King receives a highly competitive federal award

Dr. Katherine King, associate professor of the Infectious Disease Division in the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, received a highly competitive Emerging Investigator Award. This award of $600,000 per year for seven years is from the National Heart, Lung Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The purpose of the NHLBI Emerging Investigator Award is to promote scientific productivity and innovation by providing long-term support and increased flexibility to experienced investigators whose outstanding record of research demonstrates their ability to make major contributions to heart, lung, blood, and sleep research. These awards are intended to support a research program, rather than a research project. They provide investigators with increased freedom to conduct research that breaks new ground or extends previous discoveries in new directions, and allows them to take greater risks and pursue research that requires a longer timeframe.

King received this award for her research proposal titled, “Impact of Infection and Inflammation on Primitive Hematopoiesis”.

Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in the bone marrow are responsible for the regulated production of about 10 billion blood cells per day. Inflammation plays a key role in HSC function, promoting increased production of immune cells during conditions of stress or infection. However, King’s prior work showed that prolonged exposure to an inflammatory molecule, interferon gamma that is induced during chronic mycobacterial and viral infections, alters the self-renewal and differentiation properties of HSCs. Ultimately, this leads to HSC depletion and reduction in all three types of blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets).

This discovery spawned an explosion in research into the connections between inflammation and primitive hematopoiesis in the field, which aid in the understanding of the role of inflammation in bone marrow failure syndromes, hematologic malignancies (e.g. aplastic anemia), and age-associated impaired immunity.

The goal of King’s project is to delineate the mechanisms by which inflammatory cytokine signaling drives the differentiation, depletion, clonal competition and immunologic reprogramming of HSCs with the ultimate aim of identifying therapeutic targets that will support healthy production of all blood cell types throughout life. Moreover, findings from this study are proposed to provide physiologic knowledge that will help develop new strategies to protect and enhance bone marrow function for patients with bone marrow failure, cancer, stem cell transplant, and chronic inflammatory conditions, as well as for the aging population at large.

“It has been my dream to do research that helps people. I started off studying microbes and infections, and eventually moved into studying how the body responds to those infections. Doing research at the intersection of microbiology, immunology and hematology is exciting, because what we learn circles back to touch all of those fields. It is a tremendous honor to receive this grant, and a real credit to the hard work and dedication of the people in my lab,” King said.