UM Neonatologist Wins Micah Batchelor Award

Karen Young, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics in the Division of Neonatology, is the 2010 recipient of the prestigious Micah Batchelor Award for Excellence in Children’s Health Research. She received the award during a ceremony on the medical campus last night.

Dr. Young plans to use the $300,000 grant that accompanies the award to study how stem cells become lung cells. Her winning proposal aims to research and identify the factors that cause impaired development of lung cells in premature infants.

“We know that certain factors that contribute to lung development are decreased in pre-term babies,” Young said. “Finding out whether or not those factors give rise to lung disease will allow us to develop new treatment and prevention strategies. Then we can generate strategies to prevent lung disease.”

“Issues like lung disease can ultimately affect cognitive and motor development,” Young added. “By helping babies develop strong, healthy lungs, we can, in essence, help them develop strong, healthy minds as well.”

The late George E. Batchelor, a renowned aviation pioneer and philanthropist, established the award in 2004 in memory of his grandson, Micah, to recognize Miller School investigators researching children’s diseases at the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute. Seeded with a $5 million endowment, it is one of the largest awards nationally for children’s health research.

Steven E. Lipshultz, M.D., professor and chair of pediatrics and associate executive dean for child health at the Miller School, lauded Young for her winning proposal: “Dr. Karen Young is one if our respected neonatologists who has spent her entire career as a pediatric resident, neonatal fellow and as a faculty member in neonatology in the Department of Pediatrics at the Miller School and at the Holtz Children’s Hospital at Jackson Memorial Hospital. She has been awarded honors at every stage of her career for her compassionate, caring style.

“Caring for some of the sickest premature newborns, Dr. Young became aware that a leading complication of being born prematurely was that many of these very low birth weight babies will grow up with chronic lung disease similar to that of adults who had smoked throughout their lifetime. Dr. Young devoted her research to determining how to help these premature, injured lungs.”

As her career path indicates, Dr. Young has always had an interest in neonatology and premature infants, as she explains: “At this early stage of development, you have the opportunity to fix a multitude of problems because so much of the development process is interrelated and still incomplete. You are not just focusing on problems of the brain, the lungs, or the heart. If you can find out what causes abnormalities in these organs, before they develop fully, then you can fix them before the problem manifests itself.”

Young is particularly pleased with the timeliness of this award. “Pre-term birth is a growing concern in the United States as women are waiting longer to start families,” she said. “Receiving this stipend now will allow me to move forward with my research and to get the help I need to translate the data and take my findings from the bench to the bedside.”

Dr. Young’s research presents a ray of hope for the future. “Millions of children worldwide suffer from chronic lung disease as a result of their premature birth,” Young said. “If we can find out what causes this defect, we can prevent it for future generations.”

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