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.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.6 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $494 million awarded in the 2019 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—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 powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 43,900 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2019, Penn Medicine provided more than $583 million to benefit our community.

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