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Sweatt named chair of Department of Pharmacology

Mar. 10, 2016, 10:37 AM

J. David Sweatt, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair of the Department of Neurobiology, director of the Civitan International Research Center, and director of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, has been named chair of Vanderbilt’s Department of Pharmacology.

J. David Sweatt, Ph.D.

Sweatt will join the department, ranked fifth in grant funding last year by the National Institutes of Health, on Aug. 16.

A leading figure in research on the mechanisms of learning and memory and a pioneer in the role of epigenetics in neuropharmacology, Sweatt earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of South Alabama in 1981, and, under the guidance of Lee Limbird, Ph.D., former associate vice chancellor for Research and chair of the Department of Pharmacology, received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt in 1986.

Sweatt also served his first post-doctoral year at Vanderbilt working with Peter Reed, Ph.D., and then did further post-doctoral training in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, M.D., at Columbia University.

Sweatt’s research program investigates the mechanisms of learning and memory disorders, such as mental retardation and aging-related memory dysfunction. His laboratory uses knockout and transgenic mice to investigate signal transduction mechanisms in the hippocampus, a brain region known to be critical for higher-order memory formation in animals and humans.

“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Sweatt back to Vanderbilt into this important leadership role. Having trained here, David is familiar with our institution’s rich history and the legacy of the department he will chair. With his distinguished career in both the laboratory setting and in top administrative positions at other academic medical centers, he is well prepared,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Sweatt replaces Heidi Hamm, Ph.D., who stepped down as chair in 2014 after leading the department for 13 years. Joey Barnett, Ph.D., has been acting as interim chair of the department.

“I want to express my sincere appreciation to Dr. Barnett for his time, energy and commitment to the department while serving as interim chair. I also want to express my appreciation to the search committee for their important work to identify Dr. Hamm’s successor,” said Balser.

“Dr. Sweatt is a proven leader in building and growing strong trans-institutional programs and he joins Vanderbilt at an exciting time,” said Susan Wente, Ph.D., Provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs.

“The combination of his renowned expertise in research and education combined with our multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach to discovery will take the department and, more broadly, the University, to the next level.”

Larry Marnett, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences, said Sweatt brings exciting new research and educational directions to Vanderbilt.

“I’m thrilled we could attract a scientist and leader of his stature to guide the evolution of our great Pharmacology department,” he said.

Prior to his tenure at UAB, Sweatt spent 17 years at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

“I am both deeply honored and exceptionally excited to have the opportunity to become the chair of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt. It is the best Pharmacology department in the country, at the best university in the country,” said Sweatt.

“The vision for the department is to excel in research, lead the academic discipline of Pharmacology and innovate in education and training of the next generation of scientists. I look forward to guiding the department using a collaborative team approach, and to synergizing with the outstanding faculty in the School of Medicine and the broader University.”

Joining Sweatt in Nashville will be his wife, Kim Strifert. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in Theology, and is a visual artist and painter who has been shown in a number of competitive, juried shows nationally. The couple met at Baylor, where Strifert was the administrator of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and subsequently in charge of strategic planning for the school.

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