December 15, 2022

Year in Review 2022: Achievements, milestones abounded during the past year

The following is a roundup of the news that made headlines at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2022.

Editor’s note — the following is a roundup of the news that made headlines at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2022.

VUH expansion

Leaders with VUMC announced plans for construction of the largest expansion to date for Vanderbilt University Hospital (VUH). Through this project a new VUH inpatient tower will be built atop an existing parking structure located between 21st Avenue South and Medical Center Drive. Access to the new tower’s entrance will be through Vivien Thomas Way.

The project began this summer and will take approximately four and a half years to complete.

The additional space is needed to accommodate Middle Tennessee’s booming population and because VUH, the region’s largest tertiary referral center, already operates at more than 90% capacity most of the year.

Addressing health disparities

VUMC, Meharry Medical College and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine received a $12.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to jointly develop the Southeast Collaborative for Innovative and Equitable Solutions to Chronic Disease Disparities.

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities awarded funds to 11 research institutions to establish and support regional comprehensive research centers on the prevention, treatment and management of comorbid chronic diseases that disproportionately affect populations with health disparities.

IVY Research Network

Investigators at VUMC received a $10.7 million research award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to continue the IVY Research Network, originally created in 2019 to look at how well flu vaccines work at preventing severe flu illness, and expanded in 2021 to enroll patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

It’s the third renewal for the collaborative IVY (Influenza and Other Viruses in the Acutely Ill) Network, consisting of 21 large adult hospitals in 21 U.S. cities, funded by the CDC and led by VUMC.

Magnet designation

VUMC received a fourth consecutive Magnet designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

The fourth Magnet designation included Vanderbilt University Hospital, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt Adult Ambulatory Clinics and Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital.

Magnet designation is the highest honor an organization can receive for the provision of nursing care and interprofessional collaboration.

CTSA renewal

VUMC competed successfully for a third renewal of its Clinical and Translational Science Award by the National Institutes of Health.

The grant provides more than $73 million for another five years to support the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research and its efforts to speed the translation of scientific discoveries from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside.

Antibody research lauded

A long-acting antibody combination discovered at VUMC that protects against COVID-19 in high-risk individuals, and which was optimized and developed by the global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, received a gold medal in the 2022 R&D 100 awards program announced Aug. 22 by R&D World Magazine.

The monoclonal antibodies were discovered by James Crowe Jr., MD, Robert Carnahan, PhD, and colleagues in the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, months after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States in January 2020. Six antibodies were licensed in June 2020 to AstraZeneca for optimization and advancement into clinical trials.

In December 2021, AstraZeneca’s two-antibody combination, Evusheld, was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration as a pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent COVID-19 in adults and children 12 years and older with compromised immune systems or a history of severe adverse reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine.

DRTC renewal

The Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center (DRTC) celebrated its 49th year of continual operation with the five-year competitive renewal of a $10.9 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

The interdisciplinary center’s mission is to facilitate the discovery, application and translation of scientific knowledge to improve the lives of people with diabetes.

Brock family gift

A $10 million gift from the Brock family, including John F. Brock III, his wife, Mary, and their three adult children — Rebecca Brock Dixon, John F. Brock IV and Major Brock — established the Brock Family Center for Applied Innovation at VUMC.

The gift will accelerate translation of discoveries and know-how to the public domain through commercialization and industry partnerships.

John Brock III is the retired CEO of Coca-Cola European Partners PLC, formerly Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., the largest marketer, distributor and producer of Coca-Cola products globally. Mary is a philanthropist and active community leader. Rebecca, John IV and Major currently serve on the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Board of Overseers.

Unlocking BioVU’s potential

Nashville Biosciences, a wholly owned subsidiary of VUMC, announced an agreement with Illumina, a leading genomic technology company, to realize the full potential of VUMC ’s DNA databank, BioVU.

The agreement is a continuation of Vanderbilt’s long-term effort around BioVU and will accelerate genomic sequencing, resulting in new discoveries to advance new methods for diagnosing, preventing and treating an array of human diseases.

Under the terms of the agreement, Nashville Biosciences and Illumina are establishing an alliance with multiple pharmaceutical industry partners to perform whole genome sequencing on approximately 250,000 de-identified DNA samples collected under an Institutional Review Board-approved process over the past 15 years.

Dolly Parton gift

Dolly Parton donated $1 million to pediatric infectious disease research at VUMC, another transformative gift aimed to help in the fight against serious infectious diseases such as coronavirus that have worldwide ramifications.

Ongoing research in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases includes understanding how viruses and bacteria cause disease, understanding and preventing resistance to antibiotics, preventing and treating infections, diagnosing and treating infections in children with cancer, and defining the impact of childhood infections throughout the world.

PCORnet coordinating center

VUMC received a three-year, $2 million contract from PCORI, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, to establish an Engagement Coordinating Center for PCORnet, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network.

The new center will be directed by Karen Winkfield, MD, PhD, professor of Radiation Oncology, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance.

Abnormal heart rhythm research

Researchers at VUMC made a fundamental discovery about how the heart compensates for genetic variations that otherwise could trigger abnormal and potentially fatal heart rhythms.

Their findings, reported in the journal Circulation, add significantly to understanding what causes abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, and suggest that certain medications can induce them in susceptible people by overcoming the heart’s compensatory mechanism.

ECMO shortage mortality

Nearly 90% of COVID-19 patients who qualified for, but did not receive, ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) due to a shortage of resources during the height of the pandemic died in the hospital, despite being young with few other health issues, according to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

New biospecimen storage system

VUMC has opened a state-of-the-art automated biobanking system that can store as many as 10 million biospecimens, including blood and body fluids, tissue, and genetic and protein material, at temperatures down to minus 80 degrees Celsius.

The “BioStore” was purchased from its manufacturer, Massachusetts-based Azenta Life Sciences, with the help of a $2 million grant from the Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and significant institutional funding from VUMC.

Stomach cancer research initiative

Two Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center researchers received $5 million in funding from a new initiative by the National Cancer Institute that aims to define how gastric and gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinomas form and evolve at the cellular level.

Eunyoung Choi, PhD, and James Goldenring, MD, PhD, are co-principal investigators of one of six teams that were awarded funding through the initiative. Using different approaches, the teams are studying the contributions and fundamental mechanisms of tumor-initiating cells to the development of cancer in the stomach and esophagus.

The Vanderbilt team is focused on cell plasticity, which is how cells change.

COVID vaccine response finding

In a technical tour de force, a team of Vanderbilt researchers characterized the antigen-specific immune response to the Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 RNA vaccine.

The group used multiple single-cell technologies, unbiased machine learning, and traditional immunological approaches to track cellular and antibody responses in samples collected over time from a cohort of healthy participants. The findings, published in Nature Communications, could guide testing for vaccine response and booster timing.

Department of Medicine DEI efforts

The Department of Medicine announced a $1 million endowment dedicated to the department’s efforts in diversity and inclusion.

The $1 million endowment, established internally, will support the Department of Medicine’s priority of enhancing and fostering a culture that promotes the engagement, growth and retention of diverse faculty, scientists, staff and trainees.

Cookeville pediatric physician services

Leaders of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and the Department of Pediatrics  announced an agreement with Cookeville Regional Medical Center to provide pediatric physician services.

Vanderbilt’s board-certified pediatricians will provide coverage and support at Cookeville Regional for pediatric inpatient and newborn nursery services at the Cookeville hospital.

VWCH trauma center approval

Vanderbilt Wilson County Hospital (VWCH) received approval as a state-verified provisional Level III Trauma Center, making it the first and only hospital able to provide this higher level of care in Wilson County.

The provisional Level III designation recognizes VWCH’s ability to provide 24-hour, immediate care by emergency physicians and quick availability of trauma- trained surgeons and anesthesiologists.

Nursing loan repayment benefit

VUMC began offering a new nursing loan repayment benefit. VUMC is contributing $500 monthly toward undergraduate student loans for direct care registered nurses, including nurse residents, in good standing at all VUMC clinics and hospitals and Vanderbilt Home Care Services.

Anthrax regulatory factor identified

Vanderbilt researchers identified a critical regulatory factor in Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes the disease anthrax and has been used as a biological weapon. The findings, reported in the journal Nature Communications, provide new insights into bacterial gene regulation and may guide novel antibacterial therapeutic strategies.

B. anthracis forms dormant spores — the infectious form of the bug — that can survive in the environment for decades. Although rare in the U.S., B. anthracis is found in soil around the world and causes severe disease in livestock, wild animals and people.

COVID vaccine found safe for children

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is safe and generates robust immune responses in children ages 6 to 11 years, a national clinical trial co-led by VUMC vaccine expert C. Buddy Creech, MD, MPH, found.

The two-dose vaccine (given approximately one month apart) led to antibody responses in more than 99% of the 4,000 children evaluated in the study. In addition, vaccine efficacy against COVID-19 was 88% beginning as early as two weeks after the first dose of vaccine, Creech and his colleagues reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.