October 24, 2008

New leadership for Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

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Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D.

New leadership for Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

Pat Levitt, Ph.D.

Pat Levitt, Ph.D.

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Director Pat Levitt, Ph.D., is stepping down after six years at Vanderbilt to pursue other opportunities, effective Nov. 1.

Levitt, the Annette Schaffer Eskind Chair, has accepted a position at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.

He will be director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, chair of the Department of Cell and Neurobiology, and Provost Professor of Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Pharmacy.

The Kennedy Center has expanded greatly under Levitt's direction, more than doubling its extramural research portfolio, experiencing a fortyfold increase in philanthropy, and being designated as a University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities.

Autism research and treatment programs have also seen dramatic growth through the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD), newly designated oversight of the LEND/MIND training program, and many other activities.

“In my view, many of the programs now require leadership in clinical research, clinical and translational services and training areas, which are not my strengths,” said Levitt, a professor of Pharmacology.

“I know that the VKC will benefit from fresh leadership. The administration has been very supportive and I am not stepping down because of any problems.”

Associate Director Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., will serve as VKC interim director while a nationwide search is conducted for Levitt's successor.

“Pat has provided extraordinary leadership,” said Dykens, also director of VKC's Center of Excellence on Developmental Disabilities.

“He gave priority to family and community needs. Pat and his colleague BethAnn McLaughlin built a relationship with the Dan Marino Foundation, which is now supporting the Marino Autism Research Institute at Vanderbilt and the University of Miami. Working with deans and department chairs, he helped recruit 20 new scientists to Vanderbilt.

“Pat also built relationships with donors that have led to important programs for families like the Ann and Monroe Carell Jr. Families First Workshops for parents of young children with autism. In short, Pat has been an awesome leader.”

Dykens will also be principal investigator for the Center's NICHD core grant application to remain an Intellectual and Developmental Disability Research Center.

The five-year grant, which is up for renewal in December, supports a wide range of genetic, neuroscience, behavioral, and quantitative research services that are used by Center investigators.

Scientific leadership of the IDDRC is one of the most crucial criteria for renewal and Dykens will commit to her role as PI for five years.

“Due to the great efforts of our core directors, the grant is in great shape,” Levitt said. “And I expect that we won't miss a beat when we submit in December.”

Dykens, a professor of Psychology and Human Development, received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Kansas. Dykens' research at VKC is focused on both the mental health challenges and unique strengths of persons with genetic syndromes.

Her research includes examining compulsive behaviors and overeating in Prader-Willi syndrome and heightened anxiety in Williams syndrome.