UM Professor Wins Micah Batchelor Award

Dr. Gary Kleiner won the award for his work in stem cell transplant research

Gary I. Kleiner, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of clinical pediatrics and the director of the Jeffrey Model Center for Primary Immune Deficiencies, is the 2009 recipient of the prestigious Micah Batchelor Award for Excellence in Children’s Health Research.

His winning research proposal is designed to make stem cell transplants an option for more children afflicted with hematologic disorders, primary immune deficiencies and cancer.

Kleiner, a specialist in pediatric immunology and allergy, plans to use the $300,000 grant that accompanies the award to test his hypothesis that using a combination of stem cells from a sick child’s parents and unrelated umbilical cord blood from a bank will reduce the risks of, and barriers to, stem cell transplants, enabling more children to qualify for them.

“From a transplant standpoint, I think it will open up the doors to more children who are turned away,’‘ Kleiner said. “Currently, patients are not considered candidates because they don’t have a suitable donor or because they have infections.”

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 of Medicine investigators who are 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, director of the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute, associate executive dean for child health at the Miller School, and chief of staff of the Holtz Children’s Hospital of the UM/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, lauded Kleiner for his winning proposal, “Engineered Cord Blood for Stem Cell Transplant,” and the “outstanding, compassionate and innovative care” he and his team have been providing to children with acquired and congenital disorders since he joined the faculty in 2001.

“Dr. Kleiner’s tireless and passionate work has given hope, improved quality of life and resulted in the survival of children with leukemia, lymphoma, bone marrow failure syndromes, and recurrent cancers by both established techniques and by pioneering research initiatives, such as the use of unrelated donor umbilical cord blood stem cells in patients who do not have a fully matched donor,’‘ Lipshultz said. “This has extended this life-saving therapy to many more patients who would otherwise not have been eligible for this curative approach.’‘

Kleiner, who expressed shock over the honor, said the combination transplant he is proposing – and has performed once – will shorten the time period stem cell transplant recipients are susceptible to infections, making more of them eligible to undergo the procedure.

“The problem with bone marrow transplants or stem cell transplants is, if you give chemotherapy or radiation, which you usually have to give to everyone, there is a time period called neutropenia when the patient’s white blood cell count is zero,’‘ Kleiner explained. “It is a period when you are very susceptible to infection and more likely to die. With regular stem cell transplants the average time is 21 days, but with this type of transplant we hope this period will be reduced to 10 to 14 days. So the major advantage is people who are turned away for a transplant because the risk is too high may in the future be eligible.’‘

In all, nine researchers submitted award proposals, which were reviewed by three internal reviewers and 16 external reviewers. The judges evaluated the candidates in three areas: the quality of the scientific proposal; the importance of the research to the health of children; and the contribution of the individual researcher to the health of children.

“We had a world-class group of reviewers from around the United States who are experts in child health research,’‘ Lipshultz said. “Many commented on the number of outstanding proposals that were submitted. Virtually all of them scored well enough to have been funded on the first or second NIH submission, which indicates the quality of the work going on in the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute.”

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