Two Children's Hospital Boston researchers win top presidential awards

06/14/05

Awards honor work in children's bone health and public health biosurveillance

Two physician-researchers from Children's Hospital Boston are among 58 investigators nationwide to receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the government's highest honor for promising researchers starting independent careers. The awards, presented at a White House ceremony, went to Catherine Gordon, MD, MSc, for her work on anorexia nervosa and bone loss in young women, and Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, for his development of automated biosurveillance systems to monitor the health of populations in real time.

Eight federal departments and agencies nominated this year's PECASE winners. Gordon and Mandl were among 12 researchers nominated by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. John H. Marburger, science advisor to the President and director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, presided over the awards ceremony.

Gordon, an attending physician in the Divisions of Adolescent Medicine and Endocrinology at Children's Hospital Boston, was awarded for her research on treatment of bone loss in adolescent girls and young women with anorexia nervosa. Bone loss afflicts many anorexic patients, putting them at risk for osteoporosis and fractures. Funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Gordon is evaluating the effects of a new hormonal treatment on bone density in these patients.

The PECASE award also honors Gordon's community work on bone health in children in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and as director of the Bone Health Center at Children's. She views anorexia as a model for understanding how nutrition and severe malnutrition affect bone health in other pediatric settings such as vitamin D deficiency, cystic fibrosis, and chronic steroid treatment for rheumatologic or inflammatory bowel disease.

"I'm thrilled that pediatric osteoporosis has been recognized," says Gordon, also an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. "Osteoporosis has traditionally been thought to be a disease of the elderly, but our group and others have identified it as an important area for prevention in children and adolescents."

Mandl, an attending physician in Children's Department of Emergency Medicine, research director of Children's Biopreparedness Center and investigator in the Children's Hospital Informatics Program (CHIP), led the development of an automated biosurveillance system that can monitor for bioterrorist attacks as well as outbreaks of ordinary diseases, like flu, in real time. Now part of daily emergency department operations at Children's, the system analyzes new patient data and compares it with data from previous medical visits, flagging abnormal disease clusters or symptom patterns. It has been expanded for use by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, integrating medical data across geographic regions.

"We will use the PECASE award to extend our research and roll out real-world applications to monitor the health of populations in real time," Mandl says. "While we'll be addressing health protection for people of all ages, we will have a special focus on children's health at the regional and national levels."

Mandl, also an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and part of the Affiliated Faculty of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, was nominated for the PECASE award by the NIH's National Library of Medicine.

The PECASE awards, established in 1996, are intended to recognize and nurture outstanding beginning scientists and engineers who "show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge during the twenty-first century." Awardees receive up to five years of funding to further their research.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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