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Research Staff Awards honor those who help drive engines of discovery

Feb. 18, 2021, 9:57 AM


by Bill Snyder

Laboratory and administrative personnel at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were honored last week for research excellence during the 17th annual Research Staff Awards, held virtually this year because of the pandemic.

“We’re really honoring the people who make this place go,” said Lawrence Marnett, PhD, Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Basic Sciences, who hosted the event with Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, VUMC’s Executive Vice President for Research.

“The research just would not be possible without you,” Pietenpol told the awardees. “You make it happen.”

The 2020 Research Staff Awardees are:

  • LauraBeth Adams, RD, MBA, clinical trials manager, General Pediatrics, who received the Vivien A. Thomas Award for Excellence in Clinical Research;
  • Plamen Christov, PhD, drug discovery scientist II in the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology (VICB) Chemical Synthesis Core, who received the Award for Excellence in Research Contributing to Multi-Investigator Teams; and
  • David Westover, PhD, staff scientist in the VICB High-Throughput Screening (HTS) Core Facility, recipient of the Edward E. Price Jr. Award for Excellence in Basic Research.

    LauraBeth Adams, RD, MBA, left, with nominator Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Adams, clinical trials manager for the Division of General Pediatrics, currently oversees nine ongoing grant-funded projects, one of which is a multisite randomized controlled trial for which VUMC is a coordinating and contributing site, said division director Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS, who nominated her for the award.

Besides superb research and management skills, Adams is bilingual in Spanish and English. “These skills are critically important when conducting research to examine and intervene upon health disparities in common health conditions such as pediatric obesity,” said Barkin, the William K. Warren Foundation Professor of Medicine and professor of Pediatrics.

“LauraBeth’s success in managing multiple simultaneous and complex trials from proposal to completion is inspiring to those who work with her as well as to those she works for,” added general pediatrics database administrator Evan Sommer in his support letter.

Plamen Christov, PhD, right, with nominator Gary Sulikowsky, PhD.
Plamen Christov, PhD, right, with nominator Gary Sulikowsky, PhD.

Adams’ award is named for Vivien A. Thomas, a pioneering surgical technician who began his career at VUMC in the 1930s.

Christov is assistant director of the VICB Chemical Synthesis Core. During the past 10 years, he has made exceptional contributions as a synthetic chemist to several multi-investigator research programs, typically managing three projects simultaneously, said VICB director Gary Sulikowski, PhD, Stevenson Professor of Chemistry, who nominated him for the award.

Christov’s research collaborations have helped advance development of potential new cancer therapies, including synthesis of STING pathway agonists for application in cancer immunotherapy, synthesis of small molecule inhibitors of lactate dehydrogenase A (LDHA) and myeloid cell lymphoma 1 (Mcl-1), novel in vivo PET imaging agents, and DNA adducts that can reveal mechanisms of DNA damage.

“Dr. Christov makes an impact on every program with which he is associated,” added Alex Waterson, PhD, director and scientific coordinator of the Vanderbilt Center for Cancer Drug Discovery and research associate professor of Pharmacology and Chemistry.

David Westover, PhD, left, with nominator Joshua Bauer, PhD.
David Westover, PhD, left, with nominator Joshua Bauer, PhD.

“He consistently delivers beyond all expectations, both at the bench and with thoughtful and timely suggestions to other team members.”

Westover is a critical member of the HTS team whose expertise in the use of high-end automated instrumentation to screen libraries of hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds enables investigators across campus to conduct live-cell imaging and, for example, to evaluate the potential of novel agents to block cancer growth.

He has gone “above and beyond” to expand compound libraries, train new users of instrumentation and — during the COVID-19 pandemic — to lead the design of new safety protocols for the lab, said HTS facility director Joshua Bauer, PhD, research assistant professor of Biochemistry, who nominated him for the award.

“Dave is a brilliant and creative scientist who has pushed the boundaries of high-throughput technology in cancer research,” added Vivian Weiss, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology.

Westover’s award is named for the late Edward E. Price Jr., an internationally known research assistant in the Department of Biochemistry and in the Cardiovascular Physiology Core.

Each honoree received an award check and crystal trophy.

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