NIH’s All of Us Research Program Selects First Director of Pediatrics

October 5, 2022
Photo of Dr. Sara Van Driest, first director of pediatrics of the All of Us Research Program

Sara Van Driest, M.D., Ph.D

Sara Van Driest, M.D., Ph.D., tapped to lead pediatric enrollment for the program

The National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program has selected Sara Van Driest, M.D., Ph.D., to serve as the program’s first director of pediatrics. In this position, she will help set the foundation for how people under the age of 18 can participate in this landmark precision medicine effort. 

“Dr. Van Driest’s expertise as a pediatrician and researcher is matched by her vision for the future of pediatric precision medicine,” said Holly Garriock, Ph.D., chief cohort development officer. “Including children and adolescents in All of Us will provide researchers the tools to better understand how various factors influence health across the lifespan, as well as advance our knowledge of children’s health and health care.”

Dr. Van Driest joins the program’s Division for Cohort Development to support future enrollment and retention of pediatric and adolescent participants who reflect the diversity of the United States. This will entail developing the program’s model for pediatric recruitment and family-based participation with a focus on engaging those who are from communities historically underrepresented in biomedical research. In this role, she will also lead the design of an approach that nurtures long-term relationships, identify ways to return value to children and families, and ensure information provides researchers with quality data for analysis. At present, participation is open to eligible adults, ages 18 and up, living anywhere in the United States, however, the All of Us dataset currently includes data from nearly 20,000 participants with electronic health records dating back to care received during their childhood.

Prior to joining the program’s leadership team, Dr. Van Driest served as an associate professor of pediatrics and medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). There she held roles as co-director of VUMC’s Center for Pediatric Precision Medicine, as well as the Genomics and Therapeutics Clinic. As a physician-scientist, Dr. Van Driest’s work routinely used clinically-generated data and biosamples for research, as well as a tool for implementation of pediatric personalized medicine in clinical practice. Throughout her career, she has also worked as a pediatrician, caring for infants, children, and adolescents at VUMC.

Her research to date has focused on improving the dosing and understanding the effects of commonly used medications, including antibiotics, analgesics, and sedatives in children. She recently led research searching for genetic variants that cause pediatric patients to process medicines differently, developing methods to identify drug effects using electronic health records data, and studying the effect and movement of drugs through the body that are commonly used in pediatric patients. Her past research was funded through the NIH, an early career award from the PhRMA Foundation, an Innovation in Regulatory Science Award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and a Doris Duke Clinical Scientist Development Award. She led the Vanderbilt Integrated Center of Excellence in Maternal and Pediatric Precision Therapeutics (VICE-MPRINT) with her colleague Dr. Prince Kannankeril, as part of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development-funded MPRINT Hub.

“Much of my prior research has been focused on filling the gaps in the evidence for precision medicine in children. We still have so much to learn about how genes, physical environments, and experiences in families and communities impact health,” said Van Driest. “As All of Us plans to open participation to children and adolescents, we are presented with an opportunity to start understanding these interactions and re-envision health care for future generations.” 

Van Driest completed her M.D. and Ph.D. at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, followed by a pediatric residency and clinical pharmacology fellowship at Vanderbilt. She is an active member of the Society for Pediatric Research, the Pharmacogenomics Global Research Network, and the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. She serves on the steering committee for the Clinical Pharmacogenetics Implementation Consortium and on the scientific advisory boards for PharVar, a central repository for pharmacogenomic variation, and PharmCAT, a freely available pharmacogenomics clinical annotation tool. She was the 2019 recipient of the Leon I. Goldberg Early Investigator Award from the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 

Dr. Van Driest will join the program in late October 2022. 

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