Children’s Discovery Institute Awards $3 million in New Pediatric Research Grants
Life-threatening bacterial infections and brain tumors are just some of the serious
health issues affecting children. Now, 12 Washington University School of Medicine
research teams are preparing to ask – and answer – critical questions
about these and other pediatric health problems with help from $3 million in new
grants from the Children’s Discovery Institute.
In one of the funded projects, Stephanie Fritz, MD, will follow 135 pediatric patients
and their households for one year to identify genetic and environmental factors
that influence the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA),
a common strain of bacteria that doesn’t respond to some antibiotics. MRSA
is the most frequent cause of skin infections and invasive, life-threatening infections
of the muscles and bones in children. Over the last decade, there has been a dramatic
increase in the number of MRSA infections in healthy children in the community,
but combating these infections has been limited by the lack of effective preventive
measures. This research could lead to the development of novel methods to interrupt
the spread of MRSA and to prevent infections.
Newly funded cancer-related projects will explore strategies to prevent nerve damage
resulting from a commonly prescribed chemotherapy drug; genetic risk factors for
brain tumors; and the ways by which an important cellular defense mechanism goes
awry in brain tumors. Research projects focusing on cardiovascular disease will
examine the link between congenital heart disease and brain
development in infants, as well as the genetic basis of cardiovascular disease and
metabolic syndrome — a disease characterized by obesity, diabetes and high
Projects related to lung diseases will explore the genes responsible for excessive
airway narrowing associated with asthma and mechanical structures in the cells that
line the airways important for clearance of mucus. Other newly funded
Institute projects will examine genetic defects associated with autoimmune diseases;
approaches to prevent sudden deaths related to insulin therapy; the genetic underpinnings
of scoliosis in adolescents; and the characteristics of proteins implicated in type
“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 Hospital and professor
of pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine. “Collectively,
this research could ultimately benefit thousands of children in the United
The Children’s Discovery Institute is a multi-disciplinary, innovation-based
research partnership between St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington
University School of Medicine that has awarded nearly $28 million in scientific
grants since its launch. The Institute 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 could yield new treatments in the future.
To date, Institute awards have resulted in significant progress in children’s
health research. Awardees have leveraged their initial “seed funding”
to gain $69 million in additional funding resources from the National Institutes
of Health (NIH) and other national organizations.
“Through a unique and extensive set of collaborations, Institute researchers
have already made tremendous progress in advancing research on pediatric diseases,”
Dr. Dinauer said. “There is still a long way to go, and the newest round of
funding will help these investigators provide important insights that have the potential
to lead to new treatments."
Children’s Discovery Institute Awards
- Carlos Bernal-Mizrachi,
MD, will investigate the contribution of fetal vitamin D deficiency
to the development of metabolic syndrome and identify
genes that predict the onset of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.
- Martha Bhattacharya,
PhD, will receive a fellowship to develop molecular strategies to prevent
the chemotherapy drug vincristine from causing peripheral nerve damage, which results
in pain and loss of nerve function.
- Megan Cooper,
MD, PhD, will use next-generation gene sequencing to determine whether
genetic defects in abnormal immune cells lead to the development of a range of pediatric
autoimmune diseases associated with serious long-term health problems.
- Simon Fisher,
MD, PhD, will study the mechanisms by which high insulin doses in children
with type 1 diabetes can cause sudden
death, and test novel therapeutic approaches to prevent this potential deadly side
MD, will receive a Faculty Scholar Award to track pediatric patients
and their households to identify genetic and environmental factors that influence
the spread of MRSA.
- Matthew Goldsmith,
MD, and Christina Gurnett, MD, PhD, will examine the genetic basis
of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, the most common pediatric spinal deformity,
to gain biological insights that could lead to the development of non-surgical therapeutic
Paul Hruz, MD,
PhD, and Katherine Henzler-Wildman, PhD, will study the structure and
movements of glucose transport proteins, which carry the blood sugar glucose into
cells, to provide a basis for designing drugs that improve the function of these
proteins in type 2 diabetes.
MD, will use advanced neuroimaging techniques to test whether changes
in blood flow to the brain associated with congenital heart disease impair
brain development and neurologic outcome in infants, and assess the impact of neonatal
heart surgery on brain development.
- Anand Patel, MD,
will identify genes and molecular pathways responsible for excessive airway narrowing
in response to allergen exposure or viral infection to offer insights that could
lead to the discovery of novel treatments for asthma, the most common chronic childhood
- Joshua Rubin,
MD, PhD, and David Gutmann, MD, PhD, will examine genetic variations
that increase the risk for brain tumors in children with the genetic disease neurofibromatosis
1, and investigate why these tumors are more common in boys than in girls, in order
to improve diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for children with brain cancer.
Gang Xu, DSc,
will receive a fellowship to measure the mechanical properties of important structural
components found in cilia — whip-like appendages on cells that propel fluid
and materials in the airways — to
understand abnormalities in the movements of cilia that are associated with pulmonary diseases.
- Zhongsheng You,
PhD, and David Piwnica-Worms, MD, PhD, will investigate the role of
nonsense-mediated messenger ribonucleic acid decay (NMD), a cellular surveillance
system that blocks the production of defective proteins, in pediatric brain cancer.