The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $11.5 million to the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) to develop the Center for Translational Pediatric Research. The award is the largest-ever grant award that ACRI has received from NIH.
Dr. Alan Tackett, an expert in systems biology, will lead the program. The aim of the center should result in new treatments and therapies developed specifically for children. Tackett is the Scharlau Family Endowed Professor of Cancer Research and a professor of Biochemistry, Pediatrics and Pathology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
The Center for Translational Pediatric Research at ACRI will use state-of-the-art technology and a systems biology approach to study how pediatric diseases develop, with the ultimate goal of identifying points in the intersection of disease and development that will produce targets for therapeutic intervention and the development of new treatments for children.
Systems biology is a holistic approach that enables researchers to simultaneously study all of the events occurring in a cell that are leading to a particular outcome or disease.
“Historically, science has answered one question at a time,” Tackett said. “By employing a more comprehensive systems biology approach, we can ask many questions at the same time, which allows us to more quickly understand the fundamental reasons that a disease is occurring and how to more specifically develop treatments. To my knowledge, there is not a pediatric research center in the U.S. and probably in the world that focuses on utilizing these specific approaches. In that way, we are uniquely positioned to develop ways to improve children’s health in Arkansas and our nation.”
This first phase of funding will start in July 2017 and last five years. A total of 15 years of funding is available through this federal program, and Tackett’s award is the second grant ACRI has received from NIH in the last year.
Dr. Tackett will serve as director of the Center for Translational Pediatric Research and Sonet Weed, MS, will oversee the administration of the grant. The junior faculty that were selected to seed this center include:
• Jason Farrar, UAMS assistant professor of Pediatrics
• Xiawei Ou, PhD, UAMS assistant professor of Radiology and Pediatrics
• Laxmi Yeruva, PhD, UAMS assistant professor of Pediatrics
• Boris Zybailov, PhD, UAMS assistant professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Their research focuses on pediatric blood disorders, infant brain development in obese mothers, immune system development in breastfed infants, and pediatric chronic kidney disease – respectively.
All-in-all, the Center for Translational Pediatric Research will support 30 faculty – making it one of the largest centers of its kind.