December 16, 2010

Year in review 2010: A year of achievements, discoveries

Featured Image

Improving compliance with hand-washing protocols has been a priority at Vanderbilt hospitals and clinics during the past year. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

Editor's note — the following is a chronological roundup of the news that made headlines at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2010.


Program in Drug Discovery

A $10 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health in March established Vanderbilt's Program in Drug Discovery as a National Cooperative Drug Discovery and Development Group (NCDDDG). The five-year grant supports efforts to find novel therapeutic agents for the treatment of schizophrenia.


H1N1 findings

In two papers published in March, researchers at VUMC and their colleagues explained why older people seem to be protected against the H1N1 “swine flu” virus.

Reporting in the Journal of Virology, James Crowe Jr., M.D., Jens Krause, M.D., and their colleagues report that antibodies isolated from elderly survivors of the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic also bound to and inhibited the 2009 H1N1 virus in laboratory and animal experiments. In the second report, published in the journal Science, researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., collaborated with Crowe and Krause and a colleague at Mount Sinai School of Medicine to solve the structure of the conserved protein.



In April, Vanderbilt University Medical Center received an $8.6 million federal stimulus grant to create a new collaborative, shared resource that officials said will accelerate discoveries in genome science and personalized medicine. The collaboration, called VANTAGE, for Vanderbilt Technologies for Advanced Genomics, will co-locate and expand four existing core facilities and BioVU, the Medical Center's DNA databank.


National Academy of Sciences

Roger Cone, Ph.D., an expert on the science of obesity, was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in April for his distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Membership in the NAS is one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States.


Women’s Health Center’s new home

The Franklin Road Women's Health Center debuted its new location in Berry Hill in April. The center, located at 2410 Franklin Road, is part of a Federally Qualified Health Center cluster owned and operated by University Community Health Services with 19 faculty clinicians provided through Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.


Simulation lab honored

In April, VUSN's Clinical Simulation Lab was designated a Laerdal Center of Excellence — one of only 16 institutions in the nation to receive this honor. The designation is awarded to educational centers that have demonstrated excellence in educational philosophy and designed programs to help save lives.


Vaccine Center created

Vaccine science at Vanderbilt took a major step forward with the formation of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center in May. The center, directed by James Crowe Jr., M.D., professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology and Immunology, was created from a core of existing programs to allow for development of vaccines from the “ground up.”


Flood response

As the historic rains inundated Nashville in early May, Vanderbilt sprung into action. A flood relief Web site was created ( to serve as a gathering place for the latest information on how to deal with insurance issues, FEMA paperwork, finding lost pets, locating shelters, legal assistance and more. The site received approximately 129,000 hits in the first two weeks after its launch.

The Employee Needs Assessment survey helped administrators determine about 1,300 employees had been adversely affected by the flood in some way. Around 70 employees indicated their homes had been completely destroyed by the floodwaters. Around 300 stated their homes were uninhabitable but salvageable, and more than 500 others reported having a livable residence with damage exceeding $5,000.

The Flood Resource and Coordination Center was set up at VUMC, where staff and administrators received and made calls to the affected employees.

A two-week paid leave was extended to flood victims. Work Life Connections/EAP offered counseling services to flood victims as well as gift cards, and the Vanderbilt Credit Union offered special flood relief loans. Employees held a swap meet May 6 and 7 and set up an online classifieds page to share clothing, beds, toys and other items with those in need.


Ingram Chair

Stephen Fesik, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry, Pharmacology and Chemistry, was named the inaugural recipient of the Orrin H. Ingram II Chair in Cancer Research. The chair was created to support the research efforts of an outstanding cancer investigator in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s cancer drug discovery program and is funded through a gift from Ingram, chairman of the Board of Overseers of VICC, a member of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust and chair of its Medical Center Affairs Committee.


My Health Team

Drawing on its strengths in clinical information technology to expand the concept of care beyond the clinic walls, VUMC in May set out to transform outpatient management of three common chronic conditions: hypertension, diabetes and congestive heart failure. The project is called My Health Team @ Vanderbilt and is under way in the Adult Primary Care Center.


Children’s Hospital to expand

In June, plans were unveiled to build an expansion to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

This first-phase expansion will add additional acute, neonatal intensive care and medical-surgical beds, and also allow for increased space to house a growing number of physician scientists who care for Middle Tennessee's youngest patients.

As part of this multi-phase, multi-year expansion project, with an estimated total cost of $250 million, this initial Phase 1 expansion will involve $25 million to $30 million in construction costs, and will consist of a 30,000-square-foot addition on the Northwest corner of the hospital, across from the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. The expansion will be built atop the Children's Hospital's Emergency Department.


Powerful magnet

The Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science received a $3.45 million federal stimulus grant in June to purchase one of the world's strongest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. The 15 Tesla scanner will be used in studies of genetically engineered mice and other small animal models to further understanding of cancer, diabetes and brain disorders in humans.


Personalized cancer treatment

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center launched its new Personalized Cancer Medicine Initiative in July, becoming the first cancer center in the Southeast and one of the first in the nation to offer cancer patients routine “genotyping” of their tumors at the DNA level. This information will then be used to personalize treatment by matching the appropriate therapy to the genetic changes, or mutations, that are driving the cancer's growth.


Historic surgery

In July, doctors with the Vanderbilt Pediatric Heart Institute performed Tennessee's first procedures to replace heart valves without open-heart surgery. The technique, called transcatheter pulmonary valve replacement, uses new technology to position the heart valve into place using a catheter placed in the vein of the leg and then up into the heart where it is deployed.



In September, VUMC received three major federal grants, totaling $18.2 million over five years, to support studies of pharmacogenomics — how genetic variation affects individual responses to medication.

The grants are part of a $161 million package awarded this month by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support 14 scientific research projects and seven network resources in the Pharmacogenomics Research Network.

Since it was established in 2000, the network has helped identify gene variants that affect drug responses in patients treated for cancer, arrhythmias, heart disease, asthma and other conditions.


Sickle cell disease center created

A Vanderbilt-Meharry Center for Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease was established by Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Meharry Medical College in September. The Center seeks to bring high quality care to people with sickle cell disease (SCD) that is seamless and lifelong.


Award extends research

In September, Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research, received a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to pursue her studies of “nuclear pore complexes,” which transport molecules between the cell's nucleus and cytoplasm.



Beginning in September, all patients undergoing cardiac catheterization at VUMC were tested for a genetic variation that can affect their response to a blood-thinner many of them will end up taking.

The genetic information gathered through the PREDICT initiative will be placed in their electronic medical records to help their physicians choose the drug and dose that is best for them. The goal is to reduce the risk of future complications, including strokes, heart attacks and sudden cardiac death.


Nursing designation process

VUMC submitted its document to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) in early October, moving one step closer in its second Magnet designation process. The document was the culmination of more than a year of work on behalf of the interdisciplinary teams that provide patient care. The second designation process began last fall when a steering committee came together and began collecting exemplars for the document, which covers June 2008 through June 2010.


Cancer Center Support Grant

VICC was awarded a five-year renewal of its Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) from the National Cancer Institute in October. Under the NCI's Cancer Center Support Grant Program, VICC will receive more than $6.2 million per year for the next five years. The total represents a 12.7 percent increase over the previous award.


Long-term child health study

VUMC is recruiting mothers and their unborn babies for the largest long-term study of child health in U.S. history.

Local enrollment of pregnant and soon-to-be pregnant women began in November for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development National Children's Study, an in-depth look at how environment, behavior and genetics impact children's health, development and growth.

Vanderbilt plans to recruit 1,000 women over the next four years. Overall, the national study will track 100,000 children from before birth to age 21.


Institute of Medicine

Kevin Johnson, M.D., M.S., professor and vice chair of Biomedical Informatics and professor of Pediatrics, was elected in October to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM).

The IOM is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences and is comprised of some 1,755 top health experts and life scientists. The organization serves as an adviser to the nation to improve health and promote health-related research.


BioVU reaches milestone

In early November, BioVU, Vanderbilt's repository of human DNA, reached another significant milestone — it now contains more than 100,000 specific samples.

This makes the databank one of the nation's most comprehensive collections of human DNA that is linked to searchable, electronic health information.

With more than 500 samples being added every day, BioVU is a key component in a number of large NIH-funded projects that are helping define the new field of personalized medicine at Vanderbilt and nationally.