Partnering with UW and the Hutchinson Center for world-class science.
The phenomenal growth of our research institute is fueled by our affiliation with the University of Washington (UW) and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — two of the largest recipients of federal research funding in the nation.
We are clinical, teaching and research partners with both UW and the Hutchinson Center. Although all three institutions remain independent, our strong collaborations allow each organization to benefit from top-tier talent in a multitude of disciplines.
“We attract the highest caliber of researchers because of our partnerships with UW and the Hutch,” says Dr. Bruder Stapleton, Children’s chief academic officer. “Our researchers stay at Seattle Children’s because they have the opportunity to make significant contributions to child health in a place with a long-term financial commitment to research facilities and space.”
Collaborative biomedical community
We are four blocks from both the Hutchinson Center — which has 1 million square feet of research space — and the UW’s South Lake Union Campus — which has 800,000 square feet of basic research space.
“The proximity creates an amazing opportunity to collaborate and interact with so many great clinicians, patients and scientists,” says Jan “Nino” Ramirez, PhD, who joined Children’s in 2008 to lead the research institute’s Center for Integrative Brain Research.
The Northwest Genome Engineering Consortium (NGEC), co-led by the research institute’s Dr. Andrew Scharenberg and Dr. David Rawlings, is one of the many research collaborations we have with UW and the Hutchinson Center. A $23.7 million grant supports researchers at each of the three organizations, who are working on 11 different projects aimed at developing different aspects of gene repair therapy.
Scharenberg says it was the proven collaboration among a group of world-class scientists from multiple scientific areas at Children’s, UW and the Hutchinson Center that convinced NIH grant reviewers to award NGEC to him and Rawlings, director of the research institute’s Center for Immunity and Immunotherapies.
We also collaborate with many non-profit research centers within blocks of our research institute, including Benaroya Research Institute, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute, Seattle Biomed and Virginia Mason Medical Center.
The benefits aren’t just scientific. “It’s great having a thriving biomedical research community in Seattle. They bring in a wealth of experience that we can draw upon for our own initiatives,” says Scharenberg.
Seattle Children’s is the pediatric teaching hospital for the University of Washington School of Medicine. In 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked the UW Department of Pediatrics sixth in the nation.
Institutions working together
In today’s research environment, scientists from many disciplines must collaborate to unravel multifaceted medical and scientific issues. The need for multidisciplinary research teams requires principal investigators to find partners — often from different locations and institutions — who bring unique expertise to the table.
“A single person cannot cover everything anymore,” explains Ramirez. “An expert cellular scientist cannot also be an expert molecular scientist. No one has enough time or resources to do everything themselves. It’s like trying to play a symphony on a single instrument. You need the very best cellists, violinists and drummers to play together.”
“Our institutions tend to be as collaborative as our scientists. That’s unique,” says Stapleton. “Our focus as a region on global health is the product of many institutions working together to collectively create an alliance that’s more powerful than if each of us tried to do it alone.”
“There’s a real synergy between UW, the Hutchinson Center and Children’s in Seattle. A tangible spirit of cooperation — not competition,” agrees Dr. Arnie Smith, an infectious disease specialist who received Seattle Children’s very first NIH grant in 1978.
“I am impressed with the connection and interaction among scientists, physicians and doctoral students,” says recent recruit Dr. Mohamed Oukka, a principal investigator at the research institute and an assistant professor in the Department of Immunology at UW. “People are very approachable. They are driven by the science and not the ego.”
In the U.S. today, less than half a cent of every healthcare dollar is spent on pediatric research. The NIH allocates only 6% of its entire budget to pediatric medicine, yet 30% of our nation’s population is under the age of 21.
Parents of Seattle Children’s patients have formed grassroots networks to raise money to support pediatric research. Currently, 13 guilds with hundreds of supporters are dedicated to funding various types of research. Some support specific pediatric illnesses such as hydrocephalus or brain tumors; others raise money so the institute can purchase equipment or support “bridge funding” for high-potential initiatives.
Stapleton says this trend is a key reason he’s been able to recruit top-tier researchers to Seattle Children’s.
Parent Jill Herczog formed the Mitochondrial Research Guild that has raised $1.3 million to support research that may one day cure her daughter’s disease.
Some of that money helped recruit Drs. Phil Morgan and Marge Sedensky and their eight-person lab team from Case Western Reserve University.
“We deal with worms and mice in our research labs, but it’s hard to disconnect from the care and compassion of moms and dads,” says Morgan.
“It’s pretty cool the way parents become interested in science and scientists become interested in parents,” adds Sedensky.
A family’s contribution helped Mark Majesky, PhD, get his research off the ground in Seattle. Majesky appreciates this level of commitment, energy and resource.
“At Children’s, the research is close to the individual donors, who are interested in seeing progress — especially in terms of getting to clinical trials,” explains Majesky, who is one of the nation’s foremost cardiac stem-cell researchers. “Donors are working directly with the researchers. This type of community support helps research move quickly from the lab to therapeutic testing.”
“Receiving a donation from parents who desperately want to help their children creates a real sense of urgency in our research,” adds Ramirez.
Family-sponsored guilds also show other funders that there’s commitment — and passion — behind the science. “I’m much more likely to receive matching grant funding if there’s a patient/family guild that also supports my research,” says Scharenberg.