April 27, 2007

New role allows Wright to further share expertise

Featured Image

Peter and Penelope Wright at their Nashville home with their soft-coated wheaten terrier, "Winnie," and airedale terrier, "Zadie." (photo by Kats Barry)

New role allows Wright to further share expertise

In July, an era of sorts will come to a close at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt as Peter Wright, M.D., steps down from his role as chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

Wright will then begin to split his time and expertise between Vanderbilt and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

Several of Wright's various leadership roles are being assigned to others in the Division. The Vanderbilt HIV Vaccine unit, which he has led since 1987, will be turned over to Associate Director Spyros Kalams, M.D. Responsibility for other clinical trials will be assumed by others in Pediatrics, Medicine and Preventive Medicine.

“Although I will no longer be chief of the Division, I am not retiring,” Wright said, “I hope to be doing many of the same things and, hopefully, a few new things as well.”

In January, Wright accepted a position as one of the first 27 “ambassadors” named to the Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research. He says he plans to continue to travel to Haiti to develop health care in that impoverished country, as well as travelling between Nashville and Vermont, where he will split his time serving on the faculty at both institutions.

Wright came to Nashville in 1974 to become the first head of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt. He already had experience at the National Institutes of Health in research on respiratory viruses. Later he caught the international health bug after a year in Geneva with the World Health Organization.

In his career at Vanderbilt, Wright has built the division into one of international acclaim, working on vaccines to prevent influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), AIDS, shingles, Haemophilus influenzae and Streptococcus pneumoniae, among many others.

His colleagues credit him with developing one of the leading centers for the study of pediatric infectious diseases in the country. Terence Dermody, M.D., professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology and Immunology, has previously stated that Wright's efforts have shaped much of the infectious disease research in the Vanderbilt Community.

Wright views his role as a mentor to young investigators as a point of pride in his tenure.

“It is a lot like watching your own family grow. All the stages are there, the fast growth of early youth, the pain of adolescence and a maturing into a division that is recognized internationally,” Wright said. “There are the normal joys and pains that all families go through during development, but it has been very fulfilling to have been a part of it all.”

Wright and his wife, Penelope, recently bought a 12-acre farm in New Hampshire. Hanover, home to Dartmouth, is on the western side of the state, in the scenic Upper Connecticut River Valley.

They plan to build a home there, closer to family, including three of Wright's siblings.

“Not only is the family farm close to Dartmouth, but we also have property on Birch Island in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire,” Wright said.

Wright will also have plenty of work and travel to occupy his time. Dartmouth will be gaining a Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine and Vanderbilt will be retaining a leader in Pediatric Infectious Diseases. For that, many of the younger team members who have come up during Wright's tenure are grateful.

“I know that earlier in his career he did a sabbatical with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, and from that time dedicated himself to the service of the world,” said James Crowe Jr., M.D., professor of Pediatrics. “The thing I admire about Dr. Wright is that he always chooses to study those infectious diseases that matter — RSV, for example, or HIV. Grants can be driven by trends, but Peter has been very successful in commanding large grants for diseases that have a broad impact.

“It's the kind of career that makes a difference, but is less likely to lead to fame. His focus was never on fame, he stuck with what he thought mattered the most for children of the world,” Crowe said.

A search is currently under way for a new chief of the division. Meanwhile, a scientific symposium on vaccines in honor of Wright's distinguished career will be held on Friday, May 18, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Student Life Center, with a reception to follow from 3-5 p.m. For more information on the symposium and reception, contact Kelley Walker at Kelley.walker@vanderbilt.edu or 322-3377.