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University Pediatrics Scholars Award gives a lift to up-and-coming researchers with fresh ideas

Shane McAllister, M.D., Ph.D., received the University Pediatrics Scholars Award in 2012. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

One of the most important steps in pushing medical science ahead is funding talented, young researchers who bring new ideas and approaches to solving health problems.

That’s the thinking behind the University Pediatrics Scholars Award, which has been given annually since 1990 to at least one promising pediatrician-researcher who’s getting a fledgling lab up and running.

So far the award, now funded by proceeds from WineFest—A Toast to Children’s Health, has supported 25 up-and-coming University of Minnesota faculty members with more than $2 million cumulatively. (Nineteen of them are still at the University.) That start-up money has helped to attract nearly $100 million in new grant funding. Recipients of the award have made contributions to fields such as stem cell science, cystic fibrosis, and diabetes.

Shane McAllister, M.D., Ph.D., who received the University Pediatrics Scholars Award in 2012, is using his funding to make strides against Kaposi sarcoma herpes virus (KSHV). The virus turns up in Africa, predominantly in children, and often leads to deadly tumors on the inner lining of their blood vessels.

With the award, McAllister will tackle questions about KSHV from several angles. In his lab, he’ll test the drug propranolol, which has been used successfully to treat a benign type of tumor in children but hasn’t been tested against KS tumors. He’s also interested in how the virus leads to cancer in the first place.

“It’s an enduring mystery why only some children get infected,” he says, “or why a subset goes on to develop cancer.”

McAllister’s research could have applications to many other disease processes, as well.

“The interface between viral infection and the development of cancer has not been studied extensively, particularly since much research has turned to genes,” says Mark Schleiss, M.D., associate chair of research in the Department of Pediatrics, who leads the selection committee for the award. “It’s very innovative work.”

Learn more about the researchers WineFest proceeds have benefited at z.umn.edu/wfimpact.

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