January 11, 2008

Program helps scientists gain independent research support

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Pampee Young, M.D., Ph.D.

Program helps scientists gain independent research support

The Elliott Newman Society, a career development and mentoring program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is helping junior faculty reach that important milestone — independent research support.

A recent beneficiary is Pampee Young, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Pathology and Internal Medicine and director of Transfusion Medicine, who received notice earlier this month of her first R01 research project grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Young credits her faculty mentors, members of her lab and the Newman Society for helping win the five-year, $225,000 grant to continue her studies of how bone marrow stem cells may regenerate damaged heart muscle.

Named for the late Elliott Newman, M.D., founder of Vanderbilt's Clinical Research Center, the society was established last year and is directed by Nancy Brown, M.D., associate dean for Clinical and Translational Scientist Development.

“We are taking people who have not yet achieved independent funding — the best example of that is an R01 — and trying to get them to the next step in a way that they will then stay on track,” Brown said.

“There's quite a bit of concern about the fact that physician-scientists are, on average, 44 years old before they achieve their first independent funding,” she continued. “That, as my children would say, is not young.”

One reason is the length of time it takes to earn advanced degrees. “Most people don't finish their clinical training until they're in their mid-30s — actually later, if they've completed an M.D./Ph.D.,” said Brown, the Robert H. Williams Professor of Medicine and professor of Pharmacology.

“The other thing that happens is that they have competing time commitments, so one of the things we spend a lot of time on is helping people figure out how to protect their time for research.

The Newman Society, modeled after the Vanderbilt University Physician Scientist Development Program (VPSD), provides centralized oversight of mentorship. Brown is the director of the VPSD, which was founded about eight years ago by Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., now associate vice chancellor for Research.

“We also have career development seminars where we talk about issues like mentorship, promotion, tenure and how to run a lab,” Brown said. “We provide a grant repository, examples of successful grants, so they can look at them as they're writing their first grant (and) if they're interested, get input from senior faculty.”

The society is open to all physician-scientists who are supported by the VPSD, by the NIH-funded Institutional Mentored Research Scientist Development (K12) Program or by K career development (K) awards. Ph.D.-trained scientists supported by K awards who are doing clinical and translational research also can join the society.

Its efforts seem to be bearing fruit: At Vanderbilt, the average age for achieving independent research funding is 40, and scientists here also are able to move from K grants to the R01 more quickly than the national average, in a little less than four years.

“We're investing in human capital,” Brown said. “If we are to impact health, we need to have people who are productive earlier — so they can be productive longer.”

Young joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2003 after earning her Ph.D. and M.D. degrees at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

She said the Newman Society, and Brown in particular, helped her fine-tune her grant application.

“When you start your career, a lot of new challenges come at you all at once,” Young said. “I like the breadth of the topics that this group addresses. I also feel that it is a great forum to make peer contacts.”

For more information about the Newman Society, visit https://medschool.mc.van-derbilt.edu/ctsd/newman.htm.