CHOP Awarded Grant to Help Transform Mitochondrial Research

CHOP has been awarded an incredible $2.3 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to power crucial mitochondria medicine research and unlock the mystery of the pandemic. With this unprecedented investment, CHOP is taking a big step towards advancing treatments and therapies to improve the lives of children.

As the pandemic continues to ravage the world, medical experts are racing to uncover why certain individuals and populations are being more severely afflicted by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. To answer this critical question, the Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine (CMEM) at CHOP is exploring whether mitochondrial variation could be the underlying cause of the disproportionate suffering among certain patients. This vital inquiry could provide invaluable insights for global medical institutions struggling to manage the unprecedented demands of the crisis.

Dr. Douglas Wallace, geneticist, evolutionary biologist and director of the Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has made a remarkable discovery in his studies of mitochondrial function: SARS-CoV-2 has a devastating impact on mitochondrial health. Furthermore, he is now examining the role that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation plays in determining the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, as this variation can often differ between individuals and people of different global ancestries. This research could provide vital insights into how best to treat those affected by the virus.

With this generous grant from the Gates Foundation, we are excited to explore the role of mtDNA variation in COVID-19 severity, and to identify new strategies for reducing the impact of the virus. Through this transformative research, we aim to make a positive difference in the lives of those affected by the pandemic.

The CMEM is at the forefront of a revolutionary approach to uncovering the mysteries of a variety of diseases, using mitochondria – the tiny, yet powerful “batteries” of our cells – as a key focus of its research. With the genes for generating mitochondria spread across both the nuclear DNA and the mtDNA, the CMEM is examining the impact of genetic mutations on a range of conditions, including neuropsychiatric disorders like autism and Alzheimer’s, visual impairment, heart and muscle diseases, diabetes and obesity, as well as SARS-CoV-2 infection. By delving into the vital role mitochondria play in human health, the CMEM is leading the way in potential treatments for a wide variety of medical conditions.

Since the start of the pandemic, the CMEM team and the international COV-IRT consortium have uncovered a worrying connection between SARS-CoV-2 and mitochondrial gene expression and function. Now, CMEM researchers are looking into whether mtDNA variation plays a role in determining how different individuals respond to COVID-19.

The Gates Foundation has recently provided funding to explore a potentially life-saving hypothesis: individuals with mtDNAs from sub-Saharan Africa, which are more energetically efficient, may be less susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 mitochondrial inhibition and, as a result, more resistant to the pathology associated with COVID-19. Dr. Wallace, the lead researcher in this project, is excited to finally have the chance to test this hypothesis and see if it holds true.

About Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Since its founding in 1855, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has been a leader in pediatric healthcare and research. Through its 595-bed hospital and its CHOP Care Network, which includes more than 50 primary care practices, specialty care and surgical centers, urgent care centers, and community hospital alliances throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, CHOP has provided advanced pediatric care close to home for generations. Its pioneering research initiatives and family-centered care have earned CHOP a reputation as a leader in advocating for the health and well-being of children and adolescents worldwide.

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