It is estimated that 3-4% of babies born in this country have major organ defects caused by mistakes in the process of embryonic development (Table 1). Scientists in the Division of Developmental Biology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center are focused on uncovering the basis of human birth defects so they can be prevented or corrected. To do so, the Developmental Biology Division has four fundamental goals:

  • to discover new facts about the mechanisms of development
  • to relate the cellular and molecular mechanisms of development to the causes of congenital disorders in children
  • to develop long term strategies for diagnosis and therapy of congenital disorders
  • to serve as a center for training in basic science for clinical and research faculty and fellows

We address the first goal through the recruitment of outstanding faculty, who use different model systems, including the mouse, zebrafish, frog, chicken, fruit fly, nematode, and cultured stem cells, to study the mechanisms of development. The division now has 24 faculty with primary appointments and 11 faculty with adjunct appointments. This group produces many major research papers each year, gives a large number of platform presentations at national and international meetings, and is well-supported by extramural research grants.

We focus on the second and third goals by establishing formal collaborations with clinical divisions here at Cincinnati Children's. First, we have made joint faculty recruitments with clinical divisions who are interested in the abnormal development of specific organ systems. Second, existing faculty in clinical divisions have taken joint appointments in Developmental Biology, and existing faculty in Developmental Biology have taken joint appointments in clinical divisions. These mechanisms have linked the divisions of Developmental Biology, Orthopedics, Neonatology, Pulmonary Biology, Reproductive Science, Ophthalmology, Neurology, and Nephrology into a matrix structure. Third, we have established a stem cell group, whose goals are to use cultured stem cell lines to understand the mechanisms of their differentiation, the mechanisms underlying congenital disorders of organogenesis, as well as therapeutic applications of this understanding. In total, this matrix structure has fostered numerous collaborative projects between basic scientists and clinicians to study the mechanisms by which development goes wrong in specific clinical conditions.

Our division's fourth goal is accomplished by providing state-of-the art training and core research facilities to clinical faculty, fellows, and residents as well as postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates. The division is the administrative home for the University of Cincinnati Molecular and Developmental Biology Graduate Program. In addition, faculty members in the division teach in the MD/PhD program, as well as in the Neuroscience and Cell Biology graduate programs. Lastly, the Developmental Biology Division provides a number of shared services to the whole of Cincinnati Children's, including the stem cell core, the Affymetrix gene array core, the transgenic core, protein chemistry and imaging assistance.

Cincinnati Children's Research Foundation is an ideal place for these basic and translational approaches. It is one of the best pediatric hospitals in the world, and its clinician-scientists share space and equipment with the basic scientists, allowing the free flow of ideas and technologies.