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Clinical Pharmacology celebrates 50th anniversary

Jun. 13, 2013, 9:03 AM

Since it was founded in 1963, the Vanderbilt Division of Clinical Pharmacology has pioneered “translational science” and continues to transform medical practice worldwide, speakers at the division’s 50th anniversary scientific symposium said last week.

“There are few divisions that have the breadth and depth of science that is shared here in Clinical Pharmacology,” said the division’s sixth, and current, director, David Harrison, M.D.

“You can go to virtually any meeting in the nation and not learn as much science as you do during our Tuesday morning symposia,” said Harrison, the Betty and Jack Bailey Professor of Cardiology, and professor of Medicine and Pharmacology.

John Oates, M.D., the division’s founding director, credited its success to several Vanderbilt “visionaries,” among them Alan Bass, M.D., former chair of Pharmacology, Elliott Newman, M.D., who established one of the nation’s first Clinical Research Centers, and former chair of Medicine Grant Liddle, M.D.

Liddle’s stellar accomplishments in endocrinology “gave me the sense that things were possible at Vanderbilt,” said Oates, the Thomas F. Frist Sr. Professor of Medicine, professor of Pharmacology, and former chair of Medicine.

Nancy Brown, M.D., chair of Medicine and the fifth director of Clinical Pharmacology, credited the division for encouraging Vanderbilt’s “tremendous investment in mentorship and career development,” and for nurturing a culture of collaboration exemplified by establishing the first mass spectrometry core.

“Today, as we recruit investigators from other institutions, they’re amazed at what they can accomplish using shared resources,” she said.

Brown, the Hugh J. Morgan Professor of Medicine and professor of Pharmacology, described research on bradykinin, a natural vasodilator that plays a role in antihypertensive treatment by ACE inhibitors, but which also can cause inflammation and angioedema.

“Understanding the mechanisms of drugs really leads to understanding the pathophysiology and molecular biology,” she said.

In the division, individual patient cases often spark questions that lead to significant discoveries, Oates added.

For example, a careful history of a woman whose blood pressure was not controlled by a commonly used antihypertensive drug revealed she was also taking a tricyclic antidepressant, and led to the discovery that tricyclics block the antihypertensive effects of guanethidine.

Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine, who directed the division from 1992 to 2004, agreed — vociferously.

“’Idiosyncratic’ drug response … I despise this word,” said Roden, who has pioneered the pharmacogenomics of arrhythmia. “This word is a way of saying that something happened to this patient that you don’t understand.”

“Don’t use that word because it just means that you’re ignoring some giant clue that nature is giving you,” said Roden, the William Stokes Professor of Experimental Therapeutics, and professor of Medicine and Pharmacology.

Oates recalled the early days in the division, when its energy, sense of purpose and esprit de corps resembled that of “a big and boisterous family.”

“It’s clear that a prime source of scientific vitality in the division has stemmed from our graduate students and post-doctorate fellows,” he added. “Their enthusiasm, accomplishments and creativity, coupled with an extraordinary faculty, have driven discovery, and they continue to do so.”

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