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Inaugural TDH-CHDI Faculty Fellows announced

Friday, August 21, 2020
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Translating Duke Health and the Children’s Health and Discovery Initiative are pleased to announce the four investigators selected as members of the inaugural TDH-CHDI Faculty Fellows Program. These awards will support Duke researchers in the development of R01-level grant applications to fund research that investigates early life origins of disease. 

CHDI Faculty Fellows receive:

  • Up to $50,000 in support for:
    • PI salary and fringe benefits over a 12-month period
    • Seed funding to support the development of pilot data for the grant application
  • Assistance in identifying collaborators and resources within Duke
  • Mentoring in grant and research program development
  • Internal concept review sessions to help refine grant proposals
  • Administrative support for grant application development
  • Scientific writing support
  • Statistical support from CHDI’s data science team

Each fellow will submit an R01-level grant application within 6 months of the end of the award.

Blood-retinal barriers in retinopathy of prematurity

Primary Investigator: Xi Chen, MD, PhD (Department of Ophthalmology)

Project Summary
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a disease caused by delayed or abnormal retinal vascular growth secondary to preterm birth, affects approximately 16,000 premature infants per year in the US and is a leading cause of childhood blindness worldwide. The blood-retinal barrier is critical to retinal vascular growth and maintenance of blood vessel permeability, yet the role of blood-retinal barrier in ROP is unclear. Dr. Chen will combine non-invasive retinal imaging and basic science approaches to evaluate the role of the blood-retinal barrier in ROP, as well as the molecular mechanisms that govern the function of the barrier. These studies will provide critical insights into normal and pathological vascular development that will guide the desgin of novel therapeutics to prevent childhood blinding disease.

Integrating longitudinal follow-up and patient-reported outcomes into existing congenital heart registry infrastructure: a direct-to-patient digital health approach

Primary Investigator: Kevin Hill, MD, MSCI (Department of Pediatrics, Division of Cardiology)

Project Summary
Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common form of birth defect, affecting nearly 1% of birth per year in the United States. Though treatment for CHDs has improved dramatically over the past several decades, CHD treatment is associated with a number of long-term outcomes that affect multiple aspects of patients’ lives, including health status, development, and quality of life. In order to support research that evaluates the long-term and holistic impacts of CHDs, Dr. Hill and colleagues will develop a digital health-based direct to patient mechanism for surveying patients/parents of children with CHDs following CHD surgery and also link existing CHD registries that encompass all aspects of CHD treatment. This platform will support registry-based CHD research and quality improvement initiatives, and will foster multidisciplinary research to improve care for and outcomes of children with CHD.

Development of probiotics for the prevention of respiratory infections in children

Primary Investigator: Matthew Kelly, MD, MPH (Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases)

Project Summary
Respiratory infections are responsible for substantial morbidity and mortality during childhood. Bacterial pathogens, particularly Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), cause most severe childhood respiratory infections. Colonization of the upper respiratory tract is a prerequisite for infections caused by these bacteria, and the upper respiratory microbiome serves as a natural barrier to pathogen colonization. In particular, Dr. Kelly’s preliminary studies demonstrate the roles of Corynebacterium and Dolosigranulum species in inhibiting respiratory pathogen colonization. These data, combined with their low pathogenicity, make these bacteria promising probiotic candidates for respiratory infection prevention. With CHDI support, Dr. Kelly and colleagues will develop safe and effective approaches for the intranasal administration of live bacterial strains and experimental pneumococcal colonization in children. This project will result in the development of safe and effective methods for studying colonization resistance within the upper respiratory tract and could ultimately lead to the development of the first rationally-designed probiotics for respiratory infection prevention.

Somatic field cancers of the colon initiate during a critical period of pediatric development

Primary Investigator: Joshua Snyder, PhD (Department of Surgery)

Project Summary
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Though screening has increased early detection and survival, colorectal cancer cases in younger adults (under 50 years of age) have increased 51% since 1994. Colorectal cancers develop through sequential acquisition of genetic mutations that increase the malignant potential of the epithelial cells that line the colon. The earliest mutations can spread across sections of the colon through cell division, creating a “field” of cells that have the potential to become cancerous. The development of these fields significantly increases cancer risk, but the factors that determine how these mutations spread across the colon are not well understood. Using a mouse model with fluorescently labeled cancer-associated genetic mutations, Dr. Snyder has previously demonstrated that cancer fields may develop rapidly during the first few years of childhood when the intestine undergoes a period of rapid growth. With CHDI support, Dr. Snyder will evaluate cancer fields in pediatric intestinal specimens, allowing for the development of early life approaches to preventing colorectal cancer.

Congratulations to these faculty on their awards and best wishes to them in their investigative work.