USF receives NIH Training Grant to prepare next generation of translational researchers

Children's Health

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The University of South Florida recently received a highly competitive National Institutes of Health (NIH) Institutional Training Grant (Award Number T32HL160529), boosting the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s (MCOM) capacity to prepare the next generation of scientists in an emerging area of research applicable to many major diseases.

The NIH’s National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute awarded MCOM total expected funds of $1.35 million over the next five years to support the comprehensive training of pre- and postdoctoral scientists focused on research in vascular inflammation and injury. Trainees will be selected from PhD candidates and graduates, as well as MD graduates in residency or fellowship programs related to cardiovascular sciences. They will receive stipends and financial support for attending scientific conferences.

This is the first NIH T32 institutional training award obtained by USF’s college of medicine in the last 20 years. It represents a critical step in raising our national prominence in training the next generation of translational researchers.”

Sarah Yuan, MD, PhD, program director, professor and chair, Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology

Translational research is the process of efficiently moving scientific discoveries made in the laboratory into the clinic, hospital, or community to treat patients and improve health.

“Our goal is to prepare these trainees with the strong knowledge, skills and vision for leading independent research that will decipher complex cellular and molecular mechanisms and develop new diagnostic and therapeutic targets for cardiovascular disease and other conditions affected by inflammation,” said Dr. Yuan, who holds the USF Health Deriso Endowed Chair in Cardiovascular Research.

Inflammation commonly underlies the onset and progression of various diseases or injuries in multiple organs, including the heart, brain, lung, kidney, gut, and placenta. Recently, Dr. Yuan noted, this includes the discovery that vascular inflammation in response to coronavirus infection is a leading cause of severe illness and death in COVID patients.

A better understanding of the physiological processes contributing to vascular inflammation can lead to more precise and much-needed ways to diagnose, treat, and possibly prevent its harmful effects,

The new training program takes advantage of the substantial number of NIH-funded researchers recruited to MCOM under the leadership of Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of MCOM. Many of these nationally preeminent faculty hires are experts in inflammation research and the vascular biology associated with heart, lung, neurodegenerative, or other diseases. Investment in new and renovated laboratories, and research facilities with shared, highly specialized equipment has risen along with the influx of new investigators.

Up to 25 NIH-funded faculty mentors across seven MCOM departments (Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology, Internal Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Pathology and Medical Engineering), including those affiliated with the USF Health Heart Institute, the USF Health Neuroscience Institute, and several other research centers, will mentor top students recruited to the T32 program.

“Our commitment to building the research infrastructure, expertise and curriculum needed to attract the highest caliber of faculty and academically talented students will not waver,” Dr. Lockwood said. “This new institutional training award is a tremendous addition to our growing research portfolio, one that helps feed a pipeline of diverse young scientists driven to transform meaningful discoveries into best-practice patient care. They will be well prepared to understand and help solve complex problems beyond the scope of individual disciplines or laboratories.”

The program’s curriculum is composed of rigorous courses and workshops to build competency in critical thinking and communication, an intensive hands-on research experience, and a personalized career development plan. Trainees will have access to the latest technologies, including viable human organ models to study the effects of inflammatory disease and its treatment, and high-resolution imaging techniques to see changes in blood flow, cells, proteins, and other structures within and outside the tiniest vessels.

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