November 17, 2006

Awards honor research assistants who make discovery possible

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Joan Kaiser, R.N.

Awards honor research assistants who make discovery possible

Roger England

Roger England

Vanderbilt University Medical Center honored three research assistants with awards for excellence this week.

Roger England received the Edward E. Price Award for Basic Research; Joan Kaiser, R.N., received the Vivien Thomas Award for Excellence in Clinical Research; and Ellen Donnert received the Award for Excellence in Research Contributing to a Multi-investigator Team.

“Research may start as a single mind asking a unique question, but the process of discovery is a team effort,” said Jeffrey Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research. “I'm pleased to recognize the valuable contributions research staff make to Vanderbilt's research enterprise.”

England, a senior research specialist in the Department of Anesthesiology, has worked at VUMC since 1967 and with Eric Delpire, Ph.D., professor of Anesthesiology, since 1998.

“Roger is quite a remarkable person and has to be credited for the success of this laboratory in the past several years,” Delpire wrote in his letter nominating England.

“Currently, one major research emphasis of the laboratory rests on technical skills that Roger has mastered over the past years … (allowing) us to make significant progress in our understanding of the regulation of ion transport mechanisms.”

During his time at Vanderbilt, England has touched many areas of basic research, including physiology/biochemistry, animal models of brain ischemia, sensori-neural deafness, epilepsy and molecular biology.

His technical expertise has made possible studies resulting in “seminal publications,” Delpire wrote, in journals including Nature Genetics, American Journal of Physiology, and Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Kaiser has been a clinical research nurse in the Department of Surgery for seven years and has served as a study coordinator on six different clinical research grants.

“Joan works tirelessly with numerous fellows and residents in research each year,” wrote Naji Abumrad, M.D., John L. Sawyers Professor and Chair of Surgery, in his nominating letter. “Her efforts have contributed significantly to the Vanderbilt General Surgery Clinic being deemed a Center of Excellence in Bariatric Surgery.”

Alfonso Torquati, M.D., assistant professor of Surgery, wrote that Kaiser “represents the ideal research nurse.”

Torquati highlighted Kaiser's key role in a clinical trial evaluating outcome after different surgical treatments for achalasia, a disorder of the esophagus that causes difficulty swallowing.

Thanks to her efforts, he wrote, Vanderbilt's single center study recruited more patients than a concurrent multi-center study involving three different universities.

“The success and productivity of our group (more than 30 peer-reviewed articles published in the last two years) is a reflection of Joan's exceptional hard work,” Torquati wrote.

Donnert is a research assistant III in the Department of Pathology. She joined the laboratory of Agnes Fogo, M.D., professor of Pathology, Medicine and Pediatrics, in 1995, after working for more than 10 years as a histotechnologist at Saint Thomas Hospital and VUMC.

“Ellen's expertise obviously lies in the area of histologic processing, staining and immunohistochemistry,” Fogo wrote in nominating Donnert for the award. “However, Ellen has proven to be a remarkable 'can-do' person, who has extended her knowledge and expertise … and has taken the lead in planning and organizing multiple aspects of many of our research studies.”

Fogo wrote that Donnert's most important contribution has been serving as a liaison, supervisor and aid for the numerous investigators with whom the group interacts, for nephrology fellows with limited research experience, and for medical students doing short-term research projects.

“She is quick to offer helpful suggestions, advice and guidance on all matters technically relevant to the projects,” Fogo wrote. “Even more importantly, she fosters an atmosphere of genuine fun and learning.”

Each awardee received a crystal trophy and a $1,000 check at the third annual Research Staff Awards luncheon.