Transitions planned at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

Pictured left to right: Karoly Mirnics and Elisabeth Dykens

Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., Annette Schaffer Eskind Chair, has announced plans to step down as Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) director. Karoly Mirnics, M.D., Ph.D., James G. Blackmore Chair and VKC associate director, has accepted the directorship of the Munroe-Meyer Institute, University of Nebraska.

Dykens transition

To assist with the transition in VKC leadership, Dykens will continue to serve in the director’s role until a successor is identified.

Camilla Benbow, Ed.D., Patricia Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development, and Steven Webber, M.B.Ch.B., James C. Overall Professor of Pediatrics and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, have been named as co-chairs for a committee that will conduct a national search for Dykens’ successor.

Before being named VKC director in 2009, Dykens served as interim director for approximately one year. She was recruited to Vanderbilt in 2003 to serve as the Center’s associate director.

Dykens is stepping down at a time of multiple recent successes at the VKC. Over the past two years, the center was successfully renewed for its two major federal infrastructure grants, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Intellectual and Developmental Disability Research Centers (IDDRCs), and the Health and Human Services Administration of Community Living’s University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs).

Under Dykens’ leadership the impact and dissemination of VKC’s work, including professional training, services, and research through the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD), the UCEDD, and the IDDRC, have expanded in Tennessee and across the nation.

“I have been privileged to work with Center members, investigators, staff, clinicians, and trainees who are highly productive, creative, and take to heart the mission of the Center. They, and the Center, are thriving, leading the field forward in an increasingly complex disability research and service landscape,” said Dykens.

Last year, the VKC celebrated its 50th anniversary through a year-long series of special lectures and events, including a day-long visit from Timothy Shriver, Ph.D., chair and CEO of Special Olympics. Shriver spoke to an audience at the Center 50 years to the day that his parents, Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and his grandmother Rose Kennedy spoke at VKC’s founding Convocation.

After this transition, Dykens plans to focus more time on her research related to Prader-Willi, Williams, and Down syndromes. Earlier work in her lab is now leading to multiple pharmaceutical and other clinical trials. Dykens said that with renewed interests in rare developmental disorders from the National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical industry, “Now is an ideal time to move our research program in exciting and new directions.”

Mirnics Transition

Karoly Mirnics has accepted the directorship of Munroe-Meyer Institute for Genetics and Rehabilitation (MMI) in Omaha, Nebraska, following a national search. His appointment was announced by University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, M.D., pending approval of the University of Nebraska President and Board of Regents.

“The Munroe-Meyer Institute is a very important part of UNMC’s mission,” said Chancellor Gold. “Dr. Mirnics brings an extraordinary degree of experience to this important role, and under his guidance, I am sure we will see MMI expand on its already impressive accomplishments in research, education and clinical care.”

The Munroe-Meyer Institute originated in the late 1950’s as a place for children with polio to receive treatment. Since becoming a part of UNMC in 1968, the Institute expanded its mission to provide statewide services and supports to children and adults with developmental disabilities, genetic disorders, and special health care needs. MMI provides diagnosis and treatment to approximately 15,000 children and adults annually.  As an academic unit of UNMC, MMI is committed to training health care professionals who will provide future care to children and adults with disabilities. The Institute has a strong commitment to applied and basic research related to the prevention and treatment of genetic disorders and developmental disabilities.

“An opportunity like this comes along once in a lifetime, and I accepted the offer with great enthusiasm,” Mirnics said. “I will lead a remarkable group of clinicians, researchers, and community organizers dedicated to improving the life of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. However, this appointment is also bittersweet at a personal level. Over the last 10 years in Nashville, our family and professional lives have flourished. Above all, we cherished our interactions within the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Vanderbilt Medical Center, and the University.”

Mirnics will begin transitioning to Omaha in April, completing the move by mid-July.

John Howser is assistant vice chancellor of VUMC News & Communications. Jan Rosemergy is VKC deputy director and director of Communications and Dissemination.

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