Itkin-Ansari and Tremoulet Receive Hartwell Research Awards

April 6, 2011 – Pamela Itkin-Ansari, PhD and Adriana Tremoulet, MD, assistant professors in the Department of Pediatrics, UC San Diego, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, are two among twelve recipients of the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Awards, honoring researchers whose work contributes to the advancement of children’s health. Each will receive a $100,000 grant annually from the Hartwell Foundation for three years to cover direct research costs.

“This year, UC San Diego made an extraordinary effort to nominate a terrific group of researchers for the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award,” said Frederick Dombrose, PhD, president of The Hartwell Foundation. “We applaud their diligence in identifying such innovative science with the potential to benefit children.”

While both Itkin-Ansari and Tremoulet share a common goal of improving the understanding and treatment of childhood diseases, their particular pursuits are different – Itkin-Ansari is looking for ways to improve treatment of Type-1 diabetes, and Tremoulet is focusing on finding biomarkers for Kawasaki Disease.

Of the estimated 850,000 to 1.7 million Americans who have Type 1 diabetes, 125,000 are 19 years and younger. An additional 30,000 Americans develop Type 1 diabetes each year, roughly 13,000 of which, are children. With collaborators at the Sanford/Burnham Institute for Medical Research, Dr. Itkin-Ansari has shown in a mouse model that transplanted pancreatic beta cells can be shielded from the immune system when encapsulated in a synthetic device. This would save the host organ from having to trigger an autoimmune response, and thus allow diabetic children to benefit from beta cell transplants without requiring a tissue match.

"I am extremely grateful to receive a Biomedical Research Award from The Hartwell Foundation,” remarks Itkin-Ansari. “Their mission to support bold steps in pediatric research makes them unique, and the Award will allow me to take a novel approach to problems in cell transplantation therapy for diabetes."

The leading cause of pediatric-acquired heart disease in the United States, Kawasaki Disease (KD) is a rare condition in children that involves inflammation of blood vessels. To date, there is no diagnostic test for KD. Current diagnoses are limited to overt clinical signs, such as rash and fever, but these symptoms overlap with other infections and conditions, many of which require no treatment. In up to a third of KD cases, many of the clinical signs are not even present. Finding single, tell-tale biomarkers for KD has been problematic. Tremoulet, Associate Director of the RCHSD/UCSD Kawasaki Disease Research Center, proposes to identify a novel panel of biomarkers that will differentiate KD patients from children with benign rash-fever illnesses. If successful, she expects a point of service test for diagnosing KD will be available in every emergency room, pediatric office, and urgent care center in the U.S. within 5-10 years.

"The Hartwell Foundation award is fundamental to my development of a biomarker panel for the diagnosis of Kawasaki disease,” shares Dr. Tremoulet. “I am grateful to The Hartwell Foundation for entrusting me with this task at such a critical point in this project."

About The Hartwell Foundation
Each year The Hartwell Foundation announces its Top Ten Centers of Biomedical Research in the United States, inviting participating institutions to hold an internal open competition to identify four nominees from their faculty based upon early-stage, innovative, and cutting-edge biomedical research that has not yet qualified for significant funding from outside sources. The Hartwell Foundation seeks to inspire innovation and achievement by funding research with the potential to benefit children of the United States. In the Hartwell competition, all nominees submit a detailed research proposal, make a formal presentation and are personally interviewed. More information about The Hartwell Foundation is available at www.thehartwellfoundation.org

 

Written by: Shivani Singh, Sr. Writer, Dept of Pediatrics, UC San Diego, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego s1singh@ucsd.edu