Kansas City,
09:33 AM

KC Star: At Children’s Mercy, a sharper focus on research; institute’s new leader arrives

Children’s Mercy Hospital suffered a setback in 2013 when Jackson County voters soundly rejected a new sales tax to fund health care research, with the largest share of the money — $20 million per year — set to go to the hospital.

But that hasn’t deterred Children’s Mercy’s drive to become a major medical research center. Last year, it created a Children’s Research Institute to coordinate the work of its scientists and physicians and to expand its research portfolio. The hospital announced this week that it has hired biologist Tom Curran, former deputy scientific director of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to lead the new institute.


I’m not interested in making Children’s Mercy the second-best or the third-best hospital research environment. I want it to be the very best because I think we owe that to our patients.
Dr. Tom Curran, Children's Mercy chief scientific officer and executive director of Children’s Mercy’s Children’s Research Institute

Curran, who still retains some of his Scottish brogue after decades in the United States, has a lengthy and distinguished resume in both academia and industry. His research has spanned molecular biology, cancer and neurobiology. Currently, his laboratory is focused on pediatric brain tumors, brain development and genomics.

Curran, 59, received his Ph.D. from London’s Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories and University College in 1982, then studied as a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute in San Diego.

After his academic training, Curran moved to the East Coast to work at Hoffmann-La Roche, a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. And from there, he went to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where he founded its department of developmental neurobiology. He moved to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2006.

Curran was just beginning this week to move into his Children’s Mercy office. His wife, Jessie Ng, also a research biologist, and 12-year-old daughter Ally will be joining him once Ally’s school year is over. The family already has gotten a look at Kansas City.

Curran was enthusiastic.

“People who never visited have no idea what it is like. You have all sorts of fantastic things,” he said. “We had a really enjoyable visit to the Kansas City Ballet. My daughter does ballet. You have an amazing ballet company. And the Kauffman Center: world class. You don’t really talk about yourselves that much.

“So I make the analogy: Children’s Mercy is like the Kansas City Royals. World champions, but who would know that? But now, people are beginning to recognize it.”

Curran spent a couple of hours with The Star for a wide-ranging discussion of his career, his thoughts about research and his plans for the Children’s Research Institute. His remarks have been edited for length and continuity. Click here to read the rest of the in-depth interview in The Kansas City Star.