PHILADELPHIA (April 29, 2020) — Two teams of researchers, one from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and the other from Penn and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), were each awarded $525,000 in funding to explore emerging ideas regarding the role of inflammation in disease.

The number of overweight or obese infants and young children, from birth to five years, increased from 32 million globally in 1990 to 41 million in 2016. A similar prevalence is observed in older children and adolescents. The vast majority of overweight or obese children live in developing countries or belong to underprivileged communities.

One team of researchers, led by Jorge Henao-Mejia, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Sarah Henrickson, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Pediatrics, and Golnaz Vahedi, PhD, an assistant professor of Genetics, plans to use the award to investigate the impacts of childhood obesity on immune function. Henao-Mejia is also affiliated with the Department of Pathology at CHOP, and Henrickson is an attending physician of Allergy and Immunology at CHOP.

“This award will allow us to map the impact of obesity in the immune system in children and the long-term immunological consequences of this disorder,” Henao-Mejia said. “As inflammation plays a critical role in the majority of obesity associated diseases, our research will be the first step to elucidate alterations in the immune system that contribute to disease progression in obese children.”

Another team, led by Kellie Ann Jurado, PhD, an assistant professor of Microbiology, Monica Mainigi, MD, an assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Dan Donegeun Huh, PhD, an associate professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science,  plans to explore how maternal and fetal cells respond to specific inflammatory signals and analyze the network of placental cells and immune cells that impact pregnancy outcomes in chronic inflammatory diseases.

The grant partners three investigators with diverse expertise — an experimental immunobiologist, a reproductive and infertility clinician-scientist, and a bioengineer who specializes in biometric technology to investigate the role of the maternal inflammation on early pregnancy establishment. 

“We know that communication between the mother and the fetus’s immune system is critical in pregnancy,” Mainigi said. “Results from this study will provide insight into immunological mechanisms that govern pregnancy, an understanding essential for proper diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infertility and pregnancy complications.”

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative awarded grants to 29 total teams of researchers around the world to study how inflammation influences disease. View the full list of grantees.


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.

The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.

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