January 16, 2009

Addition boosts pediatric vaccine research

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Fernando Polack

Addition boosts pediatric vaccine research

Noted pediatric vaccine researcher Fernando Polack, M.D., has joined the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and the Program in Vaccine Sciences at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Polack was recruited by James Crowe, M.D., director of the Program in Vaccine Sciences. Crowe was on the selection committee in 2006 when Polack won the Young Investigator Award from the Society for Pediatric Research. The award goes to the most promising new pediatric researcher of any field. At the time, Crowe (a past recipient) was impressed with Polack's career history.

“Dr. Polack wowed me,” Crowe said. “He is one of the most promising immunologists in the world. He already has published four papers in Nature Medicine, which is not easy to do so early in one's career. He is a card-carrying basic scientist who can also organize clinical trials.”

After he received his M.D. at the University of Buenos Aires, Polack completed residencies in both Argentina and the United States, then went on to a fellowship and faculty position at Johns Hopkins. His experiences fueled his interest in finding successful vaccines for childhood illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“I became personally interested in pathogenesis and how the viruses do what they do,” Polack said.

“I wanted to learn more about how the virus behaves and the best way to generate the vaccine based on this knowledge.

“I am very excited to be joining people who I consider to be among the greatest respiratory virologists in the world. Working with the Vaccine Program opens the door to better informed RSV vaccines in the future,” Polack said.

In 2003, Polack became the director of INFANT Foundation and Pan-American Infant Network, a research and clinical program based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“The INFANT Foundation is unique because it houses basic science labs, an animal facility where he was designing mouse models, and a clinical organization all under one roof,” Crowe said.

“His group has already published important work from that site, and another benefit is that any collaborative work on seasonal viruses can go on year-round because their seasons are the opposite of ours.”

“I am thrilled to welcome Dr. Polack to the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Pediatrics,” said Terence Dermody, M.D., director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “He is a world-class scientist and a wonderful pediatrician. His work is paving the way for development of new vaccines and will contribute importantly to our global mission in infectious diseases. He will be a tremendous addition to our team.”

Polack's cross-border work will continue. In his new role at Vanderbilt he will spend much of his time and research efforts at the INFANT Foundation's facility in Buenos Aires. Even the name of the new professorship Polack steps into reflects a global approach.

The Cesar Milstein Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center is named for the late Argentine scientist who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1984 for his work to produce monoclonal antibodies.