July 23, 2004

Bernard speaks at annual Visiting Scholars program

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Gordon Bernard, M.D.

Bernard speaks at annual Visiting Scholars program

Some of the most important advances in medical care begin with a simple question: Why?

In the late 1980s, Gordon Bernard, M.D., professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, wondered whether mechanical ventilation might contribute to multiple organ failure in some patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Otherwise healthy sheep developed this often-fatal complication when large “tidal volumes” of air were pumped into their lungs. The reason? Over-extension of lung tissue can cause inflammation, leading to the release of highly reactive inflammatory chemicals into the bloodstream.

The injured lungs of ARDS patients are particularly prone to over-extension.

“The lung (becomes) an engine of inflammation, damaging organs throughout the body,” Bernard explained last week during the 5th Annual Visiting Scholars dinner and lecture at the University Club.

Bernard and his colleagues tested whether lower tidal volumes could improve outcomes in patients with ARDS. Sure enough, the mortality rate among these patients dropped by about 10 percent.

Bernard, who recently was named an assistant vice chancellor for Research, used the study to illustrate how clinical research can lead to major improvements in treatment. His lecture was sponsored by three programs at Vanderbilt designed to encourage and inspire clinical investigators.

The Vanderbilt Clinical Research Scholars program, directed by Nancy J. Brown, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, provides fellowship level trainees with mentored research apprenticeships.

The Master of Science Clinical Investigation program, co-directed by Brown and Thomas A. Hazinski, M.D., professor of Pediatrics and associate dean for Academic Affairs, trains physicians and other health professionals in the fundamental tools of patient-oriented research.

The Vanderbilt Physician Scientist Development program, directed by Jason D. Morrow, M.D., professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, provides “bridge” funding to junior faculty so they can pursue research projects under the supervision of established Vanderbilt investigators.

“In my job now as assistant vice chancellor for Research, I want to optimize the research environment so that scientists at Vanderbilt can focus on the science of their work and spend less time on the myriad of other aspects of managing their research,” Bernard said.