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Developmental Origins of Health & Disease


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Our goal within the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Research Group is to discover the genetic mechanisms that cause disease in children and to develop therapies to treat and prevent childhood disease.

This group is anchored by Dr. Lee Niswander, Section Head for Developmental Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and Dr. Bruce Appel, Director of the Pediatric Stem Cell Biology Program and Diane G. Wallach Chair in Pediatric Stem Cell Biology.  In 2012 Children's Hospital Colorado recruited Dr. Julie Siegenthaler, whose research focuses on development of the blood vessels in the brain.  In 2013 we recruited Dr. Emily Bates, an Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University, who works on craniofacial and cognitive defects related to fetal alcohol syndrome as well as research on migraine headaches.  Also in 2013, we recruited Dr. Santos Franco, a researcher at the Scripps Institute in San Diego, who specializes in brain development and neural stem cells.  These lab heads lead their respective research groups including doctoral students, post-doctoral fellows, and other research scientists, creating a vibrant scientific community.

We plan to extend our future recruitments into the areas of cardiovascular development and the epigenetic control (beyond the DNA level) of embryonic development.  Our aim is to build the strongest and most innovative group of developmental disease researchers associated with any children's hospital in the United States.  Children's Hospital Colorado's investment in developmental biology is more forward thinking today than most other children's hospitals, and the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease Research Group is growing strongly.  Moreover, studies of how the maternal-fetal environment can affect embryonic development underlie numerous areas of research at Children's Colorado.  Therefore, our goal is to extend our interfaces with the other areas of research emphasis and clinical programs at Children's Hospital Colorado including Neurology, Cancer Biology, Stem Cell Biology, Neonatology, Maternal-Fetal Center, and Heart-Lung Center.

Urgency of Research Strategy: Our goal is to discover the genetic mechanisms that cause disease in children and develop thereapies to treat and prevent childhood disease.  Birth defects are a consequence of disrupted embryonic development, and it is now clear that alterations in the fetal environment can have a life-long impact on the risk of childhood--and even adult--diseases.  To best understand and treat birth defects and diseases, it is critical to define how genes normally function and what goes wrong when gene function is disrupted as well as the impact that nutrition and inflammation, for example, play in fetal development.  Knowledge gained from the study of disease processes in simpler experimental systems can lead to more rapid and experimentally verifiable insights, which can then be moved forward to translational studies.  Innovation arises from these discovery-based experiments and this can lead to patentable findings.  These mechanistic insights are key in developing therapies that are targeted to the disease without off-target effects, thus informing in a scientifically rirogous way the best approaches for personalized medicine.