June 27, 2008

Cognitive development focus of new division

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Tyler Reimschisel, M.D.

Cognitive development focus of new division

Neurodevelopmental disorders are among the hottest issues in medicine today, including efforts to find the causes of autism, solve mysteries of why some children with down syndrome can become self-sufficient while others cannot, and find ways to impact rates of brain-damaging metabolic illnesses and disorders like fragile X.

In order to find answers, Jonathan Gitlin, M.D., chair of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, has announced the formation of the Division of Developmental Medicine and Cognition.

The new division will seek to reach new heights in clinical service to families of children with developmental disabilities as well as bring Children's Hospital to the forefront in research into developmental disabilities and how to treat or prevent them.

“Cognition is the final frontier,” Gitlin said. “We know quite a bit about how the heart forms and how other organs develop, but we don't know how the brain works.”

Gitlin has selected Tyler Reimschisel, M.D., to be the division's first director.

Reimschisel, formerly assistant professor of Pediatrics, Neurology and Genetics and director of the Medical Genetics Residency Program at Washington University School of Medicine, says the division will have a new and vibrant approach.

“Our three-prong approach puts clinical service first, then builds collaborations with the many fantastic neuro-cognitive, genetic and biologic services on campus, and will educate the next generation of neurodevelopmental medicine experts,” Reimschisel said.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently emphasized early diagnosis and intervention for children with developmental disabilities. It has been difficult to keep up with the demand for our services in this area, but this new approach will change that.”

Gitlin, who also came from Washington University, said Reimschisel has the tools to make Children's Hospital a leader in neurodevelopmental treatment and research.

“Tyler was chief resident in both his pediatric neurology and medical genetics fellowships at Johns Hopkins. He has great compassion in his work with families and he is courageous to come here to begin this new division and its important work,” Gitlin said.

Reimschisel says his first step is to attract physicians in a specialty few have heard much about, but that is growing in national demand — Developmental Pediatrics.

“While Pediatric Developmental Medicine was not my area of training, it is where my passion is,” Reimschisel said.

Karen Summar, M.D., a familiar face in the Down Syndrome Clinic, has recently completed her fellowship in Developmental Pediatrics and Behavior and is Reimschisel's first hire.

Reimschisel said the staff in the Center for Child Development will continue its work within the new division, but with improved access to tools like genetic testing and expanded funding to provide specialty training in autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Reimschisel said Vanderbilt is fortunate to have a Health Resources and Services Administration Leadership in Education for Neurodevelopmental Disabilities grant to train the next generation of developmental disability experts.

“The care of children with developmental disabilities requires a team of health care professionals. Within its first year, our division will reorganize and broaden the interdisciplinary education that it provides to a diverse range of health care professionals,” he said.

This curriculum will include collaborative projects with, and training at, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.

Reimschisel said the three-prong approach will start with improving access to care in the clinic, but it is the prioritizing of new collaborations and education in Developmental Medicine that will raise this division to the top in its field.

“We are building on the assets Vanderbilt already has. If you combine my neurologic and genetic training, the expertise of clinicians and researchers from Vanderbilt and the Kennedy Center, and the opportunity to work with the Nashville community, which is so supportive of families who have children with developmental disabilities, I think we have the right formula for success.”