Current BH Robbins Scholars, Mentors and Projects

The Benjamin Howard Robbins Scholar Program was initiated in 2007 to support the professional development of department early-stage physician-scientists. The program builds critical research skills under direct mentorship of established scientists with the goal that all Robbins Scholars establish vigorous, independently funded research programs. The program is named in honor of the department’s first chairman, a renowned physician-scientist. The BH Robbins Scholar Program is multidisciplinary, encouraging and supporting mentorships and collaborations that extend well beyond traditional boundaries of anesthesia. Scholars apply and are rewarded on a competitive basis.

Department Chair Warren Sandberg, MD, PhD, notes, “The BH Robbins Scholar Program provides a unique mentored research experience for early-stage investigators that includes a two-year multidisciplinary fellowship devoted to research. Our Robbins Scholars benefit from one-on-one mentorship, a wealth of research and educational resources, protected research time and a stipend during their residency and fellowship. The program is material evidence of our staunch commitment to identifying and developing future generations of anesthesiologist clinician-scientists, with a now 15-year track record of excellence.”

The BH Robbins Scholar Program is directed by F. T. (Josh) Billings IV, MD, MSCI, who states, “We strive to mentor, develop and support physician-scientists so that they make discoveries that advance the care of perioperative and critically ill patients. This is a critical goal of academic anesthesiology and our department."

Two scholars completed the program June 2021, Drs. Puneet Mishra and Kevin Manz. Dr. Mishra is an assistant professor in the Division of Pain Medicine focusing on the development and evaluation of novel treatment options for patients suffering from chronic knee pain. His research is supported by several NIH and investigator-initiated industry grants. He recently completed a randomized clinical trial examining the efficacy of preoperative genicular nerve radiofrequency ablation in reducing pain and improving functional outcomes in patients undergoing total knee arthroplasty. He is now focused on an NIH supported multisite project exploring optimal conservative and interventional strategies for knee pain. Given the vast number of patients suffering from chronic knee pain, Dr. Mishra’s research serves a critical role in helping patients improve their quality of life. He is mentored by Stephen Bruehl, PhD. Dr. Manz is an MSTP student who completed his doctorate and postdoctoral training in Dr. Brad Grueter’s neuroscience research lab. His work focuses on mechanisms of synaptic plasticity in the nucleus accumbens, using patch-clamp electrophysiology, pharmacology, optogenetics and voltammetry to dissect the properties of microcircuits and monoamines in the brain’s reward network. Dr. Manz is pursuing critical care medicine, and his long-term research goal is to understand the cellular, synaptic and behavioral dynamics in hypothalamic wake centers implicated in ICU-associated cognitive and affective states. Puneet and Kevin have completed excellent work and have exciting futures!

Areas of research for current scholars are briefly described herein.

Matthew Barajas, MD (Scholar 2020-2022) is a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist investigating ischemic post conditioning in a rat model of fibrillatory cardiac arrest. In addition, he is evaluating peripheral intravenous waveform analysis (PIVA) and its utility across several types of shock, including hemorrhage, respiratory arrest and acute obstructive shock. His work on PIVA was honored with the Junior Faculty Research Award at this year’s Association of University Anesthesiologists annual meeting and selected for presentation in the Best of Meeting section of the Society of Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists Annual Meeting. He is supported by the department’s T32 training grant and an SCA starter grant. He looks forward to continuing his success under the mentorshipof Matthias Riess, MD, PhD, and Susan Eagle, MD. 

Christina Boncyk, MD (Scholar 2018-2022) is an assistant professor in the Division of Anesthesiology Critical Care Medicine investigating the impact of increased medication burden during acute hospitalization and following intensive care unit (ICU) survival on patient survival, cognitive impairment and physical function. Her work is supported by a FAER Mentored Research Training Grant and the Society of Academic Associations of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine (SAAAPM). Her T32 work included looking at the association of antipsychotic medications on in-hospital outcomes among delirious ICU patients. Her long-term research interests include improving ICU survivorship through identification of modifiable medication interventions and interactive ICU survivors' support services. Dr. Boncyk is mentored by Christopher Hughes, MD, MS, and Pratik Pandharipande, MD, MSCI.

Dianne Lou, MD, PhD (Scholar 2019-2022) researches the phenomenon of widespread pain in head and neck cancer survivors, using functional and structural MRI, quantitative sensory testing and patient reported outcomes. She is the principal investigator of a randomized controlled trial using multimodal treatment for the prevention of chronic systemic symptoms after treatment, such as widespread pain and cognitive dysfunction. She is mentored by Barbara Murphy, MD, Dept of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, and David A. Edwards, MD, PhD, Dept of Anesthesiology, Division of Pain Medicine. She completed her second year of the T32 in July 2021 and will continue her research during a Pain Medicine fellowship in 2021-2022.

Naeem Patil, MBBS, PhD (Scholar 2018-2022) is a research assistant professor investigating the molecular mechanisms leading to sepsis-induced immunosuppression and organ injury. His current studies are focused on elucidating the mechanisms driving cellular mitochondrial dysfunction as a key driver of sepsis pathology. Utilizing small molecules such as Toll-like receptor agonists and therapeutics targeting the metabolic reprogramming pathways, Dr. Patil’s studies aim to preserve and augment mitochondrial function as a novel approach to protect against sepsis-induced immunosuppression and organ injury. He is a recipient of the US  Shock Society Faculty Research Award and the Vanderbilt Faculty Research Scholars Award (career development award). He is mentored by Edward Sherwood MD, PhD.

Kimberly Rengel, MD (Scholar 2017-2022) is an assistant professor in the Division of Anesthesiology Critical Care Medicine interested in improving long-term recovery for patients after major surgery or critical illness and the role of skeletal muscle health in acquired disability. Her research program is focused on the use of ultrasound to examine skeletal muscle health throughout critical illness and its relationship to long-term acquired disability. Further, working with her mentors, she plans to translate this research into the perioperative space identifying patients at risk for acquired disability and using interventions like prehabilitation to prevent physical decline after major surgery. Recently she was awarded a Vanderbilt Faculty Research Scholar mentored research training grant to support this work and will be completing the esteemed Master of Science in Clinical Investigation program over the next two years. Dr. Rengel is mentored by Christopher Hughes, MD, MS, and Pratik Pandharipande, MD, MSCI.

Amanda Stone, PhD (Scholar 2018-2022) is a research assistant professor and a clinical psychologist with primary interests in pediatric pain and intergenerational factors affecting children’s health outcomes. After completing the T32 training period, Dr. Stone received a K23 from NICHD to evaluate biopsychosocial predictors of opioid use for pediatric postsurgical pain. She has also received the Early Career Research Grant from the International Association for the Study of Pain to further her work on the intergenerational transmission of risk for chronic pain. Dr. Stone aims to optimize pediatric pain management and prevent adverse outcomes. She is mentored by Stephen Bruehl, PhD.