Children’s Discovery Institute awards $2.4 million

As part of ongoing efforts to bolster pediatric research and lead to new discoveries, Children’s Discovery Institute plans to award more than $2.4 million to research initiatives at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

CDI encourages unique, productive collaborations among scientists at the School of Medicine, the university’s Danforth Campus and Children’s Hospital. Institute-funded projects constitute “discovery research” — preliminary studies that may point scientists down a path that, in the future, could yield new treatments.

Since its launch in 2006, more than $35 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 (NIH) and other organizations.

The most recent funding cycle honors two new faculty scholars and awards large-scale, interdisciplinary initiatives focused on research in congenital heart disease and intestinal health. It also supports undergraduate research fellows and ensures the continuation of tissue sample collection for translational studies involving childhood diseases and maternal health.

Faculty scholar Ying Chen, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the School of Medicine, will use her award to pursue studies on a group of inherited kidney disorders. Multiple papers already have been published on her research into nephrotic syndrome (NS), an inherited childhood kidney disease. With CDI funding, she will be able to make strides in the treatment of certain NS patients.

Also recognized as a faculty scholar, Laura Schuettpelz, MD, PhD, instructor in pediatrics at the School of Medicine and pediatric oncologist at Children’s, will use her CDI funding to pursue new pathways that regulate lymphocytes, the small white blood cells that play a role in the body’s fight against germs and disease. One type of lymphocyte, known as a T cell, attacks the body’s own cells when they are diseased. Schuettpelz hopes to enhance the understanding of T cell development and the genesis of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), as well as to improve protocols for bone marrow stem cell transplantation in children.

CDI also will continue to support its summer undergraduate research fellowship (SURF) at the School of Medicine, directed by Kathryn Miller, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences. The new, three-year CDI SURF grant will support nine to 12 student fellows each year working with faculty mentors on projects related to pediatric diseases. Each involvement will help lay the groundwork for the next generation of pediatric researchers and physician scientists. Since 2007, CDI has supported 63 students in this program.

Prevention of congenital heart disease is the goal of Patrick Y. Jay, MD, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics and of genetics at the School of Medicine and a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s. He and his Washington University colleagues James Cheverud, PhD, a professor emeritus of anatomy, of genetics and of anthropology, and Gary Patti, PhD, an assistant professor of chemistry, of genetics and of medicine, will conduct interdisciplinary research to explore the link between an expectant mother’s age and metabolic and genetic factors.

In another CDI-funded interdisciplinary initiative, Mark Manary, MD, will employ powerful biomedical research techniques with state-of-the-art clinical trials to address environmental enteropathy. This chronic inflammation in the small intestine can prevent children from growing or developing properly. Manary is the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics and director of the Global Harvest Alliance, a joint venture between Children’s Hospital, Washington University and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. His work to eradicate starvation in the developing world has garnered worldwide attention.

CDI also will supply additional support to the Women and Infants’ Health Specimen Consortium (WIHSC), led by Kelle Moley, MD, the James P. Crane Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, to continue the richness of tissue samples generated by CDI funding. Through the longitudinal collection of tissue samples from mothers and their infants beginning before birth, WIHSC assists investigators in a variety of studies on childhood diseases and maternal health.

“The CDI Scientific Advisory Board, which is composed of internationally recognized science leaders, was impressed by the high quality of proposals this funding cycle,” said Mary Dinauer, MD, PhD, scientific director of CDI, the Fred M. Saigh Distinguished Chair of Pediatric Research and professor of pediatrics and of pathology and immunology. “The board believes each of the chosen grantees will enhance the CDI’s synergies of discovery research into the causes and treatment of serious pediatric diseases.”

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. The hospital is affiliated with Washington University School of Medicine. In 2013, St. Louis Children’s Hospital again made the elite U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll of the nation’s Best Pediatric Hospitals. It also has received Magnet re-designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the nation’s highest honor for nursing excellence. St. Louis Children’s 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.