Chawla family inspired to support pediatric research fund

A family photo a mother, father, and small child
The Chawla family created a research fund to support Comer Children’s.

Physician-scientists at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital conduct research into some the most daunting challenges facing children and their parents, including diseases and conditions such as cancer and epilepsy, prematurity and developmental delay, and especially for children and families on Chicago’s South Side, healthcare disparities. When Prab and Bhav Chawla decided to establish the Chawla Pediatric Research Fund at Comer Children’s, they left it to John Cunningham, MD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, to direct it toward pressing research priorities at the hospital.

Prab Chawla, a principal at Chicago-based healthcare investment firm Linden Capital Partners, noted that his day-to-day work as an investor has exposed him to many different types of diseases, particularly those facing children. This motivated him to learn more about Comer Children’s, which included spending time at the hospital with Dr. Cunningham where he and Bhav were able to observe the wide range of groundbreaking research being conducted as well as the high quality of patient care being delivered.

Born and raised in the Chicago area and of a diverse background himself, Prab noted that Comer Children’s has always stood out for its commitment to serving a diversity of patients, particularly those living in the South Side of Chicago. “Spending time at the hospital, it was evident that the patient population being served was truly diverse,” Chawla said. “This is an incredible institution not only in terms of the quality of research and patient care, but also in its unique mission to serve every child, regardless of background.”

The Chawla family’s generous long-term commitment to Comer Children’s will enable physician-scientists to pursue promising lines of research. In its first year, the fund will support studies by Erika Claud, MD, chief of the Section of Neonatology, examining how the microbiome of a premature baby—which is different from that of a baby born at term—influences its physical growth and neural development.

“Dr. Claud’s work is critical to improving outcomes for children born prematurely,” said Dr. Cunningham. “It’s not just important across the nation, but if you look at the number of children on the South Side who are born prematurely, and the challenges we have with both maternal and infant mortality, she is making a significant impact.”

“The Chawlas’ research fund provides the seed money that allows our scientists and clinical investigators to generate and test hypotheses, and make important discoveries,” said Dr. Cunningham. He added that research with early support from philanthropy can generate data and preliminary evidence critical for obtaining highly competitive national grants such as National Institutes of Health funding.

Bhav Chawla credits faith—she and her husband are practicing Sikhs, a religion which emphasizes service to humanity—as the original inspiration behind the decision to contribute to Comer Children’s. She said that the recent birth of their son only furthered their commitment to pursue philanthropy in pediatrics. “While we were in the hospital having him delivered, my husband and I could see children who were having to deal with many different complications, some of which had no real cure. It really hit home for us,” she said.

Dr. Cunningham said gifts like the Chawlas’ help fill the gap between available resources and Comer Children’s aspirations, fueling discoveries that advance healthcare for all patients. “We need philanthropy to help us get that done,” Cunningham said. “We are so fortunate to have the Chawlas as partners.”

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