The University of Chicago Institute for Molecular Pediatric Sciences (IMPS) was created to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to provide children with optimal health care and improved well-being. Through the Institute, the University of Chicago is poised to evolve into an international leader in child health research, empowering first-class clinical and teaching operations with the first interdisciplinary institute dedicated to molecular pediatric science in the United States.
We have entered the post-genomic age, a time of biomedical revolution following the accounting of human genes and their proteins. This is already allowing development of new diagnostic tests and rational interventions. The challenge ahead is to harness this knowledge to understand how genes and proteins produce normal physiology, to document external influences that alter physiology, and to clarify how an individual's genes render them resistant or susceptible to disease. This will reveal not only why we become ill and help us to prevent disease, but will also direct our choice of the best therapy for each person and avoid undesirable side-effects based on genetic make-up.
Research in the Institute for Molecular Pediatric Sciences seeks to describe the operation of normal and defective genes and proteins at progressively integrated levels concerning molecules, cells, tissues and organisms. Although we target disorders of children, our studies have broad utility because we work under universal principles regarding biological function.
Our research paradigm takes the following form: (a) a gene or protein target implicated in disease is characterized in wild type and mutant form; (b) the target is altered in a model system to assess location and function; (c) target homologues and interacting proteins are identified to define biological context; (d) disease mechanisms are investigated; (e) diagnostic tests and therapeutic modalities are designed and implemented.
The Institute is comprised of seven programs: Genetics and Genomics, Proteomics and Nanoscience, Biophysics and Protein Dynamics, Physiology and Stem Cell Research, Translational Sciences, Clinical Sciences and Community Sciences. Cross-program projects are the norm and are often disease-based. Interdisciplinary projects are be emphasized because major steps in the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic practices require the combined use of tools in various areas of expertise. Indeed, the University of Chicago’s faculty members historically work together across disciplines to achieve greater heights in the pursuit of new knowledge, and the Institute for Molecular Pediatric Sciencestakes advantage of this practice to achieve its goals.
An Institute for Molecular Pediatric Sciences addresses a historical need of Departments of Pediatrics and Medicine to leverage their unique knowledge and access to patients into research breakthroughs. This model for research will drive crucial advances in biomedical science. New research opportunities and the enlistment of fully trained clinical investigators will focus international attention on questions that are essential to clinical practice
Why is there a need for change? Clinical sections rarely have sufficient depth to sustain ground-breaking research programs because of their size and the demands of caring for patients and trainees. Since clinical service must be fully met, short-term episodic increases in clinical load can pull faculty and trainees from the laboratory, and the loss of a single key person often dramatically impacts the clinical or research mission. The Institute for Molecular Pediatric Sciencesoffers a solution by protecting the integrity of both enterprises and also fosters information transfer and synergistic, collaborative interactions. Clinical service and the Institute are each maintained fully and concurrently. Moreover, an interdisciplinary and inter-departmental structure cushions against the loss of research mentors by providing a cadre of full-time researchers to serve as stable resources for trainees, junior faculty and clinical faculty who pursue research with more limited time. Both clinical and research programs are strengthened by stable personnel, finances, and facilities, enhancing productivity and capacity.
Twentieth century biology focused on individual components of complex systems. Studies of individual genes represented major achievements and the cataloguing of all genes (and all their proteins) in a number of organisms opened the way to a more global perspective on life processes. Twenty-first century biomedical research takes as its starting point the complete human genome sequence, and the sequences of scores of model organisms and pathogens. Sequencing studies have revealed connections between genes that had previously seemed unrelated and have shown that strikingly similar proteins are used by organisms as distantly related as yeast and humans.
In the twenty-first century, the focus in biomedical research will shift to questions of protein structure and interactions and integrated developmental and physiological pathways; answers to these questions will be applicable in medical treatments. By studying the role of large numbers of genes and proteins simultaneously, we begin to understand how components interact to form the organism, and how interactions vary normally and in disease states. Techniques such as array technologies, databases of sequences and structures, and computational modeling will bolster rapid progress, while methods in structural biology and molecular and cellular imaging will further accelerate research. Studies in mice and other model organisms will be essential since the study of experimental genetic changes is often the most effective way to reveal the function of genes or proteins and to model their role in disease.
These exciting approaches promise a stunning breadth of new knowledge in all areas of medical science – whether identifying new genetic risk factors, understanding disease variability, developing new diagnostics and therapies, or creating new materials of biomedical use. Realizing these opportunities depends on strengthening translational and applied clinical research, through support of multi-disciplinary problem-oriented teams and better organization of infrastructure for research and training. The Institute for Molecular Pediatric Sciences at the University of Chicago addresses all of these concerns, bringing medical research and care to new heights of innovation and excellence.