Leading the Way

Published on June 21st, 2011 by Christina Echegaray.

by Jessica Pasley

When Michael DeBaun, M.D., MPH, joined Vanderbilt, he came armed with $4 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grants for four years.

DeBaun, vice chair for Clinical Research for the Department of Pediatrics, has already seen the global impact that his advocacy and research has had on children with sickle cell disease (SCD).

He is the principal investigator in several multi-center studies. In his Silent Cerebral Infarct Transfusion (SIT) Trial, an international study involving 25 sites, he hopes to determine the effectiveness of blood transfusion therapy to prevent silent strokes in children with sickle cell.

Another of his research projects, the Sleep Asthma Cohort (SAC) Study, looks at children around the world to examine how asthma and sleep disorders might contribute to sickle cell-related morbidity.

“The SIT Trial has already elevated the level of care for children with SCD,” said DeBaun. “Prior to our study, neurological and imaging protocols of the brain had not been well established for this group of patients.

“Now every child with symptoms of stroke, at least at these 25 sites, receives a prompt neurological evaluation in the emergency department. That is an immediate and lasting impact.”

Meanwhile, the asthma study is raising awareness about the need for comprehensive care for children with sickle cell, and prompting physicians to include pulmonologists, alongside other specialists, as part of a medical team.
A 2009 inductee into the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, DeBaun has been a longtime champion of sickle cell disease.

He was the physician co-author of the Sickle Cell Treatment Act, a bill passed in 2004 to increase funding for treatment, research and awareness for the disease. U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, sponsored the bill.

The Act enhanced services by allowing states to receive federal matching funds for treatment expenses such as genetic counseling, community outreach and education. In addition, it created 40 Sickle Cell Disease Treatment Centers and a National Sickle Cell Disease Research Headquarters to help coordinate research.

“I have long wanted to affect the lives of people who often don’t have a voice to speak for themselves, namely children and the underserved,” DeBaun said.

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