Fifteen New Awards Granted by Children's Discovery Institute
01/07/2009

The approval of 15 new grants has pushed the Children’s Discovery Institute investment in finding cures and treatments for devastating childhood diseases to more than $11.5 million since 2006.  The Institute is a St. Louis-based partnership between St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine that was created to speed discoveries in children’s medicine.

The new awards, which begin February 1, 2009, will be shared by 15researchers representing seven departments at Washington University School of Medicine and Washington University School of Arts and Sciences.  

The $12 million has been awarded to investigators leading collaborative research efforts into pediatric brain cancer, congenital heart disease, pediatric pulmonary disease, and musculoskeletal and metabolic diseases. 

“Forward thinking individual contributors interested in speeding the pace of discoveries in pediatric medicine made this possible,” said Children’s Discovery Institute executive director Alan Schwartz, MD, PhD.  “Our Institute investors understand the risks and potential rewards of supporting high risk research by young investigators.  They have refused to allow progress to lapse even in these troubled financial times.” 

 With this grant cycle, a special “New Faculty Grant” has been awarded to Audrey Odom, MD, PhD, to assist with the establishment of her laboratory at Washington University School of Medicine, where she is an Instructor of Pediatrics.  Dr. Odom is a summa cum laude graduate of Duke University, where she also completed her MD and PhD programs.

Her investigation focuses on a new metabolic pathway in malaria that is not found in man, and therefore provides a novel target for drug development.  According to the World Health Organization, malaria is the fourth most common cause of all deaths in children under the age of five.

Dr. Odom is partnering with the Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center in her research, which is being conducted for the Center for Musculoskeletal and Metabolic Disorders of the Children’s Discovery Institute. 

Other researchers who received 2009 grant awards from the Children’s Discovery Institute are listed below.

Center for Musculoskeletal and Metabolic Diseases

Ana Maria Arbelaez, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, is studying the brain mechanisms related to recurrent episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) following exercise in teens with diabetes. 

Yehuda Ben-Shahar, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biology, is looking into the molecular mechanisms underlying taste perception leading to abnormal food intake and obesity risk during development.

Roberta Faccio, PhD, Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, will study a new pathway leading to neutrophil activation in juvenile inflammatory arthritis.  Neutrophils are the first white blood cells to arrive at a site of inflammation.

Sanjay Jain, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, is leading an interdisciplinary investigation to understand the molecular basis for how kidneys and the urinary system normally develop and to identify the genetic changes that lead to kidney and urinary defects in children.

Scott Saunders, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, will evaluate the effects of mutations in certain genes that have been linked to Simpson Golabi Behmel Syndrome, a genetic disorder causing overgrowth and malformation of the skeletal system as well as other malformations in children. 

Barbara Warner, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, will use her three year grant to create the St. Louis Neonatal Gut Microbiome Initiative.  Warner and her colleagues will determine the nature and concentration of microbes in the gastrointestinal tracts of twin volunteers in order to understand the effect of human genes on bacterial content.

Monita Wilson, PhD, Research Assistant Professor of Medicine, is developing a mouse model that can be used for the study of human neural tube defects.  Neural tube defects lead to common birth defects in children such as spina bifida.

McDonnell Pediatric Cancer Center

Joshua Rubin, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, seeks to understand how brain tumor growth is stimulated or inhibited by the brain tissue surrounding the tumor.  His work may serve as the foundation for novel approaches to future cures.

Center for Pediatric Pulmonary Disease

Rob Mitra, PhD, Assistant Professor of Genetics, focuses his research on discovering rare genetic mutations in common pediatric diseases including respiratory distress syndrome.  This grant will enable him to continue development of new technologies to tag individual gene sequences prior to high resolution, high speed gene sequencing of a large population of infants.

Nguyet Nguyen, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, is studying the role of a specific receptor in lung development and lung injury to provide insights into approaches to modify lung injury during childhood.

David Wang, PhD, Assistant Professor of Molecular Microbiology, will comprehensively define the spectrum of viruses that cause respiratory tract infections in immunocompromised pediatric transplant patients.

Congenital Heart Disease Center

Dong Yu, PhD, Assistant Professor of Molecular Microbiology, will investigate human cytomegalovirus, a virus that not only causes birth defects in newborns, but also causes severe disease in children receiving heart transplants.  He seeks to understand the mechanisms that cause the virus to target certain cell types.

The Children’s Discovery Institute is also supporting the work of two post-doctoral Fellows conducting research in the laboratories of Institute members.

Jeff Bednarski, MD, PhD, Clinical Fellow in Pediatrics, is investigating how DNA damage such as that caused by chemotherapy and radiation can corrupt immune development and function in children.  His mentor is Barry Sleckman, MD, PhD., Professor of Pathology.  His work is being carried out within the McDonnell Pediatric Cancer Center.

Stephen Rogers, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Pediatrics, is working with his mentor Allan Doctor, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, to identify key factors in red blood cell metabolism.  Their work may lead to novel strategies for manipulating red blood cell metabolism to avoid lung injury in children with severe inflammation.  Rogers’ works is sponsored by the Pediatric Pulmonary Disease Center.

About St. Louis Children’s Hospital: St. Louis Children’s Hospital has provided specialized care for children for more than 127 years. The hospital is affiliated with Washington University School of Medicine, ranked the number three medical school in the country by US News & World Report. In 2009, Parents magazine ranked St. Louis Children’s Hospital among the 5 Best children’s hospitals in the country. St. Louis Children’s Hospital is a member of BJC HealthCare. For more information about the Children’s Discovery Institute, visitwww.childrensdiscovery.org. For more information about St. Louis Children’s Hospital, visit www.stlouischildrens.org.