Mellon Foundation Establishes New Institute at Rangos Research Center
By Evan C. Lambrou
originally published by the National Herald on June 18, 2011
NEW YORK – The Richard King Mellon Foundation gave $23 million to create a pediatric research institute at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. The Hospital’s new Rangos Research Center in the Pittsburgh suburb of Lawrenceville will serve as the new Mellon Institute’s home.
The groundbreaking gift will help establish the Mellon Foundation Institute for Pediatric Research, and augments an already formidable joining of forces: the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and CHP, which merged with UPMC in 2000, and the new Rangos Research Center, a state-of-the-art facility complex which began operations in the fall of 2008 to help doctors and scientists make bold new advances in treating some of the world’s most debilitating childhood illnesses.
The Mellon Foundation’s generous gift to CHP was first announced back in the fall of 2007, but has re-attracted attention because the Hospital recently announced that the new Mellon Institute’s first director will be assuming his duties in September, and that offices for the new Institute, its director and additional Mellon scholars would be housed in the new Rangos building, named after Greek American philanthropist and business magnate John G. Rangos Sr., whose commitment to CHP has helped the Hospital become one of the foremost centers for pediatric research and care in the country.
“Dr. Jay Kolls will be the first director of the RK Mellon Foundation Institute for Pediatric Research, and we’re very excited that he’s returning to Pittsburgh to start his new role as the Mellon Foundation Professor of Pediatrics on September 1st,” Dr. David Perlmutter, physician in-chief and scientific director of CHP, told the National Herald.
“It took us a while to find the right person for this position. There are scientists who are phenomenal geniuses in their narrow focus, and there are scientists who are very broad and adventuresome. That’s what Jay is, and that’s what’s needed. Now that we found our director, we can take the next step,” he added.
That next step is to hire five additional researchers within the next three years to complement Dr. Kolls, a leading geneticist and pulmonary specialist who has made important contributions to understanding how the human lung protects itself from microbial invasion.
“It’s taken us three years to get the right director. That basically completes the first phase because that’s the crucial person who an additional five exceptionally talented scholars are going to look to as a distinguished scientist they will be working with,” said Dr. Perlmutter, who was in the process of interviewing the first of the five when the Herald contacted him.
The Rangos Research Center is already attracting tremendous talent to CHP, he said, and the Mellon Institute will help increase the Hospital’s drawing power and further elevate its profile.
The Mellon Institute will further cement CHP’s position as one of the world’s leading centers for pioneering research in child health, he explained, because it will add to the “existing deep pool of faculty talent” by attracting additional pediatric scientists of international stature, and by supporting the promising work of those scientists.
“The RK Mellon Foundation first approached us, and asked what they could do to help. They wanted to give something to Children’s Hospital, so and they came to us and said, ‘We heard you’re doing fabulous things. What can we do to help make the Hospital even better?’ We were completely thrilled, of course, so we drafted a proposal for them to consider,” Dr. Perlmutter said.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of success recruiting senior leaders in each area of pediatric research, but we needed to attract talented younger researchers. Our existing talent is quite deep, but because we’re competing with places like Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard and Stanford, we needed a way to expand our talent horizontally, rather than vertically. The idea was to form a think tank where very talented young people would work together, which would also involve different disciplines to spur innovation,” he said.
“When we recruit young scientists, we typically do so with startup funding, but the idea was also to provide continuous funding, so that part of their portfolio can be dedicated to higher-risk research endeavors, things which might not necessarily receive funding at the early stage from the National Institutes of Health. In turn, this would make the idea of coming to Pittsburgh more attractive than, say, Harvard or Stanford,’ he said.
“So this is what we went back and proposed to the RK Mellon Foundation, and they had a very positive and favorable reaction. It’s a very unique model. It’s our next step in staying ahead of the pack, and it’s not something anyone else is doing. There are other places across the country offering a lot of money to attract young, talented pediatric scientists, but they’re not offering this type of think tank,” he added.
The think tank’s overarching purpose is to provide a framework for future discoveries of very talented young researchers, Dr. Perlmutter explained, and the new Mellon Foundation Institute will help CHP achieve that purpose.
The new Mellon Institute will also be a dynamic aspect of ever-evolving medical research at Children’s, he said, as each Mellon scholar will be studying an area vital to child health: “For example, looking closely at how infection affects the production of blood cells by the bone marrow, and how this could lead to treatments that will lead to therapeutic interventions which, in turn, will improve our ability to respond to infections; or how to enhance the formation of blood vessels, or destroy blood vessel growth that nourishes certain cancers, which is an area of medical research designed to interfere with tumor angiogenesis (blood vessel formation). These are the kinds of researchers we’re looking at,” he said.
In short, Dr. Perlmutter said, the Mellon Foundation was so impressed with the work Children’s is doing, and so impressed with CHP’s proposal, they committed $23 million. And housing the new Mellon Institute in the Rangos Research Center was a natural fit, he noted.
“The generous gift speaks for itself. The RK Mellon Foundation wanted to do something special for Children’s, and the Rangos Research Center was really the best option for making this idea work because that’s where we have our laboratories. We could have proposed something more clinical for the Hospital, or even some other kind of research, but this is a transformational idea, and it needs a top-notch research facility to become a workable reality,” he said.
When Mr. Rangos was asked how he felt now that one of America’s leading families has joined the effort to keep propelling CHP’s level of excellence upward, he told the Herald he was “extremely proud” that the Mellon Foundation decided to make such a generous contribution to Children’s Hospital, and that the Mellon family was willing to lend their good name to the facility which bears his name.
“There’s no question that the Mellon name adds a lot of thunder to our efforts at Children’s. The Mellon family is extremely selective about whatever they do, and when the Mellon Foundation makes a gift, it implies that considerable forethought goes into the decision beforehand. The size of the gift shows they have a large amount of confidence in us, and it proves we’re doing things right. And I’m very honored they agree this is a worthy cause. We have some of the world’s finest doctors right here in Pittsburgh, treating kids from all over the world. The Mellons’ participation will help us attract even more medical talent, and I’m very happy about the teamwork because it will help the Hospital soar to even greater heights,” Mr. Rangos said.
Up and running since October of 2008, the new John G. Rangos Research Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh will be the home of the new Richard King Mellon Foundation Institute for Pediatric Research at CHP, made possible thru a $23 million gift from the RK Mellon Foundation.
Dr. David Perlmutter, director of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, says the new Mellon Institute and the Rangos Research Center are a natural fit at CHP.