Important Scientific Discovery Published in Nature Journal

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

Seattle Children’s Hospital, Foundation and Research Institute together deliver superior patient care, advance new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients. Consistently ranked as one of the top 10 children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s Hospital specializes in meeting the unique physical, emotional and developmental needs of children from infancy through young adulthood. Through the collaboration of physicians in nearly 60 pediatric subspecialties, Seattle Children’s Hospital provides inpatient, outpatient, diagnostic, surgical, rehabilitative, behavioral, and emergency and outreach services to families from around the world.

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention, bioethics and much more.

Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation and Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association work together to gather community support and raise funds for uncompensated care, clinical care and research. The foundation receives nearly 80,000 gifts each year, from lemonade stand proceeds to corporate sponsorships. Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association is the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country, serving as the umbrella organization for 450 groups of people who turn an activity they love into a fundraiser. Support from the foundation and guild association makes it possible for Seattle Children’s care and research teams to improve the health and well-being of all kids.

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