The Hartwell Foundation


2010 Biomedical Research Collaboration Award

Memphis, TN, December 21, 2010 -- The Hartwell Foundation officially announced the third winners of a Biomedical Research Collaboration Award, which provides funding to expand the frontiers of early-stage, innovative, and cutting-edge applied biomedical research through special collaboration. Sean B. Fain, Ph.D., The University of Wisconsin Madison and Talissa Altes, MD, University of Virginia, will receive $300,000 in combined direct cost over three years to pursue their proposed research for "MRI to Monitor Early Intervention in Cystic Fibrosis: Non-Invasive Imaging of Lung Function in Neonates and Young Children" Dr. Fain was a 2006 Hartwell Investigator from Wisconsin, while Dr. Altes was a 2008 Nominee for a Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award from Virginia. Both Universities made The Hartwell Foundationís 2010 Top Ten Centers of Biomedical Research.

Despite widespread newborn screening and significant improvements in the management of Cystic Fibrosis (CF), the severity of associated lung disease continues to increase with age, culminating in life-threatening acute complications and 90% mortality by age 25. While it is possible to genetically identify babies born with CF, there are essentially no safe, noninvasive measures of lung function in neonates and very young children to evaluate the efficacy of therapies for prevention of early and irreversible damage to the lungs. To meet this unmet need, Fain and Altes propose to use free-breathing helium magnetic resonance (MR) imaging of the lung in non-sedated infants and young children. If they are successful in imaging lung function at the earliest stages of disease, it will allow for the first time clinically meaningful intervention and evaluation of treatment outcomes before the disease gains a foothold.

As a 2006 Hartwell Investigator, Dr. Fain developed a novel set of MRI-based tools for safe assessment of lung ventilation in children. His innovative technique for fast acquisition of 3-D images of lung using MRI of breathable non-radioactive helium gas provided MR images without a breath-hold to stop motion, yielding reliable longitudinal measures of lung structure and function. The images of ventilation and lung structure were found to be predictive of asthma diagnosis and consistent with early patient history of wheezing with rhinovirus infection in the first 3 years of life.

Dr. Altes is a pediatric radiologist at the University of Virginia who has pioneered novel applications of lung imaging using hyperpolarized gas MRI in children with cystic fibrosis. She contributes extensive experience in applying functional imaging techniques in adults and older children with cystic fibrosis.

Together, Fain and Altes propose to extend existing dynamic MR imaging (MRI) methods previously developed and applied successfully in children 9-10 years old at risk for asthma to application in babies with CF. Their effort will require developing a new gas delivery apparatus and detector tailored specifically to babies and capable of fast MRI without requiring sedation. The MRI methods will initially be deployed in healthy young children and babies diagnosed with CF and then subsequently, extended to evaluate drug therapy interventions early in disease progression through collaborations with CF physicians at The University of Wisconsin Madison and the University of Virginia.

While CF is a single gene disorder, there are varied responses in the individual patient to a given therapy depending on genetic and environmental factors. The impact of CF on lung ventilation in older children and adults has been shown by Dr. Altes to be regional, with the appearance of more severe disease adjacent to apparently normal areas of the lung. In recent years, several promising new drug therapies for CF have emerged that are either commercially available or advanced in the development and testing phases of the drug pipeline, but the lack of adequate longitudinal measures of lung structure and function make therapy assessment in babies virtually impossible.

"We want to revolutionize the clinical management of pediatric lung disease in the CF population by imaging the therapy response in babies already diagnosed with the disease, which should enable early intervention to prevent irreversible damage to the lungs due to inflammation and infection," said Dr. Altes.

The Fain-Altes collaboration will forge the interaction between two leaders in lung MR imaging to extend the application of fast imaging methods to neonates and young children with cystic fibrosis on existing clinical MRI systems.

""Given our mutual interests and complementary technologies, we plan to overcome current limitations in preventing safe and accessible imaging of the lung in babies with CF by providing a new measure for evaluation of treatment outcomes." related Dr. Fain.


2006 Hartwell Investigator Sean B. Fain, Ph.D., The University of Wisconsin Madison



2008 Hartwell Nominee Talissa Altes, MD, University of Virginia

Biomedical Research Collaboration Awards

Individual Biomedical
Research Awards

Top Ten Centers