Feinberg professors win awards to research autism, Crohn’s disease

Shane McKeon, Campus Editor

Two Feinberg professors each won competitive awards of $100,000 per year over three years to fund projects that fight autism spectrum disorder and Crohn’s disease.

Feinberg Profs. Jeffrey Savas and Arun Sharma each won a Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award, which funds early-stage biomedical research that has not received much funding elsewhere, according to a news release.

Sharma’s project focuses on new treatments for Crohn’s disease in children, while Savas’s project aims to fix damaged synapses that may be linked to autism spectrum disorder.  

“As a new father, being chosen for this award is particularly meaningful to me since the mission of The Hartwell Foundation is to fund projects with the potential to benefit children,” Savas said in the release. “Early career awards like The Hartwell are hugely important to junior faculty members like myself since they provide research support to obtain the preliminary data needed to secure sustained funding through the National Institutes of Health.”

Crohn’s disease, which is the focus of Sharma’s project, is particularly damaging to children, largely because most treatments are designed for the adult population. Sharma said the award will let him research ways to help children diagnosed with the disease.

“The important unmet need is for safe and effective treatments that specifically meet the needs of pediatric patients,” Sharma said. “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.”

In addition to each award received, the Hartwell Foundation will fund a postdoctoral candidate for biomedical research.

In the release, Fred Dombrose, president of the Hartwell Foundation, said the contest was “very competitive” this year.

“The proposal by Savas was indicative of strong representation in neurobiology this year,” Dombrose said. “The proposal by Sharma was also quite compelling, with exciting potential for benefitting children.”

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Twitter: @Shane_McKeon

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