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Pediatric research incubator born

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Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine on Wednesday announced the creation of a one-of-a-kind institute for pediatric research that officials said could change the way doctors treat children's illnesses nationwide.

"This institute will brew innovation, it will encourage its investigators to extend the boundaries of science," said Children's CEO Roger Oxendale. "Ultimately, we envision potential results that could change the field of pediatrics."

The institute is beginning with a $23 million gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the same group that played a key role in developing Pitt's widely successful cancer institute. It will be called the Richard King Mellon Foundation Institute for Pediatric Research.

Pitt and Children's officials said it is one of the biggest gifts ever received by a pediatric institution to pay for research.

The money will be used to pay for infrastructure and work force to study illnesses such as diabetes and congenital heart problems. About 60 to 70 jobs will be created at the institute. That includes a scientific director and five scholars.

"This is a grant that will strengthen Western Pennsylvania's economy even as it adds to our understanding of the basic biology of children's health," said Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. "It is hard to imagine a more worthy pair of objectives."

The 10,000-square-foot institute will occupy one of five floors of laboratories at a research tower under construction at the new campus for Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville. The research tower is expected to open in October 2008; the hospital will open in 2009.

The creation of the institute will not affect the price tag of the hospital and research center, which has increased over the past two years to $625 million, Oxendale said.

But it will add momentum to Pitt and Children's goal of bringing in federal money at a time when government grants to support biomedical research and training have fallen flat nationwide.

Unlike schools that are finding it more difficult to win grants, Pitt's ranking continues to rise on the list of grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health. The NIH is a critical source of money for scientists.

Dr. Arthur Levine, dean of Pitt's medical school, said Pitt's ranking for fiscal 2006 should bump up to sixth from seventh place. He estimated Pitt that year received about $450 million in grants, up from about $428 million the prior year.

Children's NIH take, which has grown to about $22 million in the past five years, is expected to grow as a result of the institute's creation, Oxendale said.

It is expected that federal grants could double to about $50 million a year within five years, he said. Money from other sources is expected to increase from $42 million to about $90 million, Oxendale said.

The institute's endowment will allow young scientists to receive continuous funding even if their federal grants end, Oxendale said.

"If a researcher doesn't have funding, then eventually they lose their (laboratory) space," he said "This enables us to make sure that space will be dedicated for the institute even if the researchers don't have external funding."

The institute will complement another program that should begin at Pitt in the next year, to speed laboratory discoveries to the bedside. That project, funded by the NIH, is giving Pitt $83.5 million over five years.




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