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Translational Research Forum honors scientific excellence

Nov. 11, 2021, 8:33 AM


by Bill Snyder

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s strength in translational research, which helps “translate” scientific discovery into medical practice, was celebrated on Nov. 4 during the Vanderbilt Translational Research Forum at the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University.

Robert Dittus, MD, MPH, left, and Stephen Camarata, PhD, were among those honored at last week’s Vanderbilt Translational Research Forum.
Robert Dittus, MD, MPH, left, and Stephen Camarata, PhD, were among those honored at last week’s Vanderbilt Translational Research Forum. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Awards were presented to Stephen Camarata, PhD, professor of Hearing & Speech Sciences and Psychiatry, for Distinguished Service to Translational Scientists, and to Robert Dittus, MD, MPH, the Albert and Bernard Werthan Professor of Medicine, for Excellence in Mentoring Translational Scientists.

Jordan Berlin, MD, the Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, and Jeffrey Conn, PhD, the Lee E. Limbird Professor of Pharmacology, were honored for Excellence in Mentoring to Independence. The so-called “flight instructor award” recognizes mentors who help five or more investigators establish independent careers and “take flight.”

Presenting the awards were Katherine Hartmann, MD, PhD, the Lucius E. Burch Professor of Reproductive Physiology and Family Planning, vice president for Research Integration and associate dean of Clinical & Translational Scientist Development, and Gordon Bernard, MD, the Melinda Owen Bass Professor of Medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR).

Forum sponsors included the Master of Public Health and Master of Science in Clinical Investigation programs at VUMC, Edge for Scholars and VICTR.

Hartmann noted that Camarata, also professor of Special Education at Peabody College, has guided numerous early career investigators as a moderator and expert in VICTR’s Studio program and as a model for servant leadership. Studios are interactive roundtable discussions that help scientists refine their research questions, obtain funding and publish their work.

Dittus, she said, “has provided mentorship and coaching to hundreds of researchers across all stages of their careers.” Founder of the Institute for Medicine and Public Health and the VA’s Quality Scholars Program, Dittus currently is senior vice president and Chief Innovation Officer for the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network.

In opening the forum, Bernard discussed the leadership role played by VICTR investigators in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

VICTR helped lead or served as coordinating center of several national clinical trials of potential COVID-19 treatments, including convalescent donor plasma, hydroxychloroquine, repurposed drugs and monoclonal antibody therapies.

“In total, we had more than 130 COVID-19 studies of one kind or another approved by our IRB (Institutional Review Board),” Bernard said.

Frank Harrell, PhD, professor and chair emeritus of Biostatistics and a previous recipient of the Distinguished Service to Translational Scientists Award, was the forum’s keynote speaker on the topic of challenging conventional clinical trial design.

Plenary presentations and video talks were given by more than 30 early career faculty investigators from VUMC and Meharry Medical College who recently have received research support from the National Institutes of Health, and more than 40 students and trainees exhibited their work in a poster session.


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