Meet a PennMedicine Researcher

Brenda L. Banwell, MD

Brenda L. Banwell, MD

Brenda L. Banwell, MD, Professor of Neurology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is the winner of this year’s Lady Barbara Colyton Prize for Autoimmune Research. This award recognizes a Perelman School of Medicine faculty member who has been engaged in innovative discoveries and outstanding research in the area of autoimmune diseases. 

Dr. Banwell is internationally recognized as a leader of pediatric MS. She pioneered advances in pediatric multiple sclerosis at a time when many adult clinicians felt that pediatric MS did not exist, and pediatricians and child neurologists either failed to recognize the symptoms or diagnosed children with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Along with her colleague, Dr. Amit Bar-Or, she has examined the alterations in the pediatric immune system that incite the proinflammatory cascade, particularly immune regulation and immune-neural interaction in the context of inflammation, injury, and repair of the central nervous system. She and her team established standards for high-quality sample procurement from children, and the biorepository created through the pediatric demyelinating disease research program is an invaluable resource. A key component of her team's work has been the ability to perform comparative analyses, which have been pivotal in determining distinctions between different autoimmune disorders as well as between chronic and monophasic manifestations of inflammation in the brain. In addition, their studies have included elucidation of effector and regulatory properties of distinct immune cell (principally T cell, B cell, and myeloid cell) subsets; their interactions; and how these may contribute to inflammatory neurological diseases, primarily multiple sclerosis. This collaborative effort has established an international consortium for the understanding of autoimmune research in pediatric multiple sclerosis, and continues to translate basic science discoveries into novel experimental models including human in-vivo biological proof-of-principle studies of therapeutic mode-of-action, developments and application of biological assays to monitor diseases activity and evaluate response to treatments, and the development of clinically meaningful biomarkers for autoimmune disease. Among an impressive list of publications, honors, and awards, Dr. Banwell was the recipient of the prestigious Sidney Carter Award in Child Neurology, a lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Neurology. As one colleague noted “Dr. Banwell is a visionary who gives freely of her time to colleagues and junior faculty to advance their own academic interests…Her energy is abundant; her passion for autoimmune research is palpable; and her limits are endless.”