New Institute to Improve Pediatric Health and Research

John Williams, Terence Dermody and Anna Wang-EricksonInfection is the leading cause of death in children under 5-years-old worldwide, and infectious and inflammatory diseases are the leading causes of child hospitalization in the U.S. The University of Pittsburgh and UPMC Children’s Hospital are introducing a new strategic initiative to improve pediatric health by combatting infectious and inflammatory diseases through accelerating new multidisciplinary collaborations across the health, natural, physical and computer sciences.

The Institute of Infection, Inflammation, and Immunity in Children—i4Kids for short—aims to become the epicenter of research, discovery, prevention and treatment of these diseases in children as the foundation of improving the health of future generations.

“Children are 20% of the population and 100% of the future, but only 5 to 10% of federal research funding,” said John Williams, Henry L. Hillman Endowed Chair in Pediatric Immunology, professor of pediatrics at Pitt and the institute’s director. “That’s why we need institutions like the i4Kids.”

“What we’re doing is finding collaborative ways to fight debilitating infectious and immune-mediated diseases that affect children’s lives, like pneumonia, bronchitis, diabetes and asthma,” said Williams. “We are gathering researchers from all over the country to brainstorm research initiatives and to help train the next generation of pediatric physicians and scientists.”

While Williams will lead the institute, i4Kids was established under the guidance of Terence Dermody, Vira I. Heinz Professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics.

“We have great strengths in infection biology and immunology research here in Pittsburgh, and i4Kids will build on those strengths,” Dermody said. “We are also united in our goals for improved childhood health, which allows us to recruit for additional strength.”

Dermody said a center of this nature is something he has thought about starting for over 30 years, long before he arrived at Pitt. 

For the institute to be a success, it needs scholarly collaboration. i4Kids welcomes the participation of anyone in the University’s research community interested in improving pediatric health through pilot grants, an annual symposium, a speaker series and networking events to facilitate the formation of new cross-disciplinary collaborations. i4Kids encourages the participation of researchers with significant child and/or elder care responsibilities, which disproportionately impacts women and early career investigators. 

“We recognize that research is a demanding career path that involves travel to present at conferences, visit collaborators and to conduct experiments. We plan to offer funds for i4Kids investigators to help offset child and elder care costs incurred by such research activities,” said Anna Wang-Erickson, assistant professor of pediatrics at Pitt and the institute’s associate director.

The i4Kids launch symposium will be held on Feb. 11, 2020, from 2 to 6 p.m. in the John G. Rangos Research Auditorium at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. The institute is working with the Children’s Hospital Foundation to invite leaders of foundations and philanthropists across the nation.