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Year in review: 2014 a year of accomplishments, milestones for VUMC

Dec. 18, 2014, 9:31 AM

Editor’s note — the following is a roundup of the news that made headlines at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2014.

NIH funding climbs

According to annual figures available through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) ranked ninth in the nation among U.S. medical schools in total grant support provided through the nation’s medical research agency.

Receiving $292,413,440 in NIH grant support during calendar year 2013, VUSM moved up four places from its 2012 ranking by adding an additional $5,723,560 in funding.
NIH funding support is considered a key indicator of an institution’s overall strength in biomedical research.

RSV finding

Vanderbilt scientists contributed to a major finding, reported in the journal Nature, which could lead to the first effective vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a significant cause of infant mortality.

The scientists and others analyzed in an animal model a new method developed at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, Calif., for designing artificial proteins capable of stimulating an immune response against RSV.

The virus, which worldwide causes nearly 7 percent of all deaths among children ages 1 month to 1 year and is the leading cause of hospitalizations among children under 2, has been notoriously resistant to vaccine-design strategies.

Clinical Data Research Network

Vanderbilt University Medical Center received an 18-month, $6.9 million award to set up a Clinical Data Research Network (CDRN) that can reach millions of patients and speed the translation of research findings into clinical practice.

Vanderbilt’s award will establish the Mid-South CDRN. It is one of 11 such awards recently announced by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), an independent, non-profit organization authorized by Congress in 2010 to fund research aimed at improving the health of entire populations.

DARPA grant

Vanderbilt was awarded a Cooperative Agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Army Research Office (ARO) that is worth up to $16.5 million over five years.

As part of the Rapid Threat Assessment program, Vanderbilt will seek to develop mass spectrometry methods for quickly determining how potentially toxic agents, including drugs, affect human cells.

Ebola research

Vanderbilt researchers are collaborating in a multi-center, NIH-funded project to develop ways to treat and prevent the highly lethal Ebola and Marburg virus infections.

Thomas Geisbert, Ph.D., professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, is principal investigator.

His collaborators are James Crowe Jr., M.D., who directs the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center; John Eldridge, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of Profectus Biosciences in Baltimore; Ian MacLachlan, Ph.D., executive vice president of the Canadian firm Tekmira Pharmaceuticals; and UTMB’s Alexander Bukreyev, Ph.D.

The grant will provide up to $26 million over five years to establish a collaborative Center of Excellence for Translational Research (CETR) that will develop and test new vaccines and broad-spectrum treatments for the two filoviruses.

MTAShare

VUMC has launched an automated system for processing and managing Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs), which govern the transfer of biological materials, chemicals, human tissue samples and other materials between institutions to facilitate academic research.

The new system, called MTAShare, is in use at Vanderbilt and is available to research institutions nationwide.

The system can significantly speed the pace of research, said Alan Bentley, assistant vice chancellor for Technology Transfer in the Vanderbilt Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization (CTTC).

Affiliation agreement

Executives from Sumner Regional Medical Center (SRMC) and Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) announced that the hospitals finalized an affiliation agreement that will enhance access to health care services for the residents of Sumner County and the surrounding region.

The affiliation between Sumner Regional and Vanderbilt puts into place the immediate ability to form new programs to be shared between the two hospitals and provides opportunities to collaborate to create a comprehensive, integrated and clinically coordinated system that improves health care access throughout Sumner Regional’s service area.

Celgene partnership

Vanderbilt University formed a scientific partnership with Celgene Corp. to investigate new uses for the company’s anti-inflammatory drugs that are already on the market.

This partnership will make use of Vanderbilt’s DNA databank, BioVU, and leverages its faculty expertise in informatics and data mining. A key goal is to identify potential new patient populations that may benefit from drugs previously approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The restoration of the Vanderbilt University Hospital plaza will include an all new surface, additional seating and redesigned landscaping.

VUH plaza restoration

One of VUMC’s most familiar landmarks, the plaza behind Vanderbilt University Hospital (VUH), is undergoing restoration.

The VUH plaza is a major outdoor thoroughfare for tens of thousands of pedestrians each day, with its surface and existing architecture, including its planters, encompassing approximately 58,000 square feet of space.

1 of the plaza’s multi-phase restoration process began in March. The remainder of the restoration will be completed in 10 phases to allow for the plaza’s continued use throughout construction, which is expected to be complete by the fall of 2015.

Renewed focus on Elevate

Affirming that its people are VUMC’s most important asset, officials announced a a renewed focus to Elevate, a Medical Center cultural touchstone.

“The purpose of renewing our commitment to the core principles of Elevate is to make the Medical Center a better place for all employees to work, for physicians to practice medicine and for our patients to receive care. Our goal is to have a workforce that feels more valued and satisfied, enjoys coming to work each day and believes they are making a difference,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs.

Javits Award

Vanderbilt’s P. Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., won a Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for discoveries that could lead to new treatments for anxiety, schizophrenia and other brain disorders.

The award provides up to seven years of research funding to scientists “with a history of exceptional talent, imagination and preeminent scientific achievement.”

Conn is the Lee E. Limbird Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD). He said the funding will enable him and his colleagues to pursue provocative recent discoveries involving a specific family of brain receptors that bind glutamate.

Cholesterol clues

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as “good cholesterol” because elevated levels protect against heart attacks and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up). However, in some cases HDL may not function properly and may actually accelerate the disease.

MacRae Linton, M.D., who directs the Vanderbilt Lipid Clinic, is principal investigator of a five-year, $11.8 million federal grant to find out why.

Program project grant HL116263, awarded this summer by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), focuses on three disorders with elevated heart disease risk — rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, and familial hypercholesterolemia (FH).

Regenerative visual neuroscience initiative

Vanderbilt University launched a regenerative visual neuroscience initiative to develop new ways of treating — and restoring sight to — people who have been blinded by glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and eye injuries.

The initiative is being led by David Calkins, Ph.D., the Denis M. O’Day, M.B.B.S., Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and vice chair and director for Research of the Vanderbilt Eye Institute.

Children’s Hospital launches Growing to New Heights

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt launched the “Growing to New Heights” fundraising campaign in support of a four-floor building expansion that will help advance the size and scope of the hospital’s specialized pediatric health care programs.

The cornerstone of the campaign is a $10 million gift from the daughters of Monroe Carell Jr., the hospital’s namesake, and his wife Ann Scott Carell, both now deceased. The gift was given by Kathryn Carell Brown, Julie Carell Stadler, and Edie Carell Johnson and their families.

The goal is to raise $30 million over three years to create funds that will support the total estimated cost of the building’s $100 million expansion.

During the leadership phase of the campaign, $17.7 million was committed, representing nearly 60 percent of the fundraising goal.

The new construction, when fully completed, will add 160,000 square feet of additional space atop the hospital’s existing structure. The new space will provide the necessary square footage to meet the future health care needs of the children and families of Tennessee and across the nation.

Brown, Crowe elected to Institute of Medicine

Vanderbilt University’s Nancy J. Brown, M.D., chair and physician-in-chief of the Department of Medicine, and James E. Crowe Jr., M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, were among 70 new members elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the organization announced this week.

VU, VUMC forge new path

Vanderbilt announced the institution is embarking on a process to re-configure VUMC as a not-for-profit academic medical center that is financially distinct from Vanderbilt University.

The two organizations will remain tightly woven together by mission, academic programs and the respected Vanderbilt name.

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs, will lead the reconfigured VUMC, and will also continue to serve as dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The move will give the Medical Center increased financial independence while preserving and growing the institution’s longstanding history of collaboration that has resulted in Vanderbilt’s excellence in research, education and health care.

The primary goal of the restructuring, which was the result of a yearlong study by the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust, is to provide the Medical Center with a greater ability to adapt to health care’s rapidly changing financial environment.

Currently the Medical Center is among the few entirely embedded within a university’s legal and financial structure, with the same governing board.

Flu vaccination plan revised

In an effort to protect both employees and patients at Vanderbilt University Medical Center from potential harm, the Medical Center revised its influenza vaccination plan and mandating the influenza vaccine for all VUMC employees.

The mandatory program applies to all VUMC employees, faculty, staff, residents and fellows, temporary workers, trainees, volunteers, students, vendors and voluntary medical staff.

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