VICC Young Ambassadors

A Year by Year History

2013: A Year of Surprises

2013 started strong when Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol took $35,000 from her budget and invited the Young Ambassadors to use these funds to award a $35k “renewal discovery grant” to a past Young Ambassador Discovery Grant recipient. Orrin Ingram graciously hosted a breakfast at Ingram Industries in September so all the Young Ambassadors (YA) and the VICC Board of Overseers (BOO) could hear about the research progress being made by past recipients. Together, the YA and BOO members voted to award the renewal grant to Dr. Chad Quarles, who is advancing the capability of imaging to more quickly detect patients’ responses to therapy. To the delight of the five researchers who were not awarded the renewal grant, one of the Board members present decided to award each of them $20,000 to continue the work they were making in their labs, for a total of $135,000 toward renewals.

Two long-standing members of the group, Courtney Cooper-Jenrath and Kelly Mansfield, generously agreed to step up in a leadership capacity in 2013. They ably helped execute events, and led the group forward as they worked toward their goal of awarding three Discovery Grants.

Dr. Reid Thompson addressed the group in October, highlighting the importance of the Young Ambassadors’ work and praising their passion and enthusiasm. Between Reid’s encouraging words, the hard work of the group, and the support of the BOO, the Young Ambassadors were able to award three Discovery Grants in November to Ken Lau, PhD, Carlos Lopez, PhD, and Bryan Venters, PhD.

The Young Ambassadors were joined in 2013 by Anoosh and Kelly Bahiraei, Leigh Ivey, and Kylee Ervin, all of whom made important contributions to the work of the group.

2012: Shooting for the Moon

As our numbers continued to grow with the addition of a few more new Young Ambassadors, we began to think about a truly audacious goal for 2012 – three Discovery Grants for a total of $105,000. Thanks to the shared efforts of our group, we achieved this ambitious sum and more!

In 2012, we learned about Vanderbilt’s contribution to cancer treatment worldwide through “My Cancer Genome”, shared with us by Christine Lovly, M.D., Ph.D., Instructor in Medicine. My Cancer Genome is a freely available online personalized cancer medicine resource and decision-making tool for physicians, patients, caregivers and researchers.

We also explored the drug discovery process with Jeff Conn, Ph.D., Lee E. Limbird Professor of Pharmacology and Director – Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery. Dr. Conn has experience in the pharmaceutical industry and academia, ideally positioning him to expedite the process so new drugs can help patients more quickly. Vanderbilt’s drug discovery program is working closely with industry to discover and bring effective new therapies to market.

Aylin Ozgener, a founding Young Ambassador, and her family generously hosted an “Evening with the Director” event for our group at their event space Oz. We invited current and prospective donors to spend a little time with the VICC Director, Jennifer Pietenpol, as well as Board of Overseers members and researchers whose projects we have funded. By the way, Shannon Cain and Jack Untz (video) provided a rousing night of music. What an evening!

We also welcomed to our team Kim Bundy, Manager of Volunteer Engagement and Dustin Williams, Annual Giving Program Assistant, new members of the development office. Partnering with Vanderbilt is a great experience as volunteers!

As we look ahead, we find our mission to be increasingly compelling – funding early-stage, high-risk / high-reward research is essential as we continue to seek cures. Onward!

Young Ambassador alumni include: Ezra Fitz, Coleman Greene, Lacey Greene, Stephen Maggart, Patrick McGowan, Jamie Vernon, Tara & Matthew Wilson

2011: Getting to Know Vanderbilt University Medical Center

In 2011, feeling confident after our first year’s effort, we set out to raise $70,000 to fund two Discovery Grants…and again blew right past our goal! Our team grew with the addition of Shannon Cain to the VICC development office.

We spent several of our meetings exploring the incredible resources available at Vanderbilt, which is known for its collaborative culture. The High-Throughput Screening Facility allows researchers to test the efficacy of multiple different compounds at one time (video). This facilitates faster research. One of the projects our group funded in 2012 included use of the High-Throughput Screening Facility, so we could easily picture the progress!

We also toured the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science, a fascinating core resource offering state-of-the-art facilities for imaging animal and human subjects. Advances in imaging enable better diagnoses and treatment evaluation for cancer patients. Housed deep within the confines of this facility is a 7 Tesla MRI, generating a magnetic pull 140,000 times the strength of the Earth’s magnetic pull.

2009 – 2010: Early Dreams and Coming Together

In our first year, we planned a mix of educational and social activities to bring our group together and spread awareness of our efforts. Orrin Ingram, VICC Board of Overseers chair, generously hosted our kick-off at Ingram Industries’ headquarters. We set an ambitious goal of $35,000 to fund one Discovery Grant and ended up raising more than $55,000, awarding one Discovery Grant and an additional Research Award of $20,000.

During our first year, one of our favorite meetings involved extracting DNA from dried green peas (thanks to Hannah Dudney for leading this meeting!). We paired that exercise with a presentation from William Pao, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Cancer Biology, & Pathology/ Microbiology/ Immunology and Director-Personalized Cancer Medicine who taught us about personalized cancer medicine. Dr. Pao was so impressed with our DNA protocol that he shared it with his daughter for a science project!

Another significant contributor to launching the VICC Young Ambassadors is Beth Franklin, who serves as our “Board of Overseers Mentor” and hosted a fundraising 101 event at their company’s (Multi-Task Solutions) headquarters. Beth’s daughter, Ruth (a founding member of Young Ambassadors) and the Franklins hosted our 2011 and 2012 kick-off events at their home. We collaborated closely with Beth Jones, Executive Director of Development; Kelly Smith, Assistant Director of Development; and Heidi Reich, Development Assistant of the VICC development office to create our infrastructure and formalize our group’s role.