April 6, 2023

Research Staff Awards honor contributions to discovery

Recipients of the 2023 Research Staff Awards are, front row from left, Laura Stevens, MS, Kate Von Wahlde, MJ, CCRP, and JoAnn Gottlieb, RDMS, RDCS. Presenting the awards were, back row from left, Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Gordon Bernard, MD, and John Kuriyan, PhD.
Recipients of the 2023 Research Staff Awards are, front row from left, Laura Stevens, MS, Kate Von Wahlde, MJ, CCRP, and JoAnn Gottlieb, RDMS, RDCS. Presenting the awards were, back row from left, Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Gordon Bernard, MD, and John Kuriyan, PhD. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Laboratory and administrative personnel at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were honored on March 31 for research excellence during the 19th annual Research Staff Awards Ceremony at the Aertson Hotel in Nashville.

Presenting the awards were Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, VUMC Chief Scientific & Strategy Officer, John Kuriyan, PhD, dean of Basic Sciences, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, which sponsors the awards, and Gordon Bernard, MD, VUMC Executive Vice President for Research.

The awards and 2022 recipients are:

  • The Vivien T. Thomas Award for Excellence in Clinical Research — Kate Von Wahlde, MJ, CCRP, manager of clinical research for the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
  • The Edward E. Price Jr. Award for Excellence in Basic Research — Laura Stevens, MS, research programs manager for the laboratory of Mark Denison, MD, director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.
  • The Award for Excellence in Research Contributing to Multi-Investigator Teams — JoAnn Gottlieb, RDMS, RDCS, echocardiography technologist III in the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research Clinical Research Center.

Each honoree received an award check and crystal trophy.

Von Wahlde, a certified clinical research professional who has a Master of Jurisprudence degree, has played a pivotal role since 2010 in elevating the research enterprise in the Department of Otolaryngology, including steering several high-profile clinical trials of human device implants through regulatory review and approval.

“Kate is nothing short of a marvel,” wrote Alexander Gelbard, MD, associate professor and director of Clinical Trials and Translational Research in the department, in his nomination letter.

“The clinical trials she has helped manage have restored hearing (new cochlear implant designs), restored speech (new vocal cord pacer for the paralyzed larynx) and led to approval of several new reagents for chronic sinusitis,” Gelbard wrote.

In his nomination letter, Eben Rosenthal, MD, the Carol and John Odess Professor of Facial, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and chair of the department, noted that Von Wahlde and her team “significantly contributed” to the rise in the department’s ranking in total NIH funding, from 11th place in 2010 to 2nd in 2021.

Von Wahlde, who has been at VUMC since 2004, also is a role model for efficient and successful clinical investigation, “universally applauded by medical students, residents, fellows and faculty alike,” added Justin Turner, MD, PhD, the department’s vice chair for Research.

Von Wahlde’s award is named for the late Vivien T. Thomas, the pioneering surgical technician who began his career at Vanderbilt in the 1930s.

Stevens joined the lab of Mark Denison, MD, in 2017. With the emergence of COVID-19 in early 2020, she contributed to the first laboratory demonstration that human antibodies to the Moderna vaccine neutralized the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2. She also aided preclinical development of the antiviral drugs remdesivir and molnupiravir.

“It is hard to imagine another bench investigator in the entire world who has performed experiments that directly supported a vaccine and two antivirals against SARS-CoV-2, and that are … preventing illness and saving lives,” Denison, the Edward Claiborne Stahlman Professor of Pediatric Physiology and Cell Metabolism, wrote in his nomination letter.

Barney Graham, MD, PhD, whose team at the NIH Vaccine Research Center led development of the Moderna vaccine, noted that Stevens, with VUMC colleagues Jim Chappell, MD, PhD, and Andrea Pruijssers, PhD, “worked courageously with this then frightening and clearly lethal virus, with capabilities we didn’t have at the NIH.”

“Her research contributions have been foundational to development of countermeasures against SARS-CoV-2,” wrote Chappell, research professor of Pediatrics.

“We all leaned on Laura to get it done right,” added Pruijssers, who now works for Merck. “Laura’s basic science skills, her servitude attitude, and her grit have saved the lives of thousands of people.”

Stevens’ award is named for the late Edward E. Price Jr., an internationally known research assistant in the Department of Biochemistry and Cardiovascular Physiology Core.

Gottleib is a registered diagnostic medical sonographer and registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer who first joined the VICTR Clinical Research Center in 2011. During the past five years, she has contributed to 27 clinical studies.

“Her skills are recognized at a national level. Her expertise is central to the success of many of these projects,” Kevin Niswender, MD, PhD, and James Luther, MD, MSCI, CRC medical director and associate medical director, respectively, wrote in their nomination letter.

Gottlieb “produces the best echo images I have seen in my 15-plus years of reading echocardiograms,” noted Deepak Gupta, MD, MSCI, associate professor of Medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Translational and Clinical Cardiovascular Research Center.

“Her contributions have not only enabled publications and preliminary data for new grant applications, but also have facilitated obtaining more than $1.5 million in extramural research funding for my program alone,” he wrote.

High quality echocardiography is a key endpoint for translational studies of pulmonary vascular disease and right heart failure. Gottlieb consistently delivers high quality images even under the most difficult circumstances, wrote VUMC physician-scientists Anna Hemnes, MD, and Evan Brittain, MD, MSCI.

“It’s safe to say that we could not be where we are today … without JoAnn Gottlieb,” they added.