June 22, 2007

Grant boosts clinical research training in developing nations

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Sten Vermund, M.D., Ph.D.

Grant boosts clinical research training in developing nations

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has received a five-year federal grant to support and expand the training of clinical researchers in developing countries.

The grant from the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be phased in, and will provide approximately $2.5 million annually for the NIH/Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars Support Center at Vanderbilt.

The new center will support the NIH/Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars Program. Since 2004, the program has trained 70 health professional students from the United States in 15 countries, from Bangladesh to Zambia. The fourth cohort of scholars begins next month.

U.S. scholars are matched in host nations with health professional students or recent graduates, often young physicians or health scientists. Together they receive one year of mentored clinical research training at an NIH-funded institution.

“This year of training is devoted to the health problems of the world's neediest nations, and will help nurture a new generation of researchers in the field of tropical and global health,” said Sten Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, and the grant's principal investigator.

The Vanderbilt site in Zambia, for example, is operated in collaboration with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia and the University of Zambia School of Medicine.

Thirteen U.S. scholars have been assigned for training at the Zambia site since the program began, said Vermund, who holds the Amos Christie Chair in Global Health.

The matching of U.S. with host nation scholars is “a pillar of this program,” said Aron Primack, M.D., program officer at the Fogarty International Center, who oversees the scholars program. “We're trying to develop … a cadre of people who really understand global health from a big perspective.”

The program is open to students in medicine, public health, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, “and any other doctoral-level program in the health sciences to which someone might aspire to a career in global health research,” Primack said. “We have a very diverse group, and we are encouraging such diversity.”

As they have in the past, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Association of Schools of Public Health will help recruit and evaluate applicants for the scholars program.

In partnership with Vanderbilt, Meharry Medical College will recruit from historically black colleges and universities, and INDENT Inc., of Jacksonville, Fla., will help provide Web-based education and conferencing between the scholars and mentors throughout the world.

The AAMC component of the program is led by David Korn, M.D., senior vice president, and Yolanda Thomas, manager of member services, in AAMC's Division of Biomedical and Health Sciences Research.

Expansion of the program reflects the growing demand among students for training in global health, Korn said.

“Each year has seen an increased number of outstanding applicants from an ever-broader distribution of medical and other health sciences schools,” he said. “Our student applicants are excited by the enormous opportunities in global health and the enormous needs to which they can begin to make their own important contributions.”

It's too early to tell what impact the program will have. For example, Vanderbilt's former scholars, Jose Hagan, M.D., and Michael Kinzer, M.D., who studied HIV in Botswana and South Africa, respectively, are in their residencies in internal medicine.

But scholars have published their work in peer-reviewed journals, “and many have given competitive papers at international meetings,” Primack said.

Roger Glass, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Fogarty International Center, said an early experience in global health can last a lifetime.

“It hits right on that element of idealism that you can actually identify a problem that is underserved, and use your medical training to change the world,” he said.

For more information about the scholars program, visit www.fic.nih.gov/programs/training_grants/fic_ellison.htm, and www.aamc.org/students/medstudents/overseasfellowship.