Public Release: 

Leading pediatrician addresses the future of children's health

Society for Biomolecular Sciences

Can diseases such as Alzheimer's, obesity and diabetes be prevented before birth? According to Jonathan D. Gitlin, M.D., the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Genetics at the Washington University School of Medicine, researching whether diseases that strike adults are already genetically encoded in individuals while still in the womb, may enable physicians to one day address and prevent diseases in infancy.

In a talk entitled "Child Health Research in the 21st Century: Obstacles and Opportunities," Dr. Gitlin, who is also scientific director of the Children's Discovery Institute, will address why, despite substantial investments in both the academic and private sectors, the health status of our nation remains dismal - particularly the health and wellness of our children.

"Children's health has been pushed aside," states Dr. Gitlin. "The amount of money currently dedicated to research that could identify key factors leading to diseases both in childhood and later in their adult lives is very small compared to the funding for adult onset diseases such as heart disease or cancer." Dr. Gitlin says scientists need to redirect their thinking to find a way to identify and ultimately offset diseases in children that may affect them later in life, such as obesity, depression or even drug and alcohol addiction.

Dr. Gitlin will also discuss how the identification of human genome sequencing now offers researchers the opportunity to change not only the direction of science, but also of medical care, by looking into more ways to prevent diseases from conception while understanding each person's individual genetic make up. There is also tremendous potential for drug discovery and small molecule alteration for long-term intervention and prevention of diseases that could be genetically imprinted in individuals before birth.

"Going into the 21st Century, we have the capacity to eliminate many childhood diseases. We can now know the fetal origins of many adult diseases, such as diabetes and obesity, and how lifestyles -- in terms of food intake and environmental factors, may contribute or help prevent certain diseases," explains Dr. Gitlin.

Dr. Gitlin uses zebra fish to illustrate this theory with a chemical genetic screen to identify small molecules and note their influence on nutrient metabolism. "When we think about controlling our environment, the one thing we can control is nutrition. So the question we are trying to answer is "Can we take a simple, genetically tractable organism that's similar in development to humans and manipulate the nutrition and understand by that manipulation what kind of metabolic outcome we get?" Findings from this research may ultimately reveal the genetic factors that suggest how nutrients are metabolized and how this may contribute to birth defects and long-term metabolic abnormalities.

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Dr. Gitlin will be a keynote presenter at the Society for Biomolecular Sciences 14th Annual Conference in St. Louis on April 6-10, 2008. For more information on the SBS annual meeting, please contact Rosalind D'Eugenio at (203) 325-8772 or rdeugenio@environics-usa.com.

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