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Kannankeril named inaugural holder of the Richard B. Johnston Jr., MD, Chair in Pediatric Research

Sep. 22, 2021, 2:37 PM


by John Howser

Prince Kannankeril, MD, MSCI

Prince Kannankeril, MD, MSCI, professor of Pediatrics and co-director of the Center for Pediatric Precision Medicine (CPPM), has been appointed inaugural holder of the Richard B. Johnston Jr. MD, Chair in Pediatric Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Kannankeril is one of the world’s leading experts on genetic arrhythmia syndromes and post-operative heart rhythm disturbances in children who undergo corrective surgeries for congenital heart defects. Through his work, he continues to make numerous contributions to advance knowledge in his field. A physician-scientist, his research is frequently published in high-impact journals.

Richard B. Johnston, Jr., MD, emeritus professor of Pediatrics with the University of Colorado School of Medicine and National Jewish Health, is an alumnus of Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. A renowned immunologist and pediatrician, Johnston has dedicated his life’s work to improving the health of children. He serves as a member of the VUMC board of directors and was the 2017 recipient of the Vanderbilt University Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor bestowed to a member of the university’s alumni community.

The Richard B. Johnston Jr., MD, Chair in Pediatric Research was funded through a gift from Johnston and his wife, Mary Anne, a 1960 graduate of Vanderbilt University’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Johnston’s numerous contributions to medicine and child health have left a lasting impact. It is fitting that Dr. Kannankeril, who through his research and clinical care is advancing our understanding of childhood cardiac diseases, is the inaugural holder of this chair,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer for VUMC and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “On behalf of Vanderbilt, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Johnston family for their generous support and congratulate Dr. Kannankeril as inaugural holder of this chair.”

As co-director of the CPPM, Kannankeril serves with Sara Van Driest, MD, PhD, associate professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, to advance evidence-based, individualized diagnosis and treatment approaches for children.

The CPPM was established in 2020 with a scientific advisory board including representatives from the institution-wide centers for Precision Medicine, Genomics and Ethics.

Goals for the CPPM are to enhance pediatric precision medicine research; support translation of precision medicine into clinical pediatrics; and to provide training in precision medicine topics in education for all levels of learners, including trainees, providers, patients, families and the community.

Kannankeril built the mouse electrophysiology lab at Vanderbilt and continues to collaborate with investigators studying a wide array of arrhythmia mechanisms. With Van Driest, he is co-director of the P50-funded Vanderbilt Integrated Center of Excellence in Maternal and Pediatric Precision Therapeutics, one of only two such funded centers of excellence in this newly established Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development program.

He has a leadership role in the ongoing STeroids to REduce Systemic Inflammation After Infant Heart Surgery (STRESS) trial, a prospective double-blind placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial testing the efficacy of intraoperative steroids in infants who undergo cardiopulmonary bypass surgery. He is also a leading expert in our understanding of the causes of sudden death in infants and children.

“Dr. Kannankeril is a leader in pediatric cardiology research and a national leader in pediatric precision medicine. I am delighted that he is the inaugural holder of the Richard B. Johnston Jr., MD, Chair in Pediatric Research. I can think of no worthier holder,” said Steven Webber, MBChB, James C. Overall Professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and Pediatrician-in-Chief of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Through his service to the field of pediatric cardiology, Kannankeril has enhanced the clinical profile of the department, particularly in the care of families with genetic arrhythmia syndromes. He and his colleagues founded the Genetic Arrhythmia Clinic, providing comprehensive care, research opportunities and unparalleled expertise to families with cardiac channelopathies. He routinely sees patients from Tennessee and surrounding states and has also been referred patients from across the country specifically for his expertise.

“It’s truly an honor to be associated in any way with Dr. Richard B. Johnston Jr. His scientific accomplishments, academic leadership and contributions to child health serve as an inspiration to pediatric physician scientists,” said Kannankeril.

In 2019, Kannankeril was elected vice president for research of the Pediatric and Congenital Electrophysiology Society (PACES). He is serving a three-year term where he will then transition to president of PACES for one year.

He received his undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University and his medical degree from Jefferson College. He completed a combined internal medicine and pediatrics residency at the University of Minnesota and a fellowship in pediatric cardiology at Children’s Memorial Hospital/Northwestern University.

He came to Vanderbilt for an advanced fellowship in cardiac electrophysiology in 2001 and joined the faculty in the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at VUMC in 2002.

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