Global Health

July 18, 2019

Denison named director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases

Mark Denison, MD, has been named director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in the Vanderbilt Department of Pediatrics.


by Christina Echegaray

Mark Denison, MD, Craig-Weaver Professor of Pediatrics, has been named director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in the Vanderbilt Department of Pediatrics.

Mark Denison, MD

Denison’s appointment follows an extensive national search by a selection committee chaired by Scott Baldwin, MD, and including David Aronoff, MD, Susan Guttentag, MD, Simon Mallal, MBBS, Lisa Young, MD, and Bill Cooper, MD.

“I am delighted that Mark has accepted my offer to serve as the next director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases within our department,” said Steven Webber, MBChB, MRCP, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, pediatrician-in-chief of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and James C. Overall Professor. “Mark has the perfect balance of skills, experience and international recognition to lead the division. He has cast an exciting vision for the division that will lead it into the future.”

Denison, who also is professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, and director of the Lamb Center for Pediatric Research, succeeds Terry Dermody, MD, and Peter Wright, MD, who previously led the division during Denison’s years at Vanderbilt.

“Over the past 28 years I have been fortunate to be part of the division as it has been one of the premier programs in the country. I now have the unique opportunity to work with our faculty to build on the vision and success of Peter and Terry as well as current world leaders in Peds ID such as Kathy Edwards. I am grateful to the selection committee and Dr. Webber for putting their faith in me to be a ‘player-coach’ with such an exceptional team of investigators, clinicians and teachers. I also get to partner with division leaders in the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program, the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, and the Institute for Global Health,” Denison said.

“Dr. Webber and VUMC leadership have a bold vision for building research and training. They have committed to substantial new research space that will allow us to grow our current research programs and develop new ones. Its co-location in the same tower as Medicine Infectious Diseases and the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation is a long-held goal of our division, now coming to fruition. I hope I can live up to and extend the truly phenomenal success of the division to this point,” he added.

Denison earned a BA in chemistry and English from the University of Kansas and his medical degree from the University of Kansas School of Medicine. He completed a residency in pediatrics and fellowship in pediatric infectious disease at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Following a year directing pediatrics and infectious diseases at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya, his first faculty appointment was at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Denison was recruited to Vanderbilt in 1991. He was awarded the Craig-Weaver Chair in Pediatrics in 2011. In addition to his many departmental, VUMC and Vanderbilt roles, he directs a postdoctoral T32 and is a training director for a departmental K12 training grant. Denison has received teaching awards from both Thomas Jefferson University and VUMC. He has trained more than 20 PhD students and postdocs, as well as high school students, undergraduates and post-baccalaureate trainees.

Recently, Denison was awarded the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s Ernest W. Goodpasture, MD, Award for groundbreaking research that addresses the pathogenesis of disease at the cellular and/or molecular level.

Denison’s research program targets coronaviruses, a family of viruses from which the causative agents of SARS and MERS have emerged to cause severe and lethal human disease with pandemic potential.

“Dr. Denison is an exceptional investigator who has pursued detailed mechanistic studies of coronavirus replication, pathogenesis, evolution and countermeasures that have impacted both coronavirus research and the broader fields of RNA virus biology, changing the textbooks and approaches to investigation of viral emergence, evolution and inhibition,” said Webber, who nominated Denison for the award.

He has conducted more than 30 years of NIH-funded research focused on coronavirus pathogenesis and targets for antivirals and vaccines, resulting in more than 100 publications and several hundred presentations.

“I have been blessed with talented and motivated trainees and staff including grad students, postdocs, research faculty and senior scientists. Xiaotao Lu, who has worked as a scientist with me for more than 25 years, recently received the Edward J. Price award, for which I am particularly proud,” Denison said.

He has chaired multiple NIH-study sections and is an appointed member of the National Science Advisory Committee for Biosecurity. He is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Physicians, the American Academy of Microbiology and the American Pediatric Society.

“I am tremendously honored to lead such a group and facilitate its leadership in the Department of Pediatrics, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and VUMC,” Denison said.

“If I can sum it up, in Peds ID we have a culture of curiosity and discovery in all aspects of our clinical care, research and training. People ask me about my job, I tell them I am VMS-XXVIII — a 28th year Vanderbilt student. I learn something new every day, and I still have a lot to learn before I graduate.”