2 012 • Commu n i t y R e p o r t
C h i l d r e n ’s H o s p i t a l o f P i t t s b u r g h o f U PMC
through a gift
from the Richard King
Mellon Foundation, the institute is an incubator for
research that challenges conventional scientific think-
ing. This kind of high-risk, high-impact investigation
is not typically funded through government, placing
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in a unique
realm of pediatric research centers. Led by its inter-
nationally renowned director
institute’s goal is to support exceptionally talented
nd their teams by encouraging them
to pursue their most innovative ideas.
As part of his work with the institute, Dr. Kolls directs
one of the key laboratories where his research focuses
on lung host defense and pneumonia, the number
one killer of children in the world. Dr. Kolls explains
his findings, published in
in 2012, “While
most current vaccines work through antibodies, there
are some diseases, like tuberculosis, where antibodies
are thought not to be protective. There is also a huge
issue of the emergence of drug resistance as we use
antibiotics. Our recent paper showed that we can
vaccinate against a multi-drug-resistant organism by
using proteins that are involved in the structure of the
bacteria.” This is exciting research because it suggests
vaccines with broader reach might be created, which
is particularly beneficial in preventing infection by
Dr. Kolls’ lab is also working on creating biomarkers
for the increasingly popular mucosal vaccines, like the
FluMist®, most often given to children. He explains,
“The field is moving toward mucosal vaccines, which
are nice because kids don’t have to get shots, but the
question is, how do you measure if they work or not,
because sometimes they don’t show up in the blood.
So we’re trying to develop biomarkers of mucosal
vaccines so we can measure vaccine effectiveness
locally.” The research conducted in Dr. Kolls’ lab could
ultimately change the way we vaccinate ourselves
and our children in the future.
M e l l o n S c h o l a r s P u r s u e “ D r e a m S c i e n c e ”
“We want to find the best science out there,” Dr. Kolls said, “the type of scientists who aren’t thinking
in their own niche but in broader terms— investigators who have a comfort level with their research that
will allow them to push the envelope and use these resources to the maximum extent possible.” Two such
physician-scientists, Stephen M. Maricich, MD, PhD, and Timothy A. Sanders, MD, PhD, arrived in Pittsburgh
in 2013 as the institute’s first Mellon Scholars. Each was chosen for his traditional science that potentially
would garner support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as what Dr. Kolls calls their “high-
risk dream science.” Dr. Kolls stated that there will be a very strong mentoring component, with scholarship
oversight committees in place to help faculty focus
their research to be successful and competitive at
the NIH level.
Dr. Maricich is a rising star in Child Neurology. His
research focuses on understanding the role of the
ATOH1 gene in the development and function of
Merkel cells, which cause a very rare cancer that
is resistant to chemotherapy. These cells are also a
critical component of touch receptors and allow a
person to sense one versus two points of contact
with the skin as well as curvature of an object.
Under a grant awarded by the NIH, Dr. Maricich
will use genetic models to understand how the
ATOH1 gene regulates Merkel cell development. Dr. Maricich joined the institute in January 2013.
Dr. Sanders is a neonatologist who conducts cutting-edge research on the control of neural and limb develop
ment, having worked on molecular mechanisms of signaling and patterning within the vertebrate limb.
With the addition of Dr. Sanders will come the capability for high-end cell imaging to conduct real-time video-
microscopy, which will build on the microscopy core already in existence in the laboratory of David J.
Hackam, MD, PhD. Dr. Sanders joined the institute in February 2013.
Both are assistant professors of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
In the quest for the best physician-scientists, Dr. Kolls said the institute will continue its recruiting efforts in
Fiscal Year 2013 with the goal of having a total of five scholars recruited by 2014.
From left, Jay Kolls, MD discusses results with Nikki Nguyen, PhD
and Kong Chen, PhD.
Hear from Dr. Kolls and two Mellon Scholars who are
conducting breakthrough research in exciting fields