School of Medicine Wins Funds for New Cardiovascular Program

Nov. 17, 2009

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry $700,000 to support a new program to train graduate students for a biomedical research career in cardiovascular sciences with an emphasis on translating laboratory discoveries into treatments and diagnostics.
The School of Medicine and Dentistry is one of 23 schools in the country selected by the Howard Hughes institute to receive a grant. In total, HHMI is awarding $16 million through its “Med into Grad Initiative,” which encourages schools to integrate medical knowledge and an understanding of clinical practice into biomedical Ph.D. programs.
The Rochester program will give students the knowledge and methodology necessary for basic research, and also will teach students about the clinical aspects of cardiovascular disease, the current limitations of its diagnosis and treatment, and the approaches to translate basic research. Graduate students, for example, will accompany clinical cardiologists as they examine, diagnose and treat a variety of patients with acute and chronic cardiovascular diseases in outpatient clinics and critical care units in the hospital.
“The goal of this clerkship with cardiologists is to expose students to clinical issues and to inspire them to explore the scientific basis of medical problems,” said Charles J. Lowenstein, M.D., chief of the Division of Cardiology. “We expect that a combined medical and scientific background will prepare our graduates to pursue clinically important research topics.”
Elizabeth R. McAnarney, M.D., acting dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry, said the HHMI grant will support a significant addition to the degree programs offered by the School.
“This new program will provide graduate students with extensive education in basic research but will also give them valuable insights into clinical problems,” McAnarney said. “This will benefit our students immediately but, in the long term, it also will enhance patient care because we expect our students to initiate discoveries that will improve the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.”
Rochester’s five-year program will include a new three-semester course in cardiovascular sciences that will cover scientific principles of cardiovascular molecules and cells, physiology and pathophysiology. Students also will have courses and lab sessions in biomedical engineering.
The plan calls for approximately 20 students in the program—four students for each of the five years. The Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI), where the program will be based, and the Medical Center will fund some of the positions. Lowenstein and Burns C. Blaxall, Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine, are co-directors of the new program.
Lowenstein, director of the CVRI, said the new curriculum will become a model for other Ph.D. programs at the University that develop disease-oriented degrees.
“We anticipate an increase in the number of projects that have direct clinical relevance,” Lowenstein said. “A long-term outcome of our new program will be an increase in publications and funding of our graduates. Researchers who have exposure to clinical clerkships will be able to select projects with high levels of significance.”
Any university in the United States that offers Ph.D. training in a biomedical science was eligible to apply for a four-year Med into Grad grant. A panel of graduate educators, biomedical researchers, and physician-scientists selected the 23 awardees from among 103 applications submitted by 92 institutions.
HHMI began the Med into Grad Initiative in 2005 as an experiment to find out how graduate schools could provide doctoral students the skills necessary to investigate the scientific mechanisms of disease and translate scientific discoveries into clinically relevant treatments, diagnostics, and public health practices—and whether such programs would attract students. As a result of the initial competition, 13 schools were awarded a total of $10 million.
The Med into Grad Initiative has been a resounding success, said Peter J. Bruns, HHMI’s vice president for grants and special programs. Participating schools are attracting top graduates students from within their departments and students are applying to some of these schools because they have a Med into Grad program.
“We’ve found this is something students are really hungry for. And it’s interesting because most of the programs require that students do work above and beyond the normal graduate curriculum, adding an extra measure of effort without eliminating anything from the basic curriculum,” Bruns said.