discoveries magazine

Three Questions With Dr. Ophir Klein, PhD

Cedars-Sinai executive director of Cedars-Sinai Pediatrics, Dr. Ophir Klein, PhD.

Dr. Ophir Klein, PhD, is the inaugural executive director of Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s, a new initiative that will offer the full spectrum of pediatric specialties as well as a robust research program and training for future pediatricians. We asked Dr. Klein, the David and Meredith Kaplan Distinguished Chair in Children’s Health, what the future of pediatric care might look like.

Is there an area of pediatrics that particularly requires the attention of the medical community in the next 10 years?

One of the most important areas for us to think about is the childhood roots of adult disease. Whether they’re infectious, environmental or societal, many of the impacts that children experience are important in determining the course of their future health. There is intriguing evidence that early childhood events are at the root of several different adult illnesses. What we do isn’t just important for children, but also for the adults they will become.

How do you think innovations in vaccine development and delivery will impact childhood diseases?

Hopefully, one long-term result of the pandemic is that it will give a boost to vaccine development; this will not only help us deal with emerging diseases that can impact us locally but also will address diseases in underdeveloped regions of the world. There are many parts of the world where infectious disease plays a huge role in childhood illness and mortality. Part of our mission as clinician-scientists is to think globally; it’s an important part of medical research.

What research avenues are you pursuing?

My laboratory is interested in figuring out how organs form in the embryo, and how they renew and regenerate in the adult. We call this field developmental and stem cell biology. We focus on craniofacial development and intestinal biology. These days, we’re interested in questions of cell identity and fate: How does a cell determine who it is and what it does? How is this identity malleable in the face of damage and regeneration? For example, in inflammatory bowel disease, we study the stem cells in the gut and try to understand how they sense there’s been an inflammatory flare and how their neighbors respond to these insults. If you understand how cells sense what’s going on around them and how they react to differences, then it enables you to think about how you could evoke different or better responses from them under conditions of damage. When you have inflammation, a neighboring cell’s response might be to further rev up, but it would be more helpful if it calmed the inflammation.