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Important Scientific Discovery Published in Nature Journal

May 30, 2001

Seattle – Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center continues to make strides in pediatric research.

Seattle – Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center continues to make strides in pediatric research. In two recently published papers in the May 31, 2001 issue of Nature journal, a team led by Department of Pediatrics investigator Andrew Scharenberg, M.D., fellow Anne-Laure Perraud, and collaborators Reinhold Penner at the University of Hawaii, Maurice Bessman at Johns Hopkins University and Jean-Pierre Kinet at Harvard Medical School, describe new findings that represent an important advance in our understanding of how blood cells regulate the entry of chemical substances such as calcium or sodium (a major component of common table salt).

All cells in the body control how much calcium and sodium they take up since they are very important for normal cell function. Knowing how cell proteins, called ion channels, control uptake of these chemicals are important for understanding the complex processes inside cells. These discoveries may lead to new therapies for diseases involving blood or immune cells. “Our hope is that as we begin to manipulate their function for therapeutic purposes, such as to block or slow the growth of cancer or self-reactive immune cells,” says Dr. Sharenberg, sub-specialist in Pediatric Immunology at Children’s and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington.

“It is important to realize that such ground breaking scientific discovery provides a foundation for understanding which cells survive and function. Out of such discoveries on basic cell function we begin to clarify the complex networks inside cells which leads us to new prevention strategies and therapies,” says Dr. Craig Rubens, division chief of Infectious Disease, Immunology and Rheumatology at Children’s.

Ion channels, the direct or indirect targets of one third of all present drugs, are proteins that behave like gates to regulate the entry of molecules like sodium and calcium into the body’s cells. While the role of ion channels in brain and cardiovascular function has been intensively studied, the ion channels function in many other types of cells, particularly blood cells, has been less understood.

The two recent papers from Dr. Scharenberg’s lab describe the mechanisms that control the gate-like function of a new family of ion channels. Most proteins in a cell have a single function but these proteins are unique in being both ion channels and enzymes, and are expressed in cells such as blood cells, immune system cells, organ cells and cells which line the inside of blood vessels.

“Dr. Sharenberg’s work underscores the importance of basic research to the mission of Children’s, and its publication in a prestigious journal such as Nature is a fitting tribute to that mission,” says Dr. Rubens. “By supporting top notch basic science researchers like Dr. Scharenberg, we will better understand pediatric diseases which in turn will also have important implications for diseases that affect adults.”

About Seattle Children’s

Consistently ranked as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children’s hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Seattle Children’s has been delivering superior patient care while advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children’s Research Institute and Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation. For more information, visit www.seattlechildrens.org or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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