2007 Articles and Releases

First Grants Clear Way for Science to Begin at Children’s Discovery Institute

Emphasis on Multidisciplinary Research

Children’s Discovery Institute (CDI) has awarded $2 million in research grants to a broad spectrum of investigators across 10 unique departments in Washington University’s Schools of Arts and Sciences and Medicine. These are the first funding awards since the launch of the Institute in 2006.

The CDI’s Scientific Advisory Board, charged with determining the most outstanding awards from a very large applicant pool, gave special consideration to interdisciplinary research initiatives.

“Our goal is to conduct research in a way that has never been done anywhere on behalf of children,” says Dr. Jonathan Gitlin, Scientific Director of the CDI.  “We’re pulling people together with unique skills who’ve never worked together. We’re asking them to investigate a problem in a new, imaginative and interdisciplinary way that completely leverages the intellectual capital of this university.”

One newly funded initiative supported within the McDonnell Pediatric Cancer Center is providing a remarkable opportunity to explore the potential of nanostructures— tiny particles that could help detect and treat pediatric brain cancers.

“By bringing together specialists in the fields of chemistry, biology and medicine, we are in a unique position to make progress toward the development of materials to tackle this medical problem,” says Dr. Karen Wooley, department of chemistry, Washington University. Dr. Wooley is part of a team that includes pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Jeffrey Leonard, pediatric oncologist Dr. Joshua Rubin and Drs. Sheila Stewart and John-Stephen Taylor, with the division of biology and biomedical sciences at Washington University.

St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine jointly launched the CDI in January 2006. Grants will be made to fund multidisciplinary investigator teams, faculty recruitment, research fellows and unique educational initiatives. The CDI is initially focusing on four broad areas encompassing some of the most pernicious diseases affecting children through the McDonnell Pediatric Cancer Center, the Center for Musculoskeletal Diseases, the Center for Pediatric Pulmonary Disease and the Congenital Heart Disease Center.

With these awards in place, research will begin immediately. “With pediatric brain cancer, we can now start figuring out how to get nanoparticles into brain tumors taken from children and placed in mice, and how to begin manipulating those brain tumors for new treatments,” says Dr. Gitlin.

Eight research initiatives received CDI funding. Funding also provided for the recruitment of one new faculty member, two research fellows and two educational programs. (See complete list below)

“We mean for this to be one of the most visionary partnerships in pediatric medicine,” says Dr. Gitlin. “The awardees show exceptional ability and promise. The majority are young investigators, and half are female. In this regard, the CDI is especially proud of its first faculty recruit, Christina Gurnett.”  She earned an MD, PhD from the University of Iowa and has been an instructor in neurology at Washington University. This award enables her to start her own laboratory here. “She will begin work immediately within new CDI designated space in the McDonnell Pediatric Research Building,” adds Dr. Gitlin.

A second wave of funding will be announced in April.  St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s “Building for Care, Searching for Cures” campaign has raised $118 million toward its $125 million goal, a large part of which will fund the CDI.

Dr. Gitlin believes the CDI investment will pave the way for broader initiatives that can be sustained with NIH funding. What the CDI has done thus far is take the most important step just by getting started, he says. “To plant the seed, that’s the real accomplishment so far of the Children’s Discovery Institute. It tills soil where it was never tilled before and puts the seed down and protects it for awhile so something can grow that couldn’t grow there before.”

Investigators will report early results to the Scientific Advisory Board in six months.

Each grant focuses on one of the following: recruitment of new faculty; interdisciplinary research initiatives; pre and postdoctoral trainees and unique education programs. All fall under one of the four centers within the CDI.

Children’s Discovery Institute - 2007 Grant Recipients

New Faculty:

  • Christina A. Gurnett, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Neurology & Pediatrics

Interdisciplinary Research Initiatives:

  • Fetal origins of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

          Kelle H. Moley, M.D., Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology
          Jean E. Schaffer, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine

  • Genetic Basis of Congenital Heart Disease.

          Thomas M. Morgan, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
          Patrick Y. Jay, M. D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

  • Hypermutability of p53 in oncogenesis

          Robi D. Mitra, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Genetics
          Elaine Mardis, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Genetics

  • Nanostructures in the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric braincancer

          Karen L. Wooley, Ph.D., James McDonnell Distinguished Professor
          Jeffrey R. Leonard, M.D., Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery
          Sheila A. Stewart, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Cell Biology

  • Mechanisms of function and regulation of the pulmonary microcirculation

          Allan Doctor, M.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics
          Nathan Baker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biochemistry

  • Comparative Genomics of Parturition

          Justin C. Fay, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Genetics
          Louis J. Muglia, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics

  • Genetic Basis of Pleuropulmonary Blastoma Family Cancer Syndrome

          D. Ashley Hill, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pathology & Immunology

  • Regulation of Bone Growth and Development

          Lijuan Zhang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pathology & Immunology

Pre and postdoctoral trainees:

  • Todd E. Druley, M.D., Ph.D., Fellow in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology
  • Raja Natarajan, Ph.D., Fellow in Genetics

Unique Educational Programs:

  • Program for the education of residents in Genomic Medicine of Congenital Heart Disease

          Tyler Reimschisel, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics

  • Educational symposium focusing on the genetic basis of musculoskeletal birth defects

          Matthew B. Dobbs, M.D., Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

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