Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) is a unique joint venture positioned to build upon the comprehensive clinical expertise of Children’s Health and the internationally recognized scientific environment of UT Southwestern Medical Center.
As a specialized center of research affiliated with UT Southwestern, CRI was established in 2011 with a mission to perform transformative biomedical research to elucidate the biological basis of disease.
Located in the Southwestern Medical District, the 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, which together hold unusual potential for discoveries that can yield groundbreaking advances in science and medicine.
The Beginnings of Basic Research
Ever since Hippocrates first investigated the causes of sickness, an understanding of basic science has been humankind’s only hope to halt disease. Scientific discoveries lead to medical breakthroughs, and this important work continues at Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI), where researchers have moved deep into the complexities of cellular and molecular biology.
Conceived in 2006 and officially launched in 2012, it is a center of growing prestige and promise with a sharp focus on basic science as the catalyst for new treatments. The CRI is a partnership between two of the top medical institutions in the United States: Children’s Medical Center and UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It is the best of both worlds,” says Dr. Kern Wildenthal, currently president of Children’s Medical Center Foundation and formerly president of UT Southwestern from 1986 to 2008. “This unique joint venture marries the superior clinical reputation of Children’s with the research powerhouse of UT Southwestern.”
The laboratories of the CRI are focused on diseases such as stem cell biology, cancer and metabolism. They are headed by some of the brightest minds in the country, and their discoveries have already opened new possibilities for patient care:
- Identifying the biological setting for specialized blood-forming cells that produce infectionfighting white blood cells has established a promising approach for scientists to map the entire blood-forming system.
- Developing a unique xenograft model gives cancer biologists the first model to predict how skin cancer will develop in a patient.
- Finding that estrogen is a prolific promoter of stem cell renewal raises possibilities for improved treatments for blood cancers and increased safety and effectiveness of chemotherapy.
- Testing of a novel drug combination in a Phase 1B clinical trial for Stage IV melanoma patients based on discoveries at the CRI to provide potential improvements in therapy.
At the Helm
The Institute is led by Dr. Sean Morrison, an internationally recognized stem cell expert who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and incoming president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. He obtained his B.Sc. in biology and chemistry from Dalhousie University in 1991, then completed a Ph.D. in immunology at Stanford University in 1996 and a postdoctoral fellowship in neurobiology at the California Institute of Technology in 1999. From 1999 to 2011, he was a professor at the University of Michigan, where he directed the Center for Stem Cell Biology.
Dr. Morrison was among the first established investigators to be recruited to Texas with grant funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
Circles of Influence
Dr. Morrison has already identified and hired more than 50 scientists who are 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 the CRI grow to 150 scientists working in 15 labs.
Several early, generous donations signaled great confidence in the CRI and laid 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, Ric and Debbie Scripps were honored by Children’s for their volunteerism, leadership and philanthropy through the establishment of the Scripps Society, created for those contributing $1 million or more to the CRI. Among those are the Dean Foods Foundation, Emy Lou and Jerry Baldridge, Patricia and Jerome Abbott, the Constantin Foundation, the Moody Foundation, Kathryne and Gene Bishop, Ute S. and Rolf R. Haberecht, and two anonymous donors. In addition, the W.W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation committed $7.5 million.
Join Us on the Road to Discovery
To invest in basic research conceived by great minds and executed with a heart for the child whose life will be forever altered is to invest in the future.
Research discoveries in the CRI will chart new pathways for understanding and treating disease, but, more importantly, they will transform medical outcomes for all patients, big and small.
To learn more about the CRI, visit cri.utsw.edu.
The Research Team
Sean Morrison, Ph.D.
Director of the CRI Principal Investigator of the Hamon Laboratory for Stem Cell and Cancer Biology
Dr. Morrison is a professor in the CRI and of pediatrics at UT Southwestern and holds the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics. He also is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and is incoming president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. He completed a Ph.D. in immunology at Stanford University in 1996 and a postdoctoral fellowship in neurobiology at the California Institute of Technology in 1999. Until 2011, he was a professor at the University of Michigan, where he directed the 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 Scholar in Cancer Research. Dr. Morrison focuses his research on non-embryonic stem cells, partly to investigate cancers that arise from the nervous and hematopoietic systems. His work assesses the extent to which these cancers hijack stem cell mechanisms to enable the formation and metastasis of tumors.
Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D.
Director of the CRI Genetic and Metabolic Disease Program
Dr. DeBerardinis is an associate professor in the CRI, in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, and of pediatrics at UT Southwestern. He holds the Joel B. Steinberg, M.D., Chair in Pediatrics and is a Sowell Family Scholar in Medical Research. He joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2008, and in 2011 he was the first faculty member recruited to the CRI. Dr. DeBerardinis earned his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first trainee in the combined residency program in pediatrics and medical genetics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He performed his postdoctoral research at Penn. Dr. DeBerardinis cares for children with inborn errors of metabolism, rare diseases that impair the ability to derive energy from sugars, amino acids and fats. In the laboratory, he tries to understand how changes in metabolic activity enable cancer cells to grow and evade the stresses that kill off normal cells. Dr. DeBerardinis has received funding from CPRIT to study whether glioblastoma growth can be suppressed by targeting glutamine metabolism.
Woo-Ping Ge, Ph.D.
Dr. Ge is an assistant professor in the CRI and of pediatrics and neuroscience at UT Southwestern. He obtained a Ph.D. in neurophysiology from the Institute of Neuroscience at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He conducted postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco, where he made fundamental discoveries related to the origin and function of glial cells in the brain. Researchers in his laboratory study the mechanisms underlying glial cell generation and the interactions between brain vasculature and the nervous system under different physiological and pathological conditions, in hopes of developing therapeutic targets.
Prashant Mishra, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Mishra is an assistant professor in the CRI, in the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational and Systems Biology, and of pediatrics at UT Southwestern. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. from UT Southwestern’s Medical Scientist Training Program. He was a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology, where he focused on mechanisms underlying the control of mitochondrial behavior. His research focuses on the function of mitochondria, a cellular compartment that uses oxygen to produce energy from nutrients. Children whose mitochondria do not function efficiently develop severe symptoms that impair the development and function of the nervous system and muscles.
Jian Xu, Ph.D.
Dr. Xu is an assistant professor in the CRI and of pediatrics at UT Southwestern. He earned an M.S. in cancer biology from Fudan University in China. He came to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied the regulation of stem cells’ ability to differentiate into germ layers. 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 and publications in Nature and Science. Newly recruited to the CRI as a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research, Dr. Ju is focusing on childhood leukemia with the long-term goal of understanding the epigenetic and genetic basis of stem cell development and how misregulation can cause cancer.
Hao Zhu, M.D.
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.