January 25, 2018

Directorships honor VUMC’s critical missions

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) on Monday held its first Directorship Celebration to honor and support eight of its leaders in clinical care, research, education and administration.

Holders of the new directorships at VUMC are, from left, Laura Wayman, MD, Eric Delpire, PhD, Ashish Shah, MD, Richard Miller, MD, Wonder Puryear Drake, MD, Madan Jagasia, MBBS, MMHC, Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, and Stephan Heckers, MD, MSc. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) on Monday held its first Directorship Celebration to honor and support eight of its leaders in clinical care, research, education and administration.

“These directorships are critical to our entire institution, as they make it possible for us to fulfill our role as a national leader in healthcare,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM).

Holders of the new endowed directorships are:

  • Madan Jagasia, MBBS, MMHC, MS, holder of the Beverly and George Rawlings Directorship;
  • Ashish Shah, MD, holder of the Alfred Blalock Directorship in Cardiac Surgery;
  • Richard Miller, MD, holder of the Carol Ann Gavin Directorship in Trauma and Surgical Critical Care;
  • Laura Wayman, MD, holder of the James Elliott Directorship in Resident Education;
  • Wonder Puryear Drake, MD, holder of the Robert A. Goodwin, Jr., MD, Directorship in Medicine;
  • Eric Delpire, PhD, holder of the B.H. Robbins Directorship in Anesthesiology Research;
  • Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, holder of the Brock Family Directorship in Career Development; and
  • Stephan Heckers, MD, MSc, holder of the Donald and Charlotte Test Clinical Directorship in Psychosis Programs.

Some of the directorships are funded by the Medical Center, while others were created and endowed thanks to the generous donations of individuals and their families who support the VUMC mission.

Pietenpol, VUMC’s Executive Vice President for Research and director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC), introduced the first recipient.

Jagasia is section chief of Hematology and Stem Cell Transplant, director of the Outpatient Transplant Program and executive medical director of the cancer patient care center at VICC.

Under his co-leadership of the Translational Research and Interventional Oncology Research Program, VICC was selected last year as one of the nation’s first cancer centers to administer a groundbreaking immunotherapy to patients.

Jagasia leads VICC’s “first-in-human” team, which is investigating a new cellular therapy for cases of the blood cancer myeloma that are resistant to standard treatment. He is the founding investigator of a consortium to study graft-versus-host disease, a complication of stem cell transplants.

“His expertise has brought our stem cell transplant program to national prominence,” Pietenpol said. “This pioneering work not only advances the care of those currently undergoing treatment, it also opens doors to the prospect of more cancer cures.”

Beverly and George Rawlings established Jagasia’s directorship to support his work and discoveries, which are advancing understanding and treatment of myeloma. They attended Monday’s celebration.

Daniel Beauchamp, MD, chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences, Surgeon-in-Chief of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and deputy director of VICC, introduced the second and third recipients.

Shah directs the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute’s Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program, which last year brought VUMC into an elite group of centers nationwide that have performed 1,000 heart transplants.

Shah’s research interests focus on arrhythmia, heart failure and organ reconditioning, and on paradigm-shifting technology aimed at structural heart disease and physiologic monitoring of the circulation to allow for better care of patients.

In 2016, he was appointed chair of the Department of Cardiac Surgery, where he has encouraged both the enrichment of the educational experience for residents and fellows and the highly collaborative environment between Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery.

His efforts have strengthened VUMC’s position as a provider of “leading-edge” cardiac care, Beauchamp said.

Shah’s directorship, established by VUMC, honors the late Alfred Blalock, MD, whose pioneering research on the mechanisms and treatment of surgical shock saved many lives during World War II.

Miller is chief of Vanderbilt’s Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, the only Level 1 Trauma Center in Middle Tennessee.

He also serves as medical director of the Trauma Intensive Care Unit and director of Trauma Education, and leads performance improvement and quality initiatives for the trauma center and Vanderbilt’s LifeFlight program.

Miller is a nationally recognized expert in damage control resuscitation and the management and reconstruction of complex abdominal wall defects. He also co-leads Vanderbilt’s participation in a nationwide effort supported by the Department of Defense to improve trauma care for both U.S. civilians and military personnel.

The directorship was established by Charles E. Gavin III to honor the memory of his late wife, Carol Ann, and to support Miller’s leadership. The gift acknowledges the life-saving care Mrs. Gavin received in 2010 from Miller and his team. Gavin attended Monday’s ceremony.

Paul Sternberg Jr., MD, VUMC’s Chief Medical Officer and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, introduced Wayman, vice chair for Education and director of Resident Education in the Vanderbilt Eye Institute.

In 2014, she was awarded the Straatsma Award for Excellence in Resident Education from the American Academy for Ophthalmology and the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology — the profession’s highest honor for educators.

Under her leadership, “a new combined internship and residency program has been developed that includes earlier experience in the field of ophthalmology and expands the extent of training a Vanderbilt resident receives,” Sternberg said. She has increased faculty involvement in didactic and patient-side teaching and encouraged active mentorship of residents.

“Thanks to Dr. Wayman’s innovative approach, she has ensured these residents receive the superb training necessary to lead the future of ophthalmology,” he said.

Wayman’s directorship was established by VUMC in honor of the late James H. Elliott, MD, Vanderbilt’s first full-time ophthalmologist and inaugural chair of the Department of Ophthalmology.

Nancy Brown, MD, VUMC’s Physician-in-Chief and chair of the Department of Medicine, introduced Drake, a national expert on sarcoidosis, a disease characterized by the development of clusters of immune cells in organs such as the lungs, lymph nodes and skin that can lead to long-term complications.

Based on her research that suggests a role for mycobacterial antigens in triggering an immune response in the disease, Drake is now leading a Phase II clinical trial of anti-mycobacterial therapy in pulmonary sarcoidosis. In 2016 she was appointed founding director of the Sarcoidosis Center of Excellence.

Drake is a role model for young physician-scientists and a leader in promoting diversity in the profession. She also co-directs the Vanderbilt Partnership in Actively Retaining Talented Early-career Researchers, also called the Doris Duke Partners Program.

Her directorship was established by VUMC to honor the late Robert A. Goodwin Jr., MD, a pioneer in the treatment of mycobacterial disease who was a member of the Vanderbilt faculty from 1947 to 1974.

Warren Sandberg, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, introduced

Delpire, internationally recognized for his research in the field of membrane transport in the nervous system and kidney, and for his expertise in developing transgenic mouse models.

By better understanding the function of proteins that move sodium, potassium and chloride ions across the cell membrane, targeted therapeutic interventions may be developed to treat and prevent diseases such as epilepsy, nerve degeneration and high blood pressure.

As director of the Anesthesiology Basic Science Research Division, Delpire has recruited top-tier scientists and increased grant support from the National Institutes of Health to $5 million per year — the largest amount ever awarded to the department, Sandberg said.

He also secured the department’s first T32 training grant to support the training and development of the next generation of physician-scientists in anesthesiology.

Delpire’s directorship was established by VUMC in honor of the late Benjamin H. Robbins, MD, who established the Department of Anesthesiology as chair in 1946.

David Raiford, MD, VUMC’s Chief of Clinical Staff and senior associate dean for Faculty Affairs in the School of Medicine, introduced the final two directorship holders of the afternoon —Pietenpol and Heckers, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Pietenpol is a prominent investigator whose genomic research is leading to better understanding of triple-negative breast cancer and new treatment options for patients.

As VICC director since 2008, she led two successful renewals of VICC’s designation by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center. One of 47 comprehensive centers in the country, VICC is the only one in Tennessee that treats both adults and children.

“Her leadership is propelling us into a new era of cancer medicine through pioneering research and innovations in patient care,” Raiford said.

“As Executive Vice President for Research, Dr. Pietenpol ensures that investments are made to advance groundbreaking discoveries,” he added.

Mary and John Brock III, who attended Monday’s ceremony, established the directorship with their children, Rebecca Brock-Dixon, John Brock IV and Major Brock, to support efforts by Pietenpol to develop and mentor leaders who will advance innovation and discovery to improve cancer care.

Heckers is an expert in schizophrenia who leads the treatment of 700 psychosis patients each year at Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital.

As a researcher, Heckers applies neuroimaging and cellular and molecular methods to study the neural basis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He also directs the Vanderbilt Early Psychosis Program.

Heckers’ directorship is named for Charlotte Test and her late husband Donald Test of Dallas, who have supported the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences for several years.

Donald Test’s late sons William and Henry were diagnosed with schizophrenia as teenagers and were treated by Dallas psychiatrist Jack Martin, MD, a 1953 graduate of VUSM.

“Through the Tests’ generous support, Dr. Heckers and our researchers and clinicians will be better able to treat patients experiencing their first episode of the disease,” Raiford said. “Early diagnosis and treatment is vital to better outcomes.”