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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital announces more than $50 million in funding for employee-generated transformational projects

Selected projects will accelerate mission-critical objectives, and test novel scientific and clinical approaches.

Memphis, Tennessee, August 30, 2023

Family Commons pop of art studio

The Family Commons, which opened earlier this year at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, was developed through the Blue Sky program at St. Jude. St. Jude announced several new approved and funded Blue Sky Initiatives

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital today announced it will provide more than $50 million in funding to launch and implement six new ground-breaking projects. The initiatives were identified through the organization’s Blue-Sky program, which encourages the development and submission of bold, transformational ideas by faculty and staff. The implementation of these ideas is expected to create 54 new jobs at St. Jude.

“The Blue-Sky process brings forward new and innovative ideas from employees who are actively engaged in the work being done at St. Jude,” said James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude president and CEO. “In the past, these ideas have created important initiatives such as the Department of Global Pediatric Medicine and the Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative. We look forward to the impact these most recent Blue-Sky projects will have on furthering the mission of St. Jude, advancing the field of pediatric medicine and improving global child health.”

Blue-Sky ideas can address critical patient care needs, fundamental basic science questions or administrative gaps. The program, launched in 2017, is considered an outlet for innovative ideas that are not included in the St. Jude FY 2022‒2027 Strategic Plan. Since the program was launched, employees have submitted 91 proposals, with 12 approved and funded prior to the projects being announced today. Funding for the implementation of those ideas exceeded more than $188 million.

In the latest Blue-Sky cycle, employees across departments and roles at St. Jude submitted 36 proposals for consideration. The selected projects include:

  • PTNI Genomic Medicine Initiative (GEMINI) - Bringing innovative precision medicine approaches into the clinic to treat patients with neurological disorders as part of the Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative (PTNI).
    Idea by: Richard Finkel, M.D., Center for Experimental Neurotherapeutics; Peter McKinnon, Ph.D., Center for Pediatric Neurological Disorders Research; Kristin Stephenson, PTNI Office of Strategy and Alliances; and J. Paul Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., St. Jude scientific director.
  • Partnership to Advance Development of Individualized Genomic Medicines (PARADIGM) - Using individualized genome editing to correct blood disease-causing mutations in patients’ own hematopoietic stem cells.
    Idea by: Mitch Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Hematology chair; Shengdar Tsai, Ph.D., Hematology, Marcin Wlodarski, M.D., Ph.D., Hematology; and Senthil Bhoopalan, MBBS, Ph.D., Instructor, Hematology.
  • Tracking the Immune Repertoire of Tumor Lymphocytes (TIRTL) - A project to generate, store and analyze immune receptor repertoire data from pediatric oncology and hematology patients that would help improve the efficiency of protocols and the development of cancer immune therapies.
    Idea by: Paul Thomas, Ph.D., Department of Immunology. 
  • Strategic Milestones and Research Training (SMaRT) Plan for Career Advancement Program - Addressing the career challenges that many postdocs face by providing them focused and structured training plans, mentorship offerings and career development opportunities.
    Idea by Sally McIver, Ph.D., Academic Programs.
  • St. Jude Historical Archive - A historical archive that would create a uniform approach to collecting, preserving and documenting the institution’s past and legacy.
    Idea by: Elizabeth Whittington and Summer Freeman, Executive Communications; and Robert Britton, Biomedical Library.
  • Diagnostic Innovations using Value-based implementation models to Increase Access (DIVIA) – Assess the potential of a molecular diagnostic platform that can be used globally for children with cancer to improve clinical outcomes worldwide.
    Idea by: Nickhill Bhakta, M.D., director of Sub-Saharan Africa Region, St. Jude Global; Charles Mullighan, MBBS, M.D., Deputy Director, St. Jude Cancer Center; Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, M.D., executive vice president/chair St. Jude Global; David Ellison, M.D., Ph.D., chair Department of Pathology; Gang Wu, Ph.D., director Center for Applied Bioinformatics.

“The Blue-Sky process results in many of the world-changing ideas that St. Jude is proud to foster and contribute to the understanding and treatment of catastrophic pediatric diseases,” said Shari Capers, Strategic Planning & Decision Support senior vice president. “This process was created to foster identification of innovative ideas that evolve during the current strategic plan timeline by engaging employees to develop their ideas and collaborate across traditional departments and disciplines.”

Blue-Sky projects amplify the strength of innovation and collaboration and help St. Jude accelerate mission-critical approaches to the research and treatment of catastrophic childhood diseases. This past cycle, different ideas were submitted to the Strategic Planning and Decision Support Office using an online tool that allows for the St. Jude community to read and comment on the proposals. An interactive review process refined ideas and then they are presented to executive leadership. Previously funded projects include Family Commons, a private, clinical-free space where patients and families can relax between appointments at the hospital; the HPV Cancer Prevention Program; and a project to leverage ultra-high field nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to detect and characterize rare conformational states in protein kinases.


St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening disorders. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 60 years ago. St. Jude shares the breakthroughs it makes to help doctors and researchers at local hospitals and cancer centers around the world improve the quality of treatment and care for even more children. To learn more, visit, read St. Jude Progress, a digital magazine, and follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.