Philanthropy at Work: Meet Our Newest Endowed Scientists

February 12, 2019


Endowed Research Scholars (from left to right) Oren J. Becher, MD; Ruchi S. Gupta, MD, MPH; Monica M. Laronda, PhD.

Six scientists from the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Lurie Children’s were invested with endowed positions in two separate ceremonies. Research endowments are made possible by philanthropy, and are crucial to our ability to become an elite center for pediatric biomedical research. They provide essential funding for innovative research, and support for recruiting, educating and retaining talented scientists and physician-scientists.

Researcher scholars honored at the first ceremony included:

  • Oren J. Becher, MD, the Rory David Deutsch Malignant Brain Tumor Research Scholar. Dr. Becher specializes in research into Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), an aggressive brain tumor that has no cure. His lab developed the first genetically-engineered mouse model of DIPG, faithfully replicating the human disease in children, enabling him to better identify molecular drug targets to suppress tumor growth.
  • Ruchi S. Gupta, MD, MPH, the Mary Ann and J. Milburn Smith Research Professor for a Sr. Scientist in Child Health Research. She is internationally recognized for her research on food allergy and asthma, and has partnered with the Chicago Public Schools to make epinephrine auto injectors available in all schools.
  • Monica M. Laronda, PhD, the Warren and Eloise Batts Research Scholar. Dr. Laronda was able to restore fertility and hormone function in a mouse model using a 3-D printed bioengineered ovary. Her ultimate goal is to create an artificial human ovary for transplantation to restore fertility in survivors of pediatric cancer.


Endowed Research Scholars (from left to right) Xiao-Nan Li, MD, PhD; Christine J. DiDonato, PhD; Youyang Zhao, PhD

Honored at the second investiture ceremony were:

  • Christine J. DiDonato, PhD, the Children’s Research Fund Professor in Neurobiology. Her research is focused on understanding the molecular basis of human genetic diseases in order to develop therapies for their treatment. Dr. DiDonato’s primary interest is in devastating neuromuscular diseases like spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which has no cure.
  • Xiao-Nan Li, MD, PhD, the Rachelle and Mark Gordon Endowed Professor in Cancer Research. Dr. Li is an acclaimed cancer biologist, who pioneered the development of molecularly accurate animal models of pediatric brain tumors. He seeks to identify new drug combinations that can significantly prolong survival and determine if genetic abnormalities help predict how tumors will respond to drugs.
  • Youyang Zhao, PhD, the William G. Swartchild, Jr. Distinguished Research Professor. Dr. Zhao’s lab employs state-of-the art technologies, including genomic editing and nanotechnology, to study the molecular mechanisms of several devastating diseases, including acute lung injury and pulmonary arterial hypertension.