By MARIA LAGANGA
Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital has given $700,000 to the medical school to harness the evolving field of biotechnology research for advancing children’s health.
The gift is the first investment of its kind by the hospital in the medical school. Over the past several years, the hospital has invested in programs that have made it sustainable, allowing it to devote resources to innovations such as the new Children’s Biotechnology Core.
The money will allow basic scientists and clinicians to use the tools of biotechnology — genetics, genomics and proteomics — to diagnose childhood diseases earlier, predict which children will respond to treatment and determine which children will have serious side effects from therapies.
James W. Schilling, PhD, former principal scientist and director of protein chemistry at Sugen Inc., will direct the new effort, which will focus on translating basic knowledge into practical applications for patients.
"We know that all of the issues that face children are a result of their genetics and their environment," said Harvey Cohen, MD, PhD, the Arlene and Pete Harman Professor for the Chair of Pediatrics and Packard chief of staff.
"We will study genetic and environmental influences on the body. We will study chromosomes and genes that the children have, how the genes are turned on or off, what proteins are made, how they may be altered and determine whether proteins and other substances change their location as a result of a disease process."
Alan Krensky, MD, chief of the division of immunology and transplantation biology and the Shelagh Galligan Professor of Pediatrics, emphasized the unique nature of the center.
"There are several great children’s hospitals and several great technology universities, but no one offers this on a single campus as we can. We have both institutions, and now they’re being connected," Krensky said.
The biotechnology effort at Packard and the School of Medicine has begun focusing on important areas in pediatrics:
• Acute myelogenous leukemia. With current treatments, half of children are cured and half will die of their disease. "By studying the genetics, genomics and proteomics of leukemic cells," said Cohen, who is also chairman of the Bio-X Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program, "we hope to be able to identify those children who we can safely and effectively treat with what we have and those who need different treatments."
• Kawasaki disease: Using comparative proteomics, researchers hope to develop a better tool for early diagnosis of this inflammatory disease which affects young children and can result in cardiac problems.
• Diabetes: Approximately half of certain relatives of children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes will develop the disease themselves within five years. "We will be studying the serum of these individuals to see if we can predict those individuals who will develop diabetes," Cohen said.
• Necrotizing enterocolitis: Premature babies are at risk of developing this illness, which causes extensive ulceration of the intestines. Researchers at Packard and the School of Medicine will measure the proteins in infants’ plasma before and after feeding to see if they can determine what changes are associated with the disease development.
Stanford Report, October 1, 2003