Children's Health

2016 Sanford Children's Health Research Center faculty

2016 Sanford Children's Health Research Center faculty

The mission of the Children's Health Research Center is to conduct basic, translational, and clinical pediatric research.  Interdisciplinary approaches are used to understand the underlying basis of a wide array of congenital defects and childhood diseases.  Areas of interest include rare diseases, pediatric cancers, neurological disorders, developmental disorders, and genetic and environmental effects on childhood health and disease.  In addition, a major initiative within the center is the Sanford Project, which aims to better understand, treat, and cure type I diabetes.  Researchers within the center have expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including molecular biology, cell biology, developmental biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, immunology, and genetics. 

The Children’s Health Research Center is led by Kyle Roux, PhD and Jill Weimer, PhD.  Research activities are heavily supported by the NIH-funded Center for Pediatric Research, which enables ongoing growth of basic and translational research within the center.  The center has also formed collaborative relationships with other leading research and clinical institutions around the globe, including the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, CA.  With a rich and dynamic research environment, the Children’s Health Research Center is actively advancing toward its goal of understanding and treating pediatric disease.

Children’s Health Research Center Upcoming Events


“Visualizing macromolecular complexity using cryo-EM: microtubules and transcription initiation” Symposium 
Sanford Research Graduate Student-Invited Seminar Series with Eva Nogales, PhD.
Thursday, November 19 at 2:00p.m. | Sanford Center, Dakota Room 

Children’s Health Research Center Features

Weimer receives Batten disease grant
Sanford Research - Jill WeimerJill Weimer, PhD, director and scientist in the Children’s Health Research Center has received nearly $440,000 to support her research of a rare neurodegenerative disease that affects mostly children. She is the recipient of a one-year grant from the Charlotte and Gwenyth Gray Foundation to Cure Batten Disease, created by Kristen and Gordon Gray, whose two young daughters are battling Batten disease. Weimer’s lab is among only a few in the world studying this form of Batten disease, a group of neurodegenerative diseases most commonly found in children that can cause seizures, blindness, motor and cognitive decline and premature death. Learn more here.



Lance Lee received a grant from the Hydrocephalus Association for a project aimed at identifying genetic modifiers of congenital hydrocephalus. These studies will identify genes that influence susceptibility to hydrocephalus and open new potential avenues for early diagnosis and treatment. The Hydrocephalus Association is the largest foundation dedicated to hydrocephalus research and patient advocacy.

Children’s Health Research Center News


In September 2015, Jacob Cain, a postdoctoral fellow in the Weimer lab, was awarded a pilot grant from the Center for Cancer Biology (NIH funded COBRE) program at Sanford Research.
In August 2015, Alexei Savinov received a grant from Compugen, Ltd aimed at identification of T cells surface-bound interacting counterparts of B7/CD28-like immune.
In July 2015, Alexei Savinov received a grant through the Sanford Health/SDSU Collaborative Research Seed Grant Program
In February 2015, Indra Chandrasekar became a funded project leader in the Center for Pediatric Research at Sanford Research, an NIH COBRE program.
On Oct 20, 2015 Eli Louwagie, an undergraduate in the Baack Lab, was selected to present his work on the effect of maternal high fat diet and diabetes on placental fatty acid transport and hormone production. 
On October 8, 2015, Peter Vitiello was invited to present his research as part of the Free Radical and Radiation Biology Seminar Program at the University of Iowa. The focus of his presentation was molecular signals that sense and respond to environmental agents in lung cells.
On September 21, 2015, Kyle Roux was invited to present The Nuclear Envelope in Health and Disease at the University of Northern Iowa. 
On September 18, 2015 Michelle Baack was selected as a Mead Johnson Early Career Award Speaker for the PRS meeting where the Baack Lab presented their work that uncovers novel mechanisms of developmental programming of cardiovascular disease pathogenesis at Englewood, CO.
On September 11, 2015 Jill Weimer presented Faulty regulation of the CCK complex in Batten’s disease and its role in vesicular transport at the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus OH. 
On September 10, 2015 Lance Lee gave an invited seminar entitled "Using Mouse Genetic Approaches to Understand Cilia Function in Health and Disease" to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD.
On August 27, 2015 Lance Lee presented a poster entitled "Loss of CFAP54 in Mice Results in Central Pair Apparatus Defects and Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia" at the PCD on the Move! This conference was hosted by the PCD Foundation and attended by basic scientists, physicians, and patients/families.
On August 18, 2015 Indra Chandrasekar was invited to speak at the Annual CBBRe Symposium at the University of South Dakota. Her presentation was entitled “Role of Nonmuscle Myosin II in CNS synapses.”
On July 14, 2015 Malini Mukherjee presented The mechanism by which Notch signaling suppresses renal cysts and microadenomas likely involves primary cilia at the 13th International Workshop on Developmental Nephrology in Salt Lake City, Utah.
On July 14, 2015 Kameswaran Surendran presented Elf5 is a principal cell transcription factor regulated by Notch signaling at the 13th International Workshop on Developmental Nephrology in Salt Lake City, Utah.

On November 7, 2015 Kennedy Mdaki received the AHA-BCVS Minority Travel Award based on an AHA submitted abstract of his work and letters of support. This award allows travel to the American Heart Association Meeting for presentation of his abstract entitled: Cardiac Metabolism throughout Development: Age-related Differences in Bioenergetics Profiles of Newborn, Weaning and Adult Rat Cardiomyocytes.
ON September 18, 2015 Michelle Baack received the Perinatal Research Society Young Investigator Award in Englewood, CO.
On August 27, 2015 Lance Lee was awarded one of two awards for best poster presentation at the PCD on the Move! 2015 Conference in Minneapolis, MN. He presented a poster entitled "Loss of CFAP54 in Mice Results in Central Pair Apparatus Defects and Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia".
On July 30 2015 Kennedy Mdaki received American Physiologic Society (APS) Minority Travel Award to Physiological Bioenergetics: From Bench to Bedside, one of three nationally presented Travel Awards to attend and present his work at the 2015 APS conference Physiological Bioenergetics: From Bench to Bedside, Tampa, FL.
On July 30, 2015 Phuong Pham, NSF-REU student in Chandrasekar lab was awarded first place for her poster at the 2015 South Dakota Undergraduate Research Symposium in Pierre, SD.


July 2015, Lance Lee and a panel of graduate students presented a career development workshop entitled "Navigating the Graduate School Admissions Process" to the SPUR and REU students.


Lab News

March 2016, A delegation of scientist from Sanford, including Drs. Jill Weimer, David Pearce, Attila Kovacs and USD-SSOM MD/PhD student Ryan Geraets will attend the "Batten Disease: 2016 Update of Translational Research for Management of INCL/LINCL Conference” in Bethesda, MD on March 30-31. Each of these scientists will present on translation research on Batten disease that they are doing at Sanford Research.

February 2016, Jake Miller, an MD/PhD candidate at USD-SSOM recently spent an 8-week block at Sanford Research. Jake, who completed his PhD dissertation in the laboratory of Dr. David Pearce, returned to work on CLN3-Batten disease in collaboration with Dr. Jill Weimer’s team. Specifically, his research project focused on characterizing a novel conditional CLN3 deletion mouse line that the Weimer team has developed that allows investigators to selection mutate CLN3 in unique cell types of the brain.

January 2016, Several Sanford Research scientists recently received seed grants from the SD BioSNTR, a National Science Foundation funded EPSCoR program administered through SDSU. Drs. Indra Chandrasekar and Kyle Roux of the Children’s Research Center received funding to support their project entitled “Developing novel FRET based tension sensor probes to measure membrane and nuclear tension in cells.” Additionally, Dr. Paola Vermeer from the Cancer Biology team received funding for a collaborative grant with Dr. Adam Hoppe at SDSU entitled “EphrinB1 exosomes and their affect on immune cell function.”

December 2015, The National Institutes of Science have approved two new research projects, directed by Drs. Jianning Tao and Kevin Francis, for addition to Sanford Research’s Center for Pediatric Research CoBRE. Dr. Tao’s research focuses on the genetic pathways that regulate skeletal health and diseases whereas Dr. Francis’s team uses patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to model rare neurological disorders. Both Drs. Tao and Francis joined Sanford Research this fall.

November 2015, The 3rd annual Sanford Health-SDSU Biomedical Research Symposium was held at the Sanford Center on November 10, 2015 and was attended by 155 scientists presenting 70 abstracts across areas of health & nutrition, cell & molecular biology, neuroscience, pharmaceutical science, and cancer biology. Dr. D. Allan Butterfield of the University of Kentucky delivered the keynote lecture on Alzheimer and associated neurodegenerative diseases.

November 2015, Drs. Peter Vitiello, Amy Elliott, and David Pearce published their findings on how science teachers benefit from participating on biomedical research projects: Amolins M, Ezrailson C, Pearce D, Elliott A, Vitiello P. Evaluating the Effectiveness of a Laboratory-Based Professional Development Program for Science Educators. Adv Physiol Educ 39(4):341-51, 2015. PMID 26628658

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