Suel receives Hartwell Foundation award

By Debbie Bolles / April 21-30, 2011

The Hartwell Foundation has selected Dr. Gurol Suel, assistant professor of pharmacology, to receive one of 12 Individual Biomedical Research Awards. As one of the Hartwell Investigators representing nine U.S. institutions, he will receive $100,000 a year for three years to support his early-stage, innovative research to engineer a bacterial-disease detection and drug-delivery device to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in children.

“Being chosen by The Hartwell Foundation as an investigator is a significant honor,” Dr. Suel said. “With this generous funding, my laboratory will be able to pursue the high-risk endeavor of engineering bacteria into autonomous medical treatment devices.”

Dr. Gurol Suel

IBD, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, affects at least 50,000 children in the U.S. per year; about 25 percent of all IBD sufferers are younger than 18. Disease complications may include stunted growth, increased risk for malnutrition, delayed onset of puberty and colorectal cancer.

Because current IBD treatments often involve high doses of steroids and immunosuppressants that carry too many risks for long-term use, Dr. Suel aims to find a more promising therapy in the form of an engineered microbial device. The Hartwell award will fund research that, if successful, would create an engineered bacterium to recognize diseased tissue in the bowel, which then would deliver anti-inflammatory drugs to the affected area, potentially eliminating the side effects associated with traditional systemic drug treatments.

“Gurol Suel is an extraordinary young scientist who proposed a very innovative form of therapy to ease the debilitating effects of inflammatory bowel disease in children. His paradigm that genes and proteins in biology are analogous to resistor and capacitor elements in electronic circuits has the power to transform the way we think about and seek to control biologically important cell behavior,” said Dr. Frederick Dombrose, president of The Hartwell Foundation.

The Hartwell Foundation, based in Memphis, Tenn., supports biomedical research aimed at advancing children’s health. It has selected UT Southwestern as one of its Top Ten Centers of Biomedical Research annually since 2006. This designation allows UT Southwestern to nominate candidates for annual awards. This year Dr. Kari Severson, a research fellow in immunology, was selected to receive a 2010 Hartwell Fellowship.

These fellowships, which went to 10 researchers nationwide, provide $50,000 per year for two years. The funds will support Dr. Severson’s research into how immunity breaks down in two diseases that may affect infants — IBD and necrotizing enterocolitis.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Lora Hooper, associate professor of immunology and microbiology in the Cancer Immunobiology Center, Dr. Severson is studying how immunity to bacteria breaks down in these two diseases and hopes to identify potential targets for new therapies.

“The Hartwell Foundation’s generous support of my research project, I hope, will someday lead to the design of novel therapeutics to fight debilitating neonatal and childhood intestinal inflammatory diseases,” said Dr. Severson.

In making the Individual Biomedical Research Awards, The Hartwell Foundation takes into account the transformative nature of the proposed innovation; the extent to which the approach will promote rapid clinical application of the research results in support of children’s health; the supportive role of collaboration; and the institutional commitment to provide encouragement and technical support to the investigators.

“Support from The Hartwell Foundation for our young investigators is a distinct honor for Drs. Suel and Severson and recognition of UT Southwestern’s status among the nation’s top biomedical research institutions,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of
UT Southwestern.

Since 2006, UT Southwestern researchers have received five individual awards, seven fellowships and one Biomedical Research Collaborative Award from The Hartwell Foundation. More information about the foundation is available on its website at

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Dr. Suel is a W.W. Caruth Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research.