Researcher Wins 2015 Micah Batchelor Award to Study Preterm Birth and Kidney Disease
Surrounded by her colleagues, family, and University of Miami Miller School of Medicine leadership, Carolyn Abitbol, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the Miller School, received the prestigious 2015 Micah Batchelor Award for Excellence in Children’s Health Research.
The award was presented October 13 during a ceremony on the second floor at the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute, which was dedicated in 2001 with a $10 million gift from the Batchelor Foundation to improve children’s health.
“I think this award is phenomenal and we are going to do so much with it,” said Abitbol, who is also Medical Director of the Holtz Children’s Hospital Pediatric Dialysis Unit. “We have great plans and it is going to do a lot of good.”
The late George E. Batchelor, a renowned aviation pioneer and philanthropist, established the annual $300,000 award in 2004 in memory of his grandson, Micah. The Micah Batchelor Award for Excellence in Children’s Health Research recognizes a faculty member in the Department of Pediatrics who is conducting research in children’s health.
“George had a remarkable ability to understand the importance of research,” said R. Rodney Howell, M.D., professor of pediatrics and Chair Emeritus of the Department of Pediatrics, who remembered George as a hard-nosed businessman who had a soft spot for children.
Seeded with a $5 million endowment, the award is one of the largest nationally for children’s health research.
Thanks to a leadership gift of an additional $5 million from the Batchelor Foundation in 2014, the Micah Batchelor Award for Excellence in Children’s Health Research will be expanded next year to provide additional awards that recognize outstanding faculty working in children’s health.
“Thanks to supporters like the Batchelor Foundation, we are conducting groundbreaking research specifically focused on finding the cures for many childhood diseases,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Miami Health System. “Clearly, research is at the heart of what people like Dr. Abitbol do, and it is the cornerstone of what goes on here at the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute on a daily basis.”
At the presentation were Batchelor Family Foundation Trustees Sandy Batchelor, Daniel Ferraresi, and Jon Batchelor, who is also a UM trustee. While it was the 11th time the award was presented, it was the first time that Doug Batchelor, George Batchelor’s son and Micah Batchelor’s father, was able to attend with his wife, Karen.
Doug remembered Micah, who died in a construction accident in 2001, as an aviation enthusiast, like his grandfather, who also loved riding motorcycles, playing the guitar, and making children laugh.
“On behalf of the family, we are just happy that something that is accomplishing so much good, that seeks to improve the quality of and quantity of life, is connected to his name. That means so much to us,” said Doug, who is senior pastor of the Granite Bay Adventist Church in Granite Bay, Calif., and the president of Amazing Facts, an international media ministry.
He congratulated Abitbol on receiving the award for her research on preterm birth and the long term consequences of prematurity, especially related to kidney disease.
Abitbol graduated from medical school at the University of Virginia, and completed her residency in medicine-pediatrics at Emory University, her fellowship in pediatric nephrology at University of California, San Francisco, followed by a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship in Paris at Necker-Hopital des Enfants Malades.
She joined the Miller School faculty in 1983, after serving as the first pediatric nephrologist at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. Her interest in preterm births was sparked after her mother delivered three preterm babies. Only one, a sister, survived, but to this day suffers complications from her early birth.
The current focus of her research is identifying those preterm infants at risk of low nephron mass and abnormal vascular development who are at risk of cardiovascular and renal disease by their early 20s, a number that she puts at 10 percent of all births in the past 40 years. It is an issue she recently spoke about at a meeting of the National Institutes of Health.
“Eighty to ninety percent of babies born preterm will leave the nursery, they’ll look wonderful, but when they are 20 and 30, they will start having chronic disease,” Abitbol said. “We can potentially stop that.”
Abitbol will use her research grant to study what she calls “the window of opportunity,” four to six weeks post-natal, to determine methods that can be used to continue nephrogenesis, or kidney development. The ultimate goal is early therapeutic interventions and life course changes.
“This award is a great opportunity,” she said. “We are on the cusp. This is going to happen and we are going to make a tremendous impact with very few invasive studies. We are excited and ready to go forward. It is our obligation.”