Indiana CTSI Translational Science Master's Program Prepares New Generation of Research Scientists

R. Mark Payne, M.D.

By: R. Mark Payne, M.D. - Director of Translational Research Education, Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute

Categories: Education, Healthcare, Life Sciences

Although scientific discoveries in the field of medicine are advancing at an increasingly rapid pace, the amount of time it takes for these discoveries to travel from the research laboratory to your local doctor's office or hospital has not undergone a similar transformation. Many experts estimate it can take as long as 17 years for a promising new drug or therapy to overcome the myriad clinical, financial and regulatory hurdles needed to bring discoveries to the wider community.

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Steps have been taken over the past several years to address this disparity between scientific advancement and clinical implementation, including the establishment of 60 National Institutes of Health-funded centers across the United States focused on accelerating the translation of discoveries into practice. The Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, a partnership between Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame, was established in 2008 with a $25 million NIH Clinical and Translational Sciences Award along with $60 million in support from public-private partnerships across the state.

A key activity of the Indiana CTSI is educating future generations of researchers to turn their medical discoveries into therapies that reach patients. As the director of translational research education for the Indiana CTSI, I was pleased to witness the launch the Translational Science Program of Indiana (TSPI) in collaboration with my colleagues at the IU School of Medicine in August 2011.

So far TSPI has enrolled five students who, over the course of the two-year program, will get a crash course in all aspects of translational science. More recently, TSPI collaborated with the IU School of Medicine to create a fellowship program for medical students who want to take a year off from their primary studies to pursue an accelerated version of the master's program. Eligible participants currently include students from the IU School of Medicine only, with future plans to extend the program to different health science disciplines.

The first two students accepted into this new fellowship program are Aisha N. Davis and Renecia Watkins, both students at the IU School of Medicine. Ms. Davis will be studying the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer specimens from women in the United States, Jamaica, Botswana and Kenya under the mentorship of Darron Brown, M.D., and Gregory Zimet, Ph.D., of the IU School of Medicine. Ms. Watkins will be researching the effects of newly diagnosed type I diabetes on cell count and function in children under the mentorship of Linda DiMeglio, M.D., Laura Haneline, M.D., and Janice Blum, Ph.D., also of the IU School of Medicine.

We created this accelerated track for our master's program in translational science because many students already pursuing advanced careers in science and medicine realized that they could significantly enhance their careers – and potentially save years of trial and error – by gaining deeper knowledge on the key aspects of translational research. This includes creating well-designed research studies, crafting successful grant applications, and gaining the entrepreneurial skills required to start a business or license research to companies who can turn their work into new a drug, medical device or other novel therapy. The program is scientifically rigorous, including a research component and materials on genomics, data analysis, and statistical and mathematical modeling. Students also delve into topics such as regulatory and ethical issues related to basic and clinical research.

I'm proud to report that TSPI will graduate its first student this fall. Xiaodong Peng, Ph.D., is a biomedical informatics fellow at Regenstrief Institute, an informatics and health care research organization closely affiliated with the IU School of Medicine. A native of Beijing, Dr. Peng was drawn to Indiana more than a decade ago by the state's strength in medical research. He has said the most enlightening experience provided by TSPI was the opportunity to experience clinical rotations and understand the training undergone by his physician colleagues during their educations. Previously a biochemist at Semafore Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Westfield, Ind., he also gained greater insight into the business side of his former industry, learning how pharmaceutical companies engage in translational research by sponsoring clinical trials.

Dr. Peng will be the first of a new generation of researchers in Indiana with formal education in the interconnections between basic and clinical research. Too many discoveries are failing to make the leap into the "real world" due to gaps in this knowledge. Bridging this gap requires a new educational paradigm in which scientists, physicians and engineers, united by training and a common language, can finally understand each other's challenges and methodology.

R. Mark Payne, M.D. is director of the Translational Science Program of Indiana, and director of Translational Research Education at the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. He is also a professor of Pediatrics and Medical and Molecular Genetics at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

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