April 30, 2004

Vanderbilt answers drug discovery call from NIH

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Joey Barnett, Ph.D.

Vanderbilt answers drug discovery call from NIH

With $1.2 million being awarded over the next five years, Joey Barnett, Ph.D., has created one of the first programs in the country to answer the call from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for more scientists trained in the area of drug discovery and development.

Recently, training programs have focused on molecular biology and genetics. Few students have been given the training needed to turn discoveries in the laboratories into new treatments for patients. The missing piece has been what is typically referred to as bench-to-bedside training.

“Vanderbilt has a long history of being one of the top Ph.D. Pharmacology training programs in the country,” said Barnett, associate professor of Pharmacology, Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology. “Our program has existed since 1936. Because we have such a strong history, we wanted to design a program to take new Ph.D. trainees and new M.D. trainees and give them the basic tools they’ll need to enter the drug design and development arena.

“The NIH has identified a critical deficit of these kind of training programs,” Barnett said. “We are the first program to identify cardiovascular pharmacology and drug development as a target. We hope to expand this program to cover other areas including pediatric pharmacology and neuro pharmacology.”

For now, the postdoctoral program is set to train seven fellows. All of the candidates are coming from within, nominated by investigators of the more than 30 participating laboratories at Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical School.

The Cardiovascular Pharmacology training program involves three tiers. The first calls for the trainees to receive research instruction addressing basic questions in cardiovascular science.

The second tier allows trainees to take modules of the pre-doctoral training program that will expose them to the concepts of how drugs are metabolized in the body, transported in the body and how drugs interact with target molecules. The final tier will allow the trainees to complete a Masters in Science in Clinical Investigation program, which teaches scientists and physicians how to examine drug effects in patients.

“Our ability to put together this group of accomplished investigators in cardiovascular science combined with our strong record of training Ph.D.s in pharmacology and the Masters of Science program, was identified by the NIH as a real model for how to train investigators in pharmacology,” said Barnett.

“Our goal is to train investigators who will be leaders in academia, the pharmaceutical industry and regulatory agencies.”

Barnett said the next step will be to expand the program outside of the Vanderbilt and Meharry network to attract new trainees and scientists to VUMC.

“What’s great about this is that we have such an interactive environment at Vanderbilt,” Barnett said. “We have been able to pull together such a unique combination of scientists and didactic training to build an exceptional program.”