Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI)
Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) was established in 2011 as a joint venture designed to combine Children’s Health’s comprehensive clinical expertise and the internationally recognized scientific environment of UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Located in the heart of Dallas’ Southwestern Medical District, CRI represents an unprecedented opportunity for interdisciplinary groups of high-caliber scientists and physicians to pursue research at the interface of stem cell biology, cancer and metabolism. Together, these fields hold unusual potential for discoveries that can yield groundbreaking advances in science and medicine and further drive CRI’s mission — curing someone who otherwise would not be cured.
Join us on the road to discovery
Ever since Hippocrates first investigated the causes of sickness, an understanding of basic science has been humankind’s only hope to overcome disease. However, discoveries that lead to medical breakthroughs do not come easily. Hard work, determination and sustained resources are necessary to bring scientific findings from the bench to the bedside and yield new strategies for treating disease.
To invest in research is to invest in the future. Research discoveries at CRI chart new pathways for understanding and treating disease, helping to transform medical outcomes for all patients, big and small.
Several early, generous donations helped CRI create a solid foundation for growth. Initial major funding came in 2012 when the Hamon Charitable Foundation donated $10 million in the second-largest gift ever made to Children’s at the time. Also in 2012, Children’s honored Ric and Debbie Scripps for their volunteerism, leadership and philanthropy through the establishment of the Scripps Society. The Scripps Society recognizes friends of CRI who have made contributions of $1 million or more and embody the Children’s Medical Center mission — “To make life better for children.”
Members of the Scripps Society
- Debbie and Ric Scripps
- Patricia and Jerome T. Abbott
- Emy Lou and Jerald Baldridge
- Kathryne and Gene Bishop
- Constantin Foundation
- Dean Foods Foundation
- Ute and Rolf Haberecht
- Hamon Charitable Foundation
- Hoblitzelle Foundation
- The Moody Foundation
- The Pogue Family Foundation
- The Pollock Family Foundation
- W.W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation
- S.T. Harris Family
- Kelly and David Pfeil
- Once Upon a Time Foundation
- The Josephine Hughes Sterling Foundation
Learn more about the work CRI is doing to make breakthrough discoveries in pediatric care.
The Research Team
The CRI is led by Dr. Sean Morrison, an internationally recognized stem-cell expert who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and a member of the National Academy of Medicine. Dr. Morrison has already recruited over 100 researchers and scientific staff who are now laying the groundwork for future research breakthroughs. Children’s Medical Center Foundation aspires to build on this potential and raise more than $200 million to help CRI grow to 150 scientists working in 15 labs.
Sean Morrison, Ph.D.
Director of CRI
Dr. Morrison is the director of CRI and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. He is also a member of the National Academy of Medicine. He holds the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics and the Kathryne and Gene Bishop Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Research. Dr. Morrison completed his Ph.D. in immunology at Stanford University (1996) and a postdoctoral fellowship in neurobiology at Caltech (1999). From 1999 to 2011, Dr. Morrison was a professor at the University of Michigan, where he directed their Center for Stem Cell Biology. He was among the first established investigators to be recruited to Texas as a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) Scholar in Cancer Research.
The Morrison lab studies mechanisms that regulate stem cell function in adult tissues and the ways in which cancer cells hijack those mechanisms to enable the formation and spread of cancer. Learn more about Dr. Morrison’s lab here.
Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor at CRI and Director of CRI’s Genetic and Metabolic Disease Program
Dr. DeBerardinis is a professor at CRI and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. He is also a professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern where he is chief of the Division of Pediatric Genetics and Metabolism, holds the Joel B. Steinberg, M.D. Chair in Pediatrics and is a Sowell Family Scholar in Medical Research. At CRI, he directs the Genetic and Metabolic Disease Program (GMDP) and is the Robert L. Moody, Sr. Faculty Scholar. He is also affiliated with the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, both at UT Southwestern.
Dr. DeBerardinis earned his M.D. and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first trainee in the combined residency program in pediatrics and medical genetics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He performed his postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania.
The DeBerardinis lab is working to understand how altered metabolism at the cellular level contributes to several serious diseases, including inborn errors of metabolism (the result of inherited genetic defects in metabolic enzymes that lead to chemical imbalances in children) and cancer. Learn about Dr. DeBerardinis’ lab here.
Ben Ohlstein, M.D., Ph.D.
Ben Ohlstein received his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from UT Southwestern Medical Center in 2002. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore, Maryland, in Allan C. Spradling’s laboratory in 2007. During his time in the Spradling laboratory, he demonstrated that the adult Drosophila midgut, like the adult human intestine, is maintained by multipotent stem cells and that the notch signaling pathway plays a crucial role in how stem cells give rise to enterocytes and enteroendocrine cells.
After his postdoctoral studies, Dr. Ohlstein joined Columbia University Medical Center where he was an associate professor of genetics and development and a member of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Scholar. In 2020, Dr. Ohlstein joined the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern as an associate professor in pediatrics.
The Ohlstein lab is working to better understand the mechanisms that guide normal and abnormal tissue functions, particularly in gastrointestinal organs such as the small and large intestines and stomach, using the Drosophila intestine as a model. Ultimately, a better understanding of the biology of the Drosophila intestinal stem cells will help with diagnosis, treatment, and cures of various conditions that affect the human gastrointestinal tract.
Prashant Mishra, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Mishra is an assistant professor at CRI and an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern. He is also affiliated with the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational, and Systems Biology. He earned both his M.D. and his Ph.D. from UT Southwestern’s Medical Scientist Training Program. He conducted his postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology, where he focused on studying mechanisms that control mitochondrial behavior.
Dr. Mishra’s lab is focused on mapping how mitochondria are embedded in normal cellular function and on finding new treatments for mitochondrial diseases that affect approximately 1 in every 5,000 newborns. Learn more about Dr. Mishra’s lab here.
Jian Xu, Ph.D.
Dr. Xu is an assistant professor at CRI and an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern. He is also a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research and a Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Scholar. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2008, he was awarded a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where he studied sickle cell disease. The discovery of a protein that turns on the development of the disease resulted in two patents being cured and publications in Nature and Science.
Dr. Xu’s lab focuses on blood-cell development and how abnormalities can cause cancers such as childhood leukemia. Learn about Dr. Xu’s lab here.
Hao Zhu, M.D.
Associate Professor and the Kern Wildenthal, M.D., Ph.D. Distinguished Professorship in Pediatric Research
Dr. Zhu is an assistant professor in the CRI and of pediatrics and internal medicine at UT Southwestern. He earned an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and performed research training at MIT. He trained in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and in medical oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard. From 2008 to 2012, Dr. Zhu performed postdoctoral research at Boston Children’s Hospital, exploring connections between microRNAs, metabolism and regeneration in mouse models. In 2012, he was recruited to the CRI as a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research. Researchers in his lab seek to determine the genetic and cellular factors that influence liver regeneration and cancer and to determine if these factors are common to both processes. They also are trying to identify protective mechanisms that might suppress cancer formation in the liver.
Michalis Agathocleous, Ph.D.
Dr. Agathocleous is an assistant professor at CRI and an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern. He is also a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and as a research fellow performed postdoctoral work at Cambridge’s Gonville & Caius College. He continued his postdoctoral work at CRI with Dr. Sean Morrison as a Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellow. The postdoctoral work of Dr. Agathocleous led to important discoveries about the relationship between metabolism, stem cells and cancer and how metabolites regulate hematopoietic stem-cell function and leukemia.
Dr. Agathocleous’ lab study how metabolites, the small molecules involved in cellular metabolism, impact stem cells and discover metabolic vulnerabilities of cancer cells that can become targets for therapy. Learn more about Dr. Agathocleous’ lab here.
Sam McBrayer, Ph.D.
Dr. McBrayer is an assistant professor at CRI and an assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern. He is also a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research. He obtained his Ph.D. in cancer biology from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. He completed his postdoctoral work under Nobel Prize winner Dr. William G. Kaelin, Jr. at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and at Harvard Medical School as an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow. During his time in the Kaelin Laboratory, he studied how metabolic reprogramming occurs in glioma and developed new strategies for brain-tumor therapy.
Dr. McBrayer’s lab is working to discover metabolic mechanisms that promote brain-tumor development and developing strategies to exploit altered metabolism for cancer therapy. Learn more about Dr. McBrayer’s lab here.
Gerta Hoxhaj, Ph.D.
Gerta Hoxhaj received her bachelor’s degree from Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey, with a double major in molecular biology and genetics and chemistry. She earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry and cell signaling from the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit, University of Dundee, Scotland, UK, where she characterized a novel E3 ubiquitin ligase, ZNRF2, as a downstream effector of PI3K signaling. In 2013, Dr. Hoxhaj joined the laboratory of Dr. Brendan Manning at the Harvard School of Public Health, where she worked on understanding how oncogenic signaling influences cellular metabolism. Her work discovered new mechanisms that link PI3K-Akt-mTORC1 signaling with the control of nucleotide and redox metabolism.
Dr. Hoxhaj’s lab is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms that control cellular metabolism in hopes of finding new therapeutic strategies for cancer and other metabolic disorders. Learn more about Dr. Hoxhaj’s lab here.
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