Two Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine scientists, Jeffrey Savas and Arun Sharma, have won the 2015 Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Awards for projects into autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Crohn’s disease in children. The award includes $100,000 annually in direct research costs for three years.
Dr. Sharma, a research assistant professor in urology, plans to develop new treatments for pediatric Crohn’s disease. Specifically, his work targets the development of anti-inflammatory nano-molecules to treat Crohn’s disease in children, whose symptoms include chronic inflammation and swelling of the intestines. According to the Pediatric IBD Foundation, IBD affects about 100,000 children in the U.S.
Current Crohn’s disease treatments include oral medications and injectable drugs, but these circulate throughout the body, raising the risk of multiple side effects, including cancer. These treatments are also designed for adult populations and not ideal for children. Dr. Sharma is developing nano-molecules that are non-toxic, avoiding many of these potential side effects. (The most drastic treatment, used when the others fail, is surgery to remove damaged parts of the intestine. Surgery, however, damages the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients and stunts growth.)
“The important unmet need is for safe and effective treatments that specifically meet the needs of pediatric patients,” Dr. Sharma said in a Northwestern press release. “I have recently developed anti-inflammatory molecules that improve wound healing in urinary bladders. I now aim to adapt these to develop effective new treatments for children with Crohn’s.”
“Being the recipient of The Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award brings me great satisfaction in knowing that an unmet clinical need amongst children will be addressed using state of the art science,” Dr. Sharma added.
Dr. Savas, an assistant professor of neurology, is working on a project to correct hampered brain synapses in autism spectrum disorder.
The Hartwell Foundation recognized 12 researchers representing nine institutions, and Northwestern was one of only three receiving two awards. For each of the nominees selected, Northwestern University will receive a Hartwell Fellowship to fund one postdoctoral candidate of its choice, whose biomedical research exemplifies the foundation’s values. Applications for the Hartwell Biomedical Research Fellowships are now being accepted by Northwestern’s Office of Research Development.