Vance Fowler Jr.: PTN Principal Investigator at Duke University Medical Center

Dr. Vance Fowler ‘s interest in infectious disease blossomed in the highland rainforests of Tanzania, where he spent a year studying malaria during medical school as a Rotary Scholar. “What a blast,” recalls Fowler. “From plague outbreaks and river blindness to smallpox scars and rabid dog bites, this year was a crash course in infectious diseases. It also hooked me on clinical research, as I designed and completed my first clinical trial. Although the challenges then were a bit different— I had to learn Swahili to enroll study subjects, and excluded participants for simultaneously visiting their local traditional healer—the satisfaction of completing a clinical trial is still just as rewarding now as then.” Twenty years later, Dr. Fowler is a professor of infectious disease at the Duke University Medical Center, specializing in the treatment of patients with multi-drug resistant bacteria, and in particular methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). As part of Pediatric Trials Network (PTN), he works to identify better ways to treat such multidrug-resistant bacterial infections in children.

MRSA is a “staph” germ that does not respond to the first-line antibiotics that usually cure staph infections. Most staph germs are spread by touch. Doctors, nurses, or hospital visitors may carry staph germs on their bodies that can be passed to susceptible patients. Once the staph germ enters the body, it can spread to bones, joints, the blood, or any organ, such as the lungs, heart, or brain, causing severe infection and even death. The consequences of S. aureus infections are particularly dire when they occur in newborns and premature infants.

The PTN is conducting a trial examining the pharmacokinetics of three drugs (rifampin, clindamycin, and ticarcillin-clavulanate) used to treat term and premature infants with staphylococcal infections, for which Dr. Fowler is playing an active advisory role. He is also advising the PTN on its forthcoming trial on the use of clindamycin to treat MRSA in overweight and obese children and adolescents. “Finding the right dose of these life-saving drugs to use in infants and children can make the difference between complete recovery and devastating neurodevelopmental impairment or death,” he observes. “The work of the PTN is filling a critical knowledge gap in infectious disease treatment.”

A native of North Carolina, Dr. Fowler also manages a family farm. Located on the banks of the Cape Fear River, the “River place” has been in Fowler’s family since 1737. In his off-hours, he enjoys spending time with his family, fishing, and running.