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Stanford Report, October 29, 1997

Funding launches child health studies: 10/29/97

Alternative funding source launches child health studies

BY RUTHANN RICHTER

Some 44 new Stanford researchers in need of funds to get their projects off the ground are reaping the benefits of an innovative grant program established at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.


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Since the spring of 1996, the Child Health Research Fund (CHRF) has awarded $828,000 in start-up grants to faculty whose research involves children's health, regardless of departmental affiliation. The fund helps address the need for alternative funding sources as research money becomes increasingly scarce, said Dr. Ann Arvin, professor of pediatrics and of microbiology/immunology and associate chair for academic affairs in the Department of Pediatrics.

Arvin initiated the fund and heads the committee that reviews grant proposals. "The fund helps physician/investigators do research along with patient care," she said. "Our goal is to preserve the traditional role of academic pediatrics in creating new knowledge about child health."

The fund was started with about $200,000 in contributions from private donors and local fund-raisers, such as the Stanford Bloomingdale's opening event last fall and Tally Ho, an annual event sponsored by the Woodside-Atherton Auxiliary. This year, the CHRF received a boost with a $200,000 annual grant from the Packard Foundation and up to an additional $200,000 in foundation support that is to be matched by private contributions from the community. That will bring the 1997 total to $600,000, said Leigh Tate, administrative director for clinical research in the Department of Pediatrics.

Individual grants of up to $30,000 are awarded twice a year, with this year's second round announced last week (see box, page 11).

The fund is designed to help faculty members, particularly junior faculty, get a project started and obtain enough preliminary data and credibility so that they can seek larger grants from more conventional sources, Arvin said. The application procedure in itself can be a learning process as new researchers gain experience in writing a proposal for peer review, she said.

"What we're trying to do is help those who receive CHRF support translate this initial opportunity into extramural funding," Arvin said. "So it's an investment process. It's an investment in new faculty as well as an investment in translating new technology into improved care for children."

She said the CHRF also helps identify projects of interest to donors who may want to help with a particular area of research, such as childhood cancer.

The fund provides money for a wide range of projects, including those involving bench-to-bedside research, social and behavioral issues and methods for improving medical education, Arvin said. Many are interdisciplinary.

For instance, Dr. Louis Halamek, an assistant professor of pediatrics, received a $19,000 grant last year to set up a simulated delivery room for training purposes at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System. He worked with Dr. David Gaba, associate professor of anesthesia, to equip the existing VA/Stanford Simulation Center with a mannequin of a newborn, a neonatal "hot bed" and a simulated maternal pelvis. The new setup is designed to test the responses of an emergency team in a delivery crisis, such as a cardiac arrest in a newborn, Halamek said. The scenario is recorded on videotape so that the team can discuss its response immediately afterward.

"Everyone who has been there says it's a superior way to do training in terms of what you learn in the time you spend," Halamek said. "Instead of going to 20 deliveries to have a crisis to solve, you can go to four deliveries with different scenarios, confront four different crises and get immediate feedback."

Dr. Thomas Robinson, an assistant professor of pediatrics and of medicine, has been using his $10,000 grant from last year to expand a study on children's television viewing habits to see whether TV viewing and video game use have any relationship with aggressive behavior. Robinson has been observing aggressive acts among San Jose schoolchildren during free play to see if children with reduced exposure to TV and video games show less aggression. He has completed the study and is now analyzing the data, he said.

Dr. Francis Blankenberg, an assistant professor of radiology, is already getting results in his research, for which he received separate CHRF grants of $15,000 and $30,000. Blankenberg has been taking advantage of the imaging techniques of nuclear medicine to observe apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which is associated with many disease processes.

He has been using a human protein, labeled with radioactivity, that has a high affinity for apoptotic cells. In his first project, Blankenberg witnessed the effects of chemotherapy in laboratory animals with leukemia. When the therapy was effective, he was able to observe the cells dying within a matter of hours, he said.

"This gives you a way to monitor results without a biopsy and helps you manage therapy better for leukemia," Blankenberg said.

He has since extended the work to other applications, including monitoring the rejection of organ transplants in rats. With the technique, researchers can detect signs of rejection within days of a transplant, avoiding the need for painful and dangerous biopsies, he said. Blankenberg is now applying to the National Institutes of Health for funding to continue this work in humans.

"This research would not have happened ­ trust me ­ without the [Child Health Research] Fund," he said. "It's very hard to get funding from an outside institution for cutting-edge, novel projects." SR