September 4, 2009

Dykens to direct Kennedy Center

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Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D.

Dykens to direct Kennedy Center

Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., has been named director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.

She has been serving as interim director since last October, and succeeds Pat Levitt, Ph.D.

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is a premier research, training, diagnosis and treatment center focused on development and developmental disabilities.

“Elisabeth is an exceptional researcher of national stature, an experienced administrator, and an individual who cares deeply about the well-being of children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“Her broad expertise in interdisciplinary research on developmental disabilities, combined with her positive vision for integrating disability research, training, and services at Vanderbilt, make her an ideal choice.”

Dykens' appointment by Jonathan Gitlin, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Maternal and Child Health Affairs at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, signifies an increased collaboration with Vanderbilt hospitals and clinics treating children and adults with developmental disabilities.

“For more than 45 years the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center has served as an extraordinary, interdisciplinary beacon of hope in research and clinical care for individuals with developmental disabilities,” Gitlin said.

“Elisabeth Dykens is a passionate advocate, an imaginative and thoughtful scientist and a collaborative and interactive colleague who is the ideal leader to continue this extraordinary tradition of excellence. I am truly delighted that she will be our new leader of the Kennedy Center and I look forward to tremendous accomplishments on her watch.”

Dykens, a professor in Psychology and Human Development at Peabody College, was recruited to Vanderbilt in 2003 as the VKC's associate director.

“I am honored to lead this world-class center in the years ahead” Dykens said.

“The center has greatly expanded its missions of service, community outreach, and training the next generation of disability professionals, so that we are increasingly known across the state and nation as a 'full-service' disability organization. The center has a spirit that is infectious. With all of us working together, we are now poised to make even greater discoveries that positively impact people with disabilities.”

The NIH announced last week that VKC is receiving a five-year, $6.8 million renewal grant as a national Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC). The caliber of scientific leadership is a critical component for renewal, and Dykens is the principal investigator of the grant. There are 14 IDDRCs nationally.

VKC is among the few who also are University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and have a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities training grant, as well as other training grants.

Dykens' research focuses on both the mental health challenges and unique strengths of persons with genetic syndromes such as Down, Prader-Willi, and Williams syndromes and has a short-term goal to provide new insights into ameliorating mental health symptoms while also promoting strengths, well being, and positive outcomes. In the long term, these studies shed light on relationships among genes, brain, and behavior.

Dykens has authored more than 115 publications, including 3 books. She serves on the Scientific and Clinical Advisory Boards of the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (USA), and on the Study Section Biobehavioral and Behavioral Science Subcommittee of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She is an associate editor of the Journal of Research in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities and the International Review of Research in Mental Retardation.