September 22, 2000

Patient-oriented research focus of training program

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Patient-oriented research focus of training program

The newly established Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) program welcomed its first class with an encouraging message from visiting scholar Dr. Eugene Orringer.

“You are absolutely on the right track, in the right place, at the right time,” Orringer, professor of Medicine and executive associate dean for Faculty Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the students at the first annual dinner event.

“There’s been an enormous expansion in molecular biology, and it’s time to apply those findings to patients,” he said. “Both academic health centers and the pharmaceutical industry are eager to have well-trained clinical investigators like you.”

Nine students make up the first class to enter the MSCI program. They will spend two years training to become patient-oriented investigators.

“Vanderbilt has a legacy of patient-oriented research, upon which this program is built,” said Dr. Nancy J. Brown, associate professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, and co-director of the MSCI program with Dr. Thomas A. Hazinski, professor of Pediatrics.

The MSCI program was developed with widespread faculty input during the recent strategic planning process. It has received funding support from a National Institutes of Health K30 grant—principal investigator Dr. Robert S. Dittus, Joe and Morris Werthan Professor of Investigative Medicine—and from the School of Medicine and industry grants.

“We celebrate the existence of the MSCI program,” Brown said. “This is a multi-disciplinary program that has received wide support from across the institution.

“We are excited that it draws students and mentors from several different divisions, departments, and even institutions, and we are grateful to the division chiefs, department chairs, and MSCI mentors for their enthusiastic support of the program,” Brown said.

Patient-oriented research—the vital link between the laboratory bench and the patient bedside—is experiencing a resurgence after years of decline, Orringer said. He told the students not to worry about commentaries in recent years that have referred to clinical investigators as an “endangered species” and that have predicted a steady decline in the number of first-time M.D. applicants for NIH grants.

“Do not feel that there is a crisis in clinical research,” Orringer said. “Training programs such as yours and the new NIH grants to support clinical investigators are clear signs that now is the time to be exactly where you are.”

The MSCI program will use both didactic instruction and mentored clinical research to train investigators in the techniques and processes used in patient-oriented research. These include biostatistics and experimental design, biomedical ethics, issues in drug discovery, clinical pharmacology assay methods, human genetics, grant writing and management, and scientific communication.

The program’s course schedule is designed to maximize protected time for the mentored research project, which accounts for 80 percent of the trainee’s commitment to the program. The program expects each trainee to devote at least 32 hours per week over a two-year period to the courses and research project.

“A key feature of the program is a strong commitment to the mentoring process, whereby the trainee agrees to be mentored and the research director and program directors serve as mentors,” Hazinski said. “The project and the facilities may be excellent, but if there is no mentoring, long-term success is less likely.”

Candidates for the program include Board-eligible physicians currently enrolled in Fellowship programs at Vanderbilt or Meharry, faculty members with the consent of their department chair, post-doctoral Ph.D. scientists seeking a career in patient-oriented research, and Ph.D. candidates in the School of Nursing.

Members of the first MSCI class, expected to graduate in May 2002, come from several different departments. The new students are Dr. Frederick E. Barr, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Anesthesiology, Dr. John A. Bradshaw, fellow in Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Kong Y. Chen, Ph.D., research instructor in Medicine, Dr. Michael Floyd, assistant professor of Medicine at Meharry, Dr. Karl P. Kuhn, fellow in Allergy, Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, Dr. Stacy Moulder, fellow in Hematology-Oncology, Dr. Francine Noel, fellow in Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Dr. Mias Pretorius, chief resident in Anesthesiology, and Dr. Ivan M. Robbins, assistant professor of Medicine.

For more information, visit the program’s Web site: