February 19, 1999

Main course on this menu will be brain research advances

In an effort to facilitate clinical application of new research discoveries, clinicians and basic scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center interested in the brain and sensory systems will begin to meet over dinner to highlight different, ongoing clinical studies and laboratory projects.

These Bench to Bedside Brain Dinners will be held on the last Thursday of every month during the academic year. The first will be held Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the University Club.

"The level of interaction and collaboration between clinicians and basic scientists has recently become an even bigger problem because the demands imposed by managed care are making it harder for clinicians to spend time keeping up with basic science research," said Kevin Strange, Ph.D., professor of Anesthesiology and Pharmacology.

Strange believes it is very important not only for basic science to be translated to medicine, but also for basic science researchers to view clinical medicine and enigmas as nature's laboratory, and a direct source of basic science questions.

"Basic science researchers rarely utilize the clinic as part of their research, but the clinical sciences can provide interesting and intriguing insights about basic cellular and molecular mechanisms," said Strange.

Kenneth G. Smithson, Ph.D., assistant professor of Anesthesiology, and Strange's clinical counterpart in co-organizing these Bench to Bedside Brain Dinners, emphasizes that managed care has limited the time that clinicians have to dedicate toward research at all, particularly collaboration with the basic scientists.

"The NIH has tried to fund collaborative projects through grants, but the change really has to happen at the investigator-to-investigator level," said Smithson.

One of the goals of the Strategic Plan for the Academic Enterprise was to find ways for both clinicians and researchers to enjoy closer working relationships and exchanges of research problems and possible solutions.

Dr. George S. Allen, William F. Meacham Professor and chair of Neurosurgery, among other busy clinicians, suggested to Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research, that dinner meetings with informal short presentations by a clinician paired with a basic scientist working on problems of common interest would be one way to start these important conversations between clinical and basic scientists. Fortunately.

The long-term impact for fostering clinically relevant research by a conference was already appreciated by Strange and Smithson, who collaborated on research concerning the workings of the choriod plexus, the tissue in the brain responsible for the production of cerebrospinal fluid.

Their research, while still in progress, has already produced results that have called into question some of the therapies used to treat traumatic brain injury and its associated brain swelling.

"A lot of the problems associated with treating traumatic brain injuries stem from not being able to control intercranial pressure that is built up by the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Given all that we currently know about the brain, our methods of controlling that pressure are pretty crude," said Smithson.

Strange's laboratory recently developed a new method for studying choriod plexus function. His lab found that a key membrane ion transporter is functioning in a way completely opposite to that proposed in both the basic science and clinical literature. This ion transporter plays a central role in the regulation of CSF production and composition.

"When we started developing this new model, and thinking about the clinical problems, it was pretty clear that much of the old literature was incorrect and that there had to be better ways to control CSF production in the brain," said Strange

Strange and Smithson will present their research at the first of the Bench to Bedside conferences to show some of the benefits of collaboration between clinicians and basic science researchers, in their case pondering new insights into managing traumatic brain injuries.

"The power of this conference is the diversity of its anticipated participants," said Limbird.

"Imagine how society will benefit from revealing the molecular basis for normal brain development, providing the insights into what is responsible for certain learning or behavioral disabilities and guiding therapeutic and educational interventions. Or how preventive therapy might be developed once degenerative brain diseases can be predicted from individual genetic samples, and thus disrupted in their earliest stages. Our dinners will involve faculty from Psychology, the Kennedy Center, clinical researchers in the schools of Nursing and Medicine, as well as basic scientists from many disciplines. What brings these faculty together is their shared professional interest ‹ the brain and its relationship to the mind in health and disease."

Those not already alerted to these monthly Bench to Bedside Brain Dinners should contact Wanda Duke at 343-8846 to get on the e-mail invitation list or to RSVP to participate on Thursday evening, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. at the University Club. Cocktails (cash bar) will be served at 6:30 p.m.