The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855, but it took nearly seven decades for research to become part of the institution's mission. Growing from a one-room laboratory in 1922, Children's Hospital has made incredible progress since: the basis of the foundation of the Society for Pediatric Research, the country's first pediatric research department, and numerous scientific breakthroughs and vaccine discoveries.
Children's Hospital's 10 Centers of Emphasis encompass seemingly disparate research areas, but all contribute to the greater strategic goals of the hospital's research efforts.
"Our interests are embedded in those Centers of Emphasis," said Philip R. Johnson, MD, director of the hospital's research institute as well as its chief scientific officer and an executive vice president. The centers that Johnson oversees are dedicated to applied genomics, autism, biomedical informatics, cellular and molecular therapies, pediatric cancer, developmental biology and pediatric disorders, injury research and prevention, mitochondrial and epigenomic medicine, pediatric clinical effectiveness, and even health care policy.
The hospital also supports Research Affinity Groups, which Johnson likened to a "grassroots" effort among researchers to explore topics of interest. The groups, designed to encourage interdisciplinary approaches to child health and development, cover areas different from the Centers of Emphasis.
Johnson's own research centers on finding a vaccine for HIV, but not in the traditional way a vaccine works. Instead, viruses are used to carry genes that code for HIV antibodies. When injected into muscle, the muscle takes over production of those antibodies which can then defeat HIV. Johnson said this concept is nearing a clinical trial in humans. The hope, then, is that such an approach might be useful in developing similar vaccines for other diseases and conditions as well.
Research!America's efforts to educate the public and policy makers are a big reason why Children's Hospital is a member, Johnson said.
"It's amazing the amount of misunderstanding about research that exists in the general population," Johnson said. "... They understand it's important, but they don't understand the mechanics of it, the politics and the support that's required.
"Research!America does a better job of that than anybody else, and that's why we're very supportive of the activities."
For more, visit www.research.chop.edu.