in musculoskeletal and metabolic disorders will seek answers regarding sudden infant death syndrome; new ways to regenerate healthy tissues and organs; and new treatments for birth-related defects that affect muscle movement.

“These projects represent the broad range of important pediatric diseases that the institute tackles each year,” said Mary Dinauer, MD, PhD, scientific director of the Children’s Discovery Institute, the Fred M. Saigh Distinguished Chair of Pediatric Research at St. Louis Children’s and professor of pediatrics and of pathology and immunology at the School of Medicine. “Collectively, this research could ultimately benefit millions of children.”

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. Institute-funded projects constitute “discovery research” — preliminary studies that may point scientists down a path that, years in the future, could yield new treatments.

Since its launch in 2006, more than $32 million in awards from the institute have resulted in significant progress in children’s health research. Awardees have leveraged their initial “seed funding” to gain more than $114 million in additional funding resources from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations.

“Through a unique and extensive set of collaborations across scientific disciplines, institute researchers already have made tremendous progress in advancing research into pediatric diseases,” Dinauer said. “There is still a long way to go, and the newest round of funding will help these investigators to provide important insights that have the potential to lead to new treatments.”

Children’s Discovery Institute Awards

Gaya Amarasinghe, PhD, will work to move us closer to vaccines that fight RSV, a major cause of lung infections and breathing problems in children.

Grant Challen, PhD, will investigate the pathways through which acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common cancer in children, develops.

Peter Crawford, MD, PhD, will investigate ways to detect low blood sugar in children and its complications, which can include sudden infant death syndrome.

Robert Heuckeroth, MD, PhD, Joseph Dougherty, PhD, and Joshua Maurer, PhD, are studying new ways to rebuild the circuitry that generates healthy tissue and organs when cells responsible for critical structures of the body fail to differentiate, causing birth defects.

Lori Holtz, MD, will test the hypothesis that viruses are associated with the development of environmental enteropathy, a disorder that leads to malnutrition.

Amjad Horani, MD, received a fellowship to identify novel ways to correct the function of cilia in a range of pulmonary diseases.

Megan Killian, PhD, received a research fellowship to study the molecular mechanisms that regulate tendon-to-bone attachment and contribute to new treatments for birth-related defects that affect muscle movement.

Audrey McAlinden, PhD, will look for novel ways to regenerate cartilage tissue after damage from certain childhood diseases.

S. Celeste Morley, MD, PhD, will seek to identify genetic differences that predispose some children to pneumonia.

Christina Stallings, PhD, will contribute to the development of new drug treatments for tuberculosis in infants and children.

Jason Weber, PhD, and Jeffrey Leonard, MD, will study the pathways through which gliomas, one of the most common brain tumors in children, develop.

The Children’s Discovery Institute is a world-class center for pediatric research and innovation. The institute funds the collaborative, multidisciplinary work of creative scientists aimed at some of the most devastating childhood diseases and disorders.

St. Louis Children’s Hospital has provided specialized care for children for more than 130 years. In 2012, St. Louis Children’s again made the elite U.S. 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. St. Louis Children’s Hospital is a member of BJC HealthCare.

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 sixth 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.