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Van Driest to lead All of Us pediatric research

Dec. 15, 2022, 9:33 AM

Sara Van Driest, MD, PhD

by Christina Echegaray

Sara Van Driest, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Medicine, has assumed a new post as the first-ever director of pediatrics for the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program, which aims to accelerate the prevention and treatment of illness through precision medicine.

In this position, she will help set the foundation for how people under the age of 18 can participate in this landmark precision medicine effort.

While in her new role, she will maintain an academic appointment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and will continue to see patients at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

“Sara has dedicated her career to pediatric precision medicine, employing large data sets, including electronic medical records and DNA sequence data, all with the goal to inform, predict and improve children’s responses to common medications and ensure their overall well-being. We are grateful for her research contributions at Vanderbilt and are excited to see those contributions continue to excel at the national level,” said Steven Webber, MBChB, MRCP, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, James C. Overall Professor and pediatrician-in-chief at Monroe Carell.

Van Driest earned her Bachelor of Arts in physiology from the University of Minnesota, and MD and PhD in molecular pharmacology from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. She came to Vanderbilt for her pediatric residency and clinical pharmacology fellowship, joining the lab of Dan Roden, MD. In 2012, she joined the Division of General Pediatrics faculty.

During her time at Vanderbilt, she received multiple awards for her work, including the 2017 Clinical Scientist Development Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the 2019 Leon I. Goldberg Early Investigator Award from the American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

She was also instrumental in securing a five-year, $6 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in 2021 for Maternal and Pediatric Precision in Therapeutics, of which she served as co-PI, to expand knowledge and expertise in maternal and pediatric pharmacology.

“My research work here at Vanderbilt focused on filling the gaps in the evidence for precision medicine in children. We still have so much to learn about how genes, environments and experiences affect health in childhood and beyond,” said Van Driest. “I am excited to take what I have learned in my training and career here at Vanderbilt to the All of Us Research Program. Engaging children and families in this research cohort will enable research into each of these factors, and how they interact, to affect health throughout the life span.”

According to the NIH, Van Driest joins All of Us’ Division for Cohort Development to support future enrollment and retention of pediatric and adolescent participants who reflect the diversity of the United States.

This will entail developing the program’s model for pediatric recruitment and family-based participation with a focus on engaging those who are from communities historically underrepresented in biomedical research.

In this role, she will also lead the design of an approach that nurtures long-term relationships, identify ways to return value to children and families, and ensure information provides researchers with quality data for analysis.

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