The Shriners of North America is a philanthropic organization that sponsors a network of 22 pediatric specialty hospitals (Shriners Hospitals for Children – SHC) that provide care at no cost to children with orthopedic problems and burns. In addition to caring for today’s children, the SHC is also committed to children of the future through educating the next generation of orthopedists and burn surgeons in its hospitals and through supporting the basic research in its hospitals that is needed to develop more effective therapies of the future. The SHC currently spends 25 million dollars annually to support clinical and basic research in the areas of musculoskeletal biology, burns and spinal cord injury.
The SHC research program has evolved dramatically over the past few years with the emergence of seven SHC Centers of Research Excellence. These Centers are located within SHC hospitals and are closely affiliated with local universities to create a stimulating and supportive environment for basic medical research. Each Center is charged with developing its own unique identity and keeping its research programs at the cutting edge of science and directed ultimately to improving the health of children in future generations.
Our Center occupies about 16,000 sq ft of space on the sixth floor of the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland. Constructed in 1998, it is a stand-alone laboratory facility dedicated to multidisciplinary research in musculoskeletal development. We have seven faculty members, Investigators, who range from junior scientists launching their research careers to senior scientists recognized internationally for their contributions in their specific fields of expertise. Our expertise extends from structural biochemistry to human and mouse genetics to developmental biology. Graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, research support staff and an administrative core bring our total staff to over 50 individuals.
Our Center is closely affiliated with Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU). Our Investigators all have academic appointments in Basic Science Departments at OHSU, which integrates graduate education and postdoctoral training into our research programs and allows for the Center to serve as a performance site for Federally-sponsored research. However, the Research Center is fiscally and administratively separate from OHSU. Our budget for FY2015 is over 4.6 million dollars coming from the Shriners Research Program, National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies such as the Marfan Syndrome and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations.
The scientific theme of our Research Center is musculoskeletal development and its disorders. Our priority is to define the molecular basis of selected skeletal birth defects and in doing so define key molecular mechanisms responsible for skeletal development. Most of our research is done in model systems such as genetically engineered mice and cell culture systems. However, the ultimate goal is to identify and characterize the so-called pathogenetic mechanisms – the molecular events and pathways – that are responsible for skeletal defects in children and represent targets for therapeutic intervention. We recognize that definitive therapies for these conditions depend on having a detailed and full understanding of how they come about.
Developmental abnormalities of the skeleton are very common. They make up a sizable portion of patients seen in clinics and hospitals that care for children. They range from isolated anomalies to complex syndromes. Many are inherited, but some are not. They may show up before birth, in toddlers or even during childhood. They tend to produce chronic, lifelong handicaps that are frequently debilitating and may be life threatening. The feature they share most in common is a poor understanding of the pathogenetic mechanisms that are responsible for the abnormalities. As a result, even thought treatments exist, they are not definitive; that is, they are not directed at the root cause of an abnormality, but rather at minimizing its consequences after it occurs.