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Cassat lands Burroughs Wellcome Fund award

Jul. 31, 2014, 9:30 AM

James Cassat, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, has received a Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) Career Award for Medical Scientists.

James Cassat, M.D., Ph.D.

The award provides $700,000 over five years to physician-scientists “who are committed to an academic career, to bridge advanced postdoctoral/fellowship training and the early years of faculty service,” according to BWF. Cassat is one of 12 physician-scientists around the country to receive the award this year.

Cassat joined the Vanderbilt faculty this summer, after completing both a residency in Pediatrics and a Pediatric Infectious Diseases fellowship at Vanderbilt. His research will focus on understanding host-pathogen interactions during osteomyelitis, an invasive infection of bone that is one of the most common invasive infections in children.

He will also investigate how infection and inflammation impact bone homeostasis.

“I’m really excited to receive this award as I launch my new lab,” Cassat said. “I am indebted to the Burroughs Wellcome Fund not only for this award, but also for previously funding my mentor, Dr. Eric Skaar. Because Dr. Skaar also received a BWF award, he had much more flexibility to allow me to build a completely new research project from the ground up, and to take the whole project with me to my new lab.

“I envision that this award will similarly allow me to expand my research focus into new areas of bone biology and host-pathogen interactions.”

During his fellowship, Cassat focused on identifying how Staphylococcus aureus — the most common cause of osteomyelitis — causes bone infection and bone destruction.

Together with the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science and the Vanderbilt Center for Bone Biology, he developed new tools to investigate bacterial-host interactions and uncovered bacterial factors that trigger bone cell death and bone destruction. Those findings, and continuing studies, could point to new therapeutic targets to treat osteomyelitis.

“As a Pediatric Infectious Disease physician, I am excited that the BWF award will help to translate our experimental findings into new therapies for children suffering from invasive infections,” Cassat said.

Cassat completed his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, where he received multiple scholarships and awards.

At Vanderbilt, he received the David Karzon, M.D. Award for Resident Research and was twice recognized as having the Best Basic Science Poster at the annual VUMC Research Forum.

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