The Hartwell Foundation honors two UT Southwestern researchers

By Deborah Wormser

Dr. Neal Alto
Dr. Neal Alto

The Hartwell Foundation has selected Dr. Neal Alto, Assistant Professor of Microbiology, for a 2011 Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award to investigate new strategies to fight childhood cancer.

The Hartwell Award provides $100,000 per year in direct costs over three years. UT Southwestern also received a Hartwell Fellowship to fund one postdoctoral candidate who exemplifies the foundation’s values. The fellowship provides support for two years at $50,000 in direct costs per year.

“While cancer can be devastating for anyone, it presents unique problems for children, who are more susceptible to the side effects associated with conventional treatment,” said Dr. Alto, who will work to identify new cancer targets using biologically derived toxins with the potential to kill tumor cells while limiting side effects.

“Selection by The Hartwell Foundation is a great honor, one that will provide the funding necessary to launch this project as well as the support and inspiration to see it through to fruition,” he added.

“Developing new therapeutic strategies that selectively eradicate tumors while sparing normal tissue from damage would vastly improve children’s survival rates and their future quality of life,” said Dr. Fred Dombrose, President of The Harwell Foundation. “To address this unmet need, Dr. Alto proposes a novel hypothesis with the potential to be paradigm-changing: Cancer growth and proliferation can be inhibited selectively through cellular expression of bacterial toxins.”

Dr. Christopher Robinson
Dr. Christopher Robinson

Dr. Christopher Robinson, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of his mentor, Dr. Julie Pfeiffer, Assistant Professor of Microbiology, received a Hartwell Foundation Fellowship to study intestinal viral infections. Building on a recent study in Science that Dr. Pfeiffer authored, Dr. Robinson aims to identify mechanisms by which bacteria within the gut enhance viral infections.

The Hartwell Foundation provides financial support for innovative, early-stage, cutting-edge biomedical research to benefit children in the United States. In selecting awardees, The Hartwell Foundation takes into account the nature of the proposed innovation, the extent to which a strategic or translational approach might promote rapid clinical application of research results, the supportive role and extent of collaboration in the proposed research, the institutional commitment to provide encouragement and technical support to the investigator, and the extent to which funding the investigator will make a difference.

UT Southwestern researchers interested in competing for Hartwell funding should contact Dr. J. Gregory Fitz, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost and Dean of UT Southwestern Medical School. Learn more about The Hartwell Foundation.


Dr. Alto is a Rita C. and William P. Clements, Jr. Scholar in Medical Research.

Dr. Fitz holds the Nadine and Tom Craddick Distinguished Chair in Medical Science, and the Atticus James Gill, M.D., Chair in Medical Science.