March 30, 2023

VUMC researcher selected for Global Scholars Program

Vanderbilt researcher P. Brent Ferrell, MD, is leading one of five projects selected by the 2022 Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research Global Scholars Program.

P. Brent Ferrell, MD

Vanderbilt researcher P. Brent Ferrell, MD, is leading one of five projects selected by the 2022 NIBR (Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research) Global Scholars Program.

He will receive $1 million over three years to support studies of clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential (CHIP) — aging-associated changes in the blood that increase an individual’s risk for blood cancers and cardiovascular, lung and kidney disease.

About 10% of people over age 70 have CHIP, and the incidence increases with age. But what these blood changes mean and who is at risk for cancer and other diseases are open questions, said Ferrell, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology and the principal investigator of the project.

As part of the NIBR Global Scholars Program, Ferrell and co-investigator Alexander Bick, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Genetic Medicine, will use samples from a CHIP repository at Vanderbilt to study changes in genetic mutations, cell biology and immunology. The overall goal is to establish how molecular changes relate to risk for complications from CHIP and to identify potential targets for therapy.

“We’re at the beginning of understanding who is at risk of having complications from CHIP,” Ferrell said. “We know that some people won’t have any significant consequences from CHIP, but for those who will progress to acute myeloid leukemia or have a cardiovascular event, we want to know who that will be and find ways to intervene.”

The NIBR Global Scholars Program will give Ferrell access to drug-hunting expertise from dedicated NIBR scientific collaborators.

“We will be interacting with multiple groups within NIBR — scientists who are hematology-focused, immunology-focused and cardiovascular-focused,” Ferrell said. “I think this type of partnership between academic researchers and companies that have a real interest in the science as well as the potential therapeutic implications is exciting.

“Ultimately, we’d like to find a way to improve a patient’s outcome or their quality of life, so partnering with companies like Novartis that make therapeutics is critical.”

Novartis invited researchers from about 50 institutions around the world to participate in the competitive NIBR Global Scholars Program.

The 2022 recipients include researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Duke University, Kyoto University, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich.