Year in Review 2015: Achievements, milestones abound at VUMCby Doug Campbell | Dec. 17, 2015, 10:22 AM
Editor’s note — the following is a roundup of the news that made headlines at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2015.
Vanderbilt University partnered with the William K. Warren Foundation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on research aimed at improving the treatment of schizophrenia and other forms of serious mental illness. The foundation will provide $5 million to Vanderbilt over three years to develop a potential new drug class that may be more effective than current therapy and with fewer side effects. The project is led by Craig Lindsley, Ph.D., and Jeff Conn, Ph.D., leaders in Vanderbilt’s neuroscience drug discovery effort.
Marburg virus findings
Researchers at Vanderbilt, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and The Scripps Research Institute for the first time showed how human antibodies can neutralize the Marburg virus, a close cousin to Ebola. Their findings, published in two papers in the journal Cell, should speed development of the first effective treatment and vaccine against these often lethal viruses, said James Crowe Jr., M.D., whose team at Vanderbilt isolated and characterized the antibodies.
Taking on head and neck lymphedema
Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) was awarded a four-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to establish a valid, clinically useful measurement battery for head and neck lymphedema and fibrosis (LEF).
Principal investigator Jie Deng, Ph.D., R.N., developed the proposal because she commonly sees oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer patients who have under-identified late treatment effects that impair function or decrease quality of life.
Imaging tour de force
Vanderbilt researchers achieved the first “image fusion” of mass spectrometry and microscopy — a technical tour de force that could, among other things, dramatically improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Richard Caprioli, Ph.D., was senior author of the paper published in March in the journal Nature Methods.
Mass spectrometry provides a very precise accounting of the proteins, lipids and other molecules in a given tissue, but in a spatially coarse or pixelated manner. Combining the best features of both imaging modalities allows scientists to see the molecular make-up of tissues in high resolution.
Center for Trauma, Burn and Emergency Services formed
The Clinical Services of Trauma, Orthopaedic Trauma, Burn and Emergency General Surgery joined forces to form The Vanderbilt Center for Trauma, Burn and Emergency Surgery. VUMC operates the only certified Level 1 trauma facility in Middle Tennessee. The mission of the center, which is organized within the Surgery Patient Care Center, is to align resources internally and increase community outreach.
Ebola treatment research
Vanderbilt researchers joined a multi-center effort led by Pennsylvania-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. to accelerate development of potential antibody therapies against the often-lethal Ebola virus.
In April, the company announced it had been awarded an initial two-year, $21-million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the U.S. Department of Defense, to support the project. Vanderbilt’s share of the grant is $1.3 million.
NIH influenza grant
Vanderbilt researchers received a five-year, $9 million grant from the NIH to design novel, more effective antibody treatments and vaccines against influenza.
Current flu vaccines trigger immune responses against proteins on the surface, or “coat” of the virus. But these proteins are constantly changing. Like disguises, they help the virus evade detection by the immune system. That’s why flu vaccines are not 100 percent protective.
Vaccines could be “universally” protective, however, if they triggered an immune response against highly conserved, unchanging places on the surfaces of proteins found in every flu virus, said James Crowe Jr., M.D., co-principal investigator of the grant with Jens Meiler, Ph.D.
Autism education partnership
The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) awarded a five-year, $10 mil-lion training grant to Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD), continuing a 16-year partnership to provide education and training opportunities for school personnel throughout the state.
This ongoing TDOE support allows TRIAD to continue to provide services to educators serving kindergarten through high school at no direct cost to those educa-tors, their schools or school systems.
AIDS research center created
Vanderbilt received a five-year grant from the NIH to establish the Tennessee Center for AIDS Research with Meharry Medical College and the Tennessee Department of Health.
Simon Mallal, MBBS, the Major E.B. Stahlman Professor of Infectious Diseases and Inflammation at Vanderbilt, is principal investigator of the new center, which expands the previously existing Vanderbilt-Meharry Center for AIDS Research to include the state health department. Co-directors of the new center are David Haas, M.D., professor of Medicine, Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology and Pharmacology at Vanderbilt, and Duane Smoot, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Meharry.
Predicting drug response
VUMC received a five-year, $12.8-million grant from the NIH to develop better ways to predict how patients will respond to the drugs they’re given.
“Our goal is to understand the fundamental mechanisms putting patients at risk for severe adverse drug reactions and, more broadly, to predict how individual patients will respond to drug therapy,” said Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine and the William Stokes Professor of Experimental Therapeutics.
Vanderbilt’s is one of three “P50” grants awarded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the NIH, to establish specialized research centers for pharmacogenomics in precision medicine.
AIDS vaccine scientific hub
VUMC, the Human Vaccines Project and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) announced that VUMC became the project’s first scientific hub.
Incubated by IAVI, the Human Vaccines Project is a new public-private partnership that brings together leading academic research centers, industry, governments and nonprofits to accelerate the development of vaccines and immunotherapies against infectious diseases and cancers by decoding the human immune system.
Joint Commission survey
Thirteen surveyors from The Joint Commission (TJC), the independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits and certifies more than 20,500 health care organizations and programs in the United States, visited VUMC in July for an unannounced survey. TJC surveyors indicated that VUMC far exceeded expectations.
Grant to explore cancer cell behavior
Ian Macara, Ph.D., won an Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) — nearly $6.6 million over seven years — to support the “unusual potential” of his research, which seeks to understand and predict cancer cell “behavior.”
Macara, the Louise B. McGavock Professor and chair of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, is one of about 60 researchers recognized in the first year of this award, which is designed to provide longer-term support for innovative research.
Genetic information in the EMR
Vanderbilt University researchers have received two major federal grants — totaling $7.6 million over four years — to support groundbreaking research aimed at making genetic information a routine part of patients’ electronic medical records.
This is a major component of “precision medicine.” The goal is to provide a laser-like focus to disease diagnosis and treatment so that patients can get the treatments most likely to work for them, and with the fewest side effects.
“This is an important step toward the routine use of genetic data in routine health care,” said Dan Roden, M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Personalized Medicine and William Stokes Professor of Experimental Therapeutics.
Cancer Center lauded by NCI
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) was recognized for the impact of its research programs and excellence in patient care by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reviewers, receiving an overall “exceptional” score as part of the renewal of the Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG).
The CCSG grant provides almost $30 million over five years to support scientific leadership and administration of VICC, as well as infrastructure that includes shared resources for cancer investigators.
This is the third renewal of VICC as an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. It is one of only 45 such centers in the United States and the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in Tennessee providing treatment for both adult and pediatric patients.
VUMC governing board named
The Vanderbilt University Board of Trust elected the members of the new governing board for Vanderbilt University Medical Center. This independent board is engaged in planning for VUMC to operate as a separate entity and will govern the Medical Center once its financial and administrative transition from the university is complete.
To see the full list of members go here.
UDN enrolls patients
Patients began to be enrolled in the Undiagnosed Diseases Network (UDN) at VUMC — one of seven medical centers around the country participating in a clinical research initiative of the NIH to identify rare disorders in patients. With the centers now accepting patients, the NIH opened an online patient application portal called the UDN Gateway. All applications for the UDN will go through the Gateway, rather than through individual clinical sites in the network.
Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative
Vanderbilt received a contract from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for up to $28 million over four years to help more than 4,000 clinicians in the Southeast transform their clinical practices in ways that improve quality of patient care and hold down costs.
The contract is part of the Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative, which aims to help 140,000 clinician practices across the country develop comprehensive quality improvement strategies.
The Vanderbilt contract supports a partnership between Vanderbilt, the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network (VHAN) and the Safety Net Consortium of Middle Tennessee. Called the Mid-South Practice Transformation Network (PTN), it will support quality improvement efforts that include reducing unnecessary testing, emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and will save millions of dollars.
ICD-10 transition completed
After months transitioning clinics across VUMC and training clinicians and staff, the move to the new ICD-10 medical coding and reporting system was completed in September. Thousands of clinicians, coders and staff across the medical enterprise are impacted by the change to ICD-10.
The new system provides for more than 68,000 unique medical diagnoses. That compares to the 14,000 codes available in ICD-9.
Coordinating AIDS education efforts
Vanderbilt was awarded a major federal grant — $16 million over four years — to coordinate AIDS education and training efforts in Tennessee and seven other southeastern states.
The Southeast AIDS Education and Training Center is moving from Emory University in Atlanta to the Vanderbilt Comprehensive Care Clinic (CCC) at Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks. The center will coordinate HIV/AIDS education efforts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina and Tennessee.