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Long-Term Partnership Between HHMI and NIBIB Boosts Biomedical Interdisciplinary Graduate Training

Summary

HHMI awards three two-year grants to aid in developing the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists, in collaboration with the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded three two-year grants to fund continued development of interdisciplinary graduate education programs in the United States. The awards are being made through the Interfaces Initiative for Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Training, a program begun in 2005 in collaboration with the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), to aid in developing the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists.

During the first phase of the Interfaces Initiative, HHMI provided start-up funds totaling $10 million. Ten universities received three-year grants to develop interdisciplinary graduate training programs that integrate the biomedical sciences with the physical sciences and engineering. In 2008, NIBIB continued support for the program with 10 Phase II peer-reviewed institutional training grants worth a total of $16 million, over five years.

The unique curricular and pedagogical innovations these programs have made will be disseminated so that other educators can enhance the training of greater numbers of tomorrow’s biomedical scientists.

William R. Galey

HHMI is now funding three Interfaces Training Innovation Program Supplements (TIPS) grants, worth nearly $90,000 in total, as a follow-on to the joint Interfaces Initiative. Institutions were asked to submit projects that not only enhance interdisciplinary training of the applicants’ training programs, but also those that would impact other training programs, with the goal of enhancing the broader interdisciplinary research training community. TIPS will help the graduate programs take their most effective training strategies and package them for broad dissemination.

“The unique curricular and pedagogical innovations these programs have made will be disseminated so that other educators can enhance the training of greater numbers of tomorrow’s biomedical scientists,” said William R. Galey, program director for HHMI’s graduate education and medical research training programs. “Modern biomedical science research increasingly involves tools and approaches from the physical, computational, and mathematical realms. HHMI is pleased to have partnered with NIBIB to support graduate programs that bring these fields together in the training of tomorrow’s biomedical scientists.”

HHMI and NIBIB have developed a robust plan to disseminate the resources developed through the new innovation grants, capitalizing on their eight-year partnership. Their plan will make the resources developed by the three new awardees widely available, and will also disseminate other resources that have been shown to be successful in the field of interdisciplinary graduate training.

“NIBIB is committed to supporting the interdisciplinary training of biomedical researchers,” said Dr. William Heetderks, NIBIB associate director. “This collaboration with HHMI provides resources to disseminate training products developed by these talented awardees.”

Two of the institutions selected, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), will convert their highly successful lab courses into virtual courses for the web. The third university selected by HHMI, the University of California, Irvine, will develop an annual workshop to solicit and share successful training strategies, and will include an online forum to encourage interaction.

UCSD’s project, Disseminating Hands-on Training Experiences in Multi-Scale Biology, includes the development of webinars, screencasts, and online training materials for seven laboratory courses in Multi-Scale Biology Specialization. “Ph.D. students who are being trained in interdisciplinary fields such as Bioengineering, Biomedical Sciences, Neurosciences, Biophysics and Biochemistry gain experience in working together on biomedical problems that demand an even broader degree of cross-disciplinary collaboration,” said Andrew McCulloch, program director and Professor of Bioengineering at UCSD.

He said UCSD’s curriculum focuses on investigating biological function across many scales, from molecular to organismal, and includes labs in techniques ranging from mass-spectrometry, to light and electron microscopy, and functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Massachusetts General Hospital's project, Interactive Web-based Training in Biomedical Imaging Physics, consists of developing interactive online web modules for courses in Biomedical Imaging Physics. "This program allows a paradigm shift from the classroom to a virtual classroom that is available to any and every student in America and abroad. Furthermore, this will be a dynamic learning process where the feedback of students attending the lectures online will be used to improve the course to better adapt it to the needs of the audience," said program director Georges El Fakhri, Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. He hopes that his program will lead to other dynamic online scientific courses that allow access to their material from anywhere on the globe.

UC Irvine, took a different approach with its project, Disseminating Hands-on Training Experiences in Multi-Scale Biology. It will develop a one-day workshop, called “Teaching Systems Biology,” that will be given in conjunction with the annual Southern California Regional Systems Biology Conference, held at UCI since 2011. The project includes oral presentations, and small group sessions to discuss and disseminate strategies on effective Systems Biology education, including free videos and teaching materials that will be disseminated by the National Centers for Systems Biology at UC Irvine.

“Systems Biology represents a growing movement to re-think how scientists understand complex biological systems. It reverses a long-standing trend toward hyper-specialization and the narrow pursuit of mechanistic details,” said Arthur Lander, program director and Professor of Developmental and Cell Biology at UC Irvine.

He said systems biology re-connects biology with insights and ideas from fields as diverse as physics, mathematics, computer science, and engineering. “But this poses serious educational challenges, as most biologists are undertrained in these disciplines, and those who train in these disciplines tend to learn very little biology. The shared goal of the HHMI and NIBIB is to rectify this problem,” said Lander.