Discovering Hope

Published on December 19th, 2011 by Diana Duren.

Improving vaccine development

Kathryn Edwards, M.D.

The Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program is at the forefront of novel approaches to vaccine development.

Kathryn Edwards, M.D., director of the program and principal investigator (PI) of Vanderbilt’s NIH-funded Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU), is examining how to speed the development of critical vaccines that protect against pandemic influenza.

Andrew Link, Ph.D., associate professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, is working with Edwards as co-PI on the 18-month, $1.6 million NIH-funded project. The study uses a systems biology approach, which provides a holistic view of how our bodies react to vaccination in the first few days. Researchers will look for gene expression signatures that may predict a vaccine’s future success or failure.

Pediatric Infectious Diseases fellow Leigh Howard, M.D., is conducting the clinical portion of the novel systems biology trial, in which disciplines like immunology, functional genomics and bioinformatics will work together to describe complex interactions that occur within the immune system as the avian influenza vaccine works its magic.

At the same time, other researchers within the program are examining how to make current vaccines work better. For example, one study is testing a larger dose of seasonal flu vaccine in infants for better protection, and others are examining the use of additives called “adjuvants” that may enhance vaccine response in many populations.

– by Carole Bartoo


Fighting childhood obesity

Shari Barkin, M.D.

Obesity lives in the community, and the epidemic can be ended there too, says Shari Barkin, M.D., Marian Wright Edelman Professor of Pediatrics and director of the Division of General Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

This year, Barkin and partners in the Nashville Collaborative, a community-based effort against obesity, celebrated three years of work, including seven grants, 10 submitted scientific papers, national presentations and an international award. They have worked mainly at the Coleman Community Center in Nashville, helping at-risk Latino families and their preschool age children live healthier lives. Children’s Hospital partners with Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation in the Collaborative.

Building on these successes, Barkin and the Collaborative will lead a $12 million NIH grant-funded program called Growing Right Onto Wellness (GROW) over the next three years. The trial will focus on English- and Spanish-speaking families, from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, with preschool-age children.

The GROW trial is a community-based, family-centered intervention that will utilize  parks and recreation facilities in Davidson County to  make healthy living easier for families and to change a child’s trajectory toward healthy growth for life.

– by Carole Bartoo


Popular MRSA drug may not be best option

A popular antibiotic used to treat community-associated methicillin- Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) skin infections may not be best, Vanderbilt researchers have found.

In an August 2011 article in the journal Pediatrics, Buddy Creech, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, and Derek Williams, M.D., MPH, instructor of Pediatrics in the Division of Hospital Medicine, took a statewide look at skin boils caused by CA-MRSA.

They reviewed the health records of 50,000 children on TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to compare outcomes of three drugs: beta-lactams (penicillin-based medications), Bactrim (called TMP-SMX), or clindamycin. A 2005 Vanderbilt study showed 70 percent to 80 percent of boils are caused by CA-MRSA, and recent reviews have shown cases treated in the Emergency Department increased from a rate of one or two cases every three days in 2001, to as many as four per day by 2007.

Creech and Williams found Bactrim and beta-lactam drugs had more than twice the rate of treatment failure or recurrence when compared with clindamycin. This is not great news for young patients and their families since Bactrim is cheaper and tastes better than clindamycin. Vanderbilt is part of an ongoing, multi-center, randomized trial to show definitively which treatment is better for the common skin infections.

– by Carole Bartoo