Three researchers from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics were honored at the 15th presentation of the Micah Batchelor Awards for Excellence in Children’s Health Research. The awards were created to inspire high-impact discovery to improve the health and well-being of children.
Shu Wu, M.D., a leader and mentor in the field of neonatology and lung development, was named the 2019 recipient of the Micah Batchelor Award for Excellence at the Nov. 7 ceremony. She is a two-time recipient, having won the award in 2008.
“This has been an unexpected and wonderful surprise,” said Dr. Wu, professor of pediatrics and the director of the Neonatal Development Biology Laboratory in the Division of Neonatology. “This award will allow us to conduct a translational research project that will study how lung injury contributes to brain injury and neurodevelopmental impairment in premature infants.”
The ceremony also honored Marissa DeFreitas, M.D., and Augusto Schmidt, M.D., Ph.D., as recipients of the 2019 Micah Batchelor Scholar Awards, which recognize early-career faculty who are exploring innovative strategies to improve health outcomes for children.
George E. Batchelor, an aviation entrepreneur and philanthropist, made significant contributions through The Batchelor Foundation to benefit children’s health. In 2014, he established the Micah Batchelor Award for Excellence in Children’s Health and Research in memory of this grandson, Micah.
“It is the enduring gift of $10 million from the Micah Batchelor Endowment that helps support the brilliant research of our scientists,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School. He acknowledged the Foundation’s second gift of $5 million to that endowment in 2014, which expanded the number of awards to include investigators in the early stages of their careers.
The Batchelor Foundation is one of the University of Miami’s largest donors. The Foundation’s philanthropy includes a $10 million gift in 2001 that led to the dedication of the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute, where the event was held.
University of Miami President Julio Frenk addressed the award recipients directly, while reflecting on The Batchelor Foundation’s long-term impact. “You are very talented researchers, you point the way to the future, you reflect the excellence and the relevance to which the University continuously aspires, and your work provides families with hope,” President Frenk said.
He further outlined the impact of the endowment. “Endowments like this allow us to attract the best minds to this University,” he said. “It also advances our strategic imperatives of mission-driven research and of leading the health care transformation for our strategic goals for the University’s centennial in 2025. This is a way of building a lasting legacy, a legacy that will extend in perpetuity.”
Foundation trustee Jon Batchelor, who is also a University of Miami trustee, attended the ceremony along with his daughter, Carolyn, Batchelor Foundation co-CEO Dan Ferraresi, and Micah Batchelor’s brother, George Steven.
When accepting the award, Dr. Wu noted that while there is an increase in the number of premature infants surviving, an effective therapy for lung or brain injury in these vulnerable patients remains elusive.
“My hope is that the completion of this project will provide a strong foundation for further therapeutic interventions to improve neurodevelopment outcomes for premature infants,” Dr. Wu said.
Dr. Wu completed a pediatric residency and neonatology fellowship at the Miller School of Medicine from 1998 to 2003 and joined the faculty of the Department of Pediatrics in 2003. Since then, she has been working as an attending physician in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and has conducted translational research in the areas of neonatal lung and brain injury. Dr. Wu received her medical degree in China and completed a residency at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing.
Dr. Wu’s mentor, Eduardo Bancalari, M.D., professor of pediatrics and director of the Division of Neonatology, was also in attendance, as were former Micah Batchelor Award winners including neonatology’s Karen Young, M.D., Emmalee Bandstra, M.D., and Nelson Claure, Ph.D.
Dr. DeFreitas, a Batchelor Scholar Award winner, is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Nephrology in the Department of Pediatrics.
“I am extremely grateful to receive the Micah Batchelor Scholar Award and look forward to it paving the way toward independence in research that will benefit infants at risk of future cardiovascular and renal disease,” she said.
Dr. DeFreitas received her medical degree from the University of Chicago. She completed her residency training in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, followed by fellowship training in pediatric nephrology at Jackson Memorial Hospital/Holtz Children's Hospital, in affiliation with the Miller School of Medicine.
Dr. Schmidt, also a Batchelor Scholar Award recipient, said, “Receiving this award is an honor for junior faculty and it will allow me to further expand my research into understanding the effects of mechanical ventilation on vulnerable preterm brain development.”
Dr. Schmidt is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics. During his residency, he was recognized with the House Officer Basic Science Research Award from the Society for Pediatric Research for his work on animal models of congenital diseases. More recently, he was a co-investigator on a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
He earned his medical degree from the University of Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil, and completed his pediatrics residency and neonatology training at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
“Our physician-researchers are poised to gain new knowledge through life-saving and life-changing science to dramatically improve how we care for children in our communities and around the word,” said Judy Schaechter, M.D., M.B.A., chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Miller School, the George E. Batchelor Endowed Chair in Child Health, and chief of service at Holtz Children’s Hospital, Jackson Health System.