April 29, 2005

VUMC hosts meeting of National Digestive Disease Center directors

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D. Brent Polk, M.D.

VUMC hosts meeting of National Digestive Disease Center directors

Directors and administrators of Digestive Disease Research Centers (DDRCs) from across the country convened at Vanderbilt on Monday and Tuesday.

The Vanderbilt Digestive Disease Research Center (VDDRC) was founded in 2002 with grant support from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Vanderbilt is one of only 14 medical centers in the country to receive such funding.

In the Tuesday morning sessions, VDDRC investigators presented their ongoing research projects. Outgoing Director of the VDDRC, Raymond DuBois, Jr. M.D., Ph.D., announced the new leadership of the VDDRC.

D. Brent Polk, M.D., who previously served as Associate Director and worked closely with DuBois in the development of the Center, will assume the role of Principal Investigator/Center Director. Richard M. Peek Jr., M.D., will become associate director and will take control of Pilot and Feasibility Grant Program within the VDDRC. DuBois, who was recently named director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, will remain an active member of the center, serving on the Internal Advisory Board and contributing to program development.

Jeffrey R. Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for research, discussed the many research resources that support the work of VDDRC members.

Among those resources, the new MRB IV building, currently under construction, will become the new home for VDDRC investigators from several different divisions. More than 40,000 square feet of space in the new facility will be dedicated to the VDDRC, bringing under one roof investigators with common interest in digestive disease research.

Polk, chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology and professor of Pediatrics and Cell and Developmental Biology, presented an overview of the VDDRC administrative structure and the various research programs and core facilities.

Peek, the Mina Cobb Wallace Associate Professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology and chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, reported results from ongoing collaborative research projects that emanated from relationships developed within the VDDRC.

The research has formed the basis of a Program Project Application to study gastrointestinal carcinogenesis that is induced by Helicobacter pylori infection.

In the afternoon, representatives from the NIH spoke to the group about funding initiatives for digestive disease research.

Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., deputy director of the NIDDK, predicted that Congress would approve President Bush’s request for a half percent increase in the NIH budget — to $28.7 billion — for the coming fiscal year.

In the long-term, particularly considering inflation in the cost of biomedical research, “a flat budget is not very sustainable,” Rodgers said. “We will have to begin to look more carefully at what programs you can cut in order to start new activities.”

“Even with inflation, we’re better off then we used to be,” before the doubling of the NIH budget, said Stephen James, M.D., director of the NIDDK’s Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition.

Last year, for example, the division, which covers the gamut from liver disease to obesity and nutrition research, awarded $408 million in extramural research grants. “Our job is to make the most of what we’ve got now,” James said.