$12 million research grant supports children’s health, lab development

Nov. 7, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by South Dakota Biotech.

Here’s good news for researchers at Sanford Health and the state’s bioscience economy: A major grant from the National Institutes of Health has been renewed for five more years.

The initial $12 million Center of Biomedical Research Excellence, or CoBRE, grant was used over the past five years to establish and support the development of the Center for Pediatric Research, a research group focused on childhood diseases. The renewal provides another five years of support, and the team will further develop the center, with a focus on how stem cells contribute to pediatric diseases.

But there’s more to the story.

Sanford Health researchers Kyle Roux and Pete Vitiello explain.

The CoBRE grant will allow researchers to develop and lead up to five different labs at any given time. How significant is that for our scientific community?

It means continued growth for the region in terms of numbers of scientists as well as growth of expertise. Over the previous five years, we recruited four additional scientists to run research programs studying various aspects of developmental biology and pediatric disease. They joined an existing critical mass in the center, and we anticipate hiring another five scientists over five years. Scientists we hire have a variety of expertise, which increases regional collaborative opportunities. Scientists in the center work with faculty at nearly all South Dakota universities, and these partnerships have enhanced scientific innovation, reputation and federal funding for regional biomedical research.

Can grants like this lead to more permanent, independently funded labs at Sanford?

The goal of the CoBRE grant is to recruit and mentor talented junior scientists performing pediatric research. Our recruits receive initial funding and resources from the CoBRE grant and Sanford Research to establish a nationally renowned research program and obtain independent grant funding. After obtaining independent grant awards, the scientist graduates off CoBRE funding, allowing us to then hire a new scientist.

What sort of pediatric research do you anticipate happening as a result of the latest grant?

During the prior five years, there have been numerous direct and indirect effects on biomedical research and pediatric diseases attributable to the center. With CoBRE support, Dr. Jill Weimer’s research program helped generate new gene therapies for several forms of Batten disease, a rare genetic disease resulting in pediatric neurodegeneration. Her laboratory performed safety and efficacy testing of new gene therapies, which lead to FDA approval and patient treatment. Assembling a critical mass of scientists in the center has helped expand clinical trial options for Sanford patients. Physician-scientist Dr. Michelle Baack led efforts to add Sanford Health as a satellite site in the Neonatology Research Network. This national network supports the most current clinical trials and treatment options for infants in the neonatology intensive care unit.

Sanford Research has brought many scientists to South Dakota who previously were unfamiliar with the state and the work being done here. Has your ability to recruit improved now that you have years of research to show here?

With the influx of scientists into our center, Sanford Research has attained a national reputation for high-quality research. Our scientists serve on national research boards, make strategic contributions to the National Institutes of Health and present their research at international conferences. This tremendous exposure has increased our name recognition in scientific communities, which helps our ability to recruit new scientists.

What’s the reaction of scientists once you are able to bring them to Sanford? Are they surprised by anything?

Everyone is surprised by our infrastructure. We have cutting-edge research and clinical facilities along with strong administrative support. There are a finite number of biomedical research institutes across the United States, so people are very excited to hear and see what we’re doing differently at Sanford.

Within the broader scientific community, what does something like the CoBRE grant demonstrate? Is it the sort of thing that will make scientists take notice?

For scientists at nonprofit institutes such as Sanford, the size and depth of our research program is typically dictated by the number and amount of grants awarded. The CoBRE grant is unique because it isn’t an individual award, it’s awarded based on the ability of a team to recruit and train scientists to build a sustainable and thematic center. The Center for Pediatric Research is actually one of three CoBRE grants awarded to Sanford. Therefore, scientists nationwide are impressed that we have developed such a robust research environment in a short amount of time.

$12 million research grant supports children’s health, lab development

Here’s good news for researchers at Sanford Health and the state’s bioscience economy: A major grant from the National Institutes of Health has been renewed five more years.

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