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Philanthropies Consider Collaboration to Train Future Scientists


Private funders gather at HHMI to discuss how they can help ensure that medical researchers get the training they need.

Teamwork was the topic when representatives of approximately 70 foundations and other nonprofit organizations, private industry, the academic community and government convened at HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Md., on Feb. 14-16, 2000, to explore how they might work together to guarantee the best possible training of tomorrow's biomedical researchers.

At the two-day conference, speakers and panels examined the competencies that the next generation of biomedical scientists will need, roadblocks to training basic and clinical researchers, the current programs and plans of both private and federal funders, ethical issues arising from biomedical research and the new world of electronic grantmaking.

The biomedical scientists of the future must be computer- and math-competent and knowledgeable about clinical medicine as well as biology, said David Botstein, professor and chairman of genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine. "But all that knowledge does not necessarily have to be in one cranium," he remarked. "Collaborative effort is the answer."

Private philanthropies can set an example by collaborating whenever possible, suggested HHMI President Thomas Cech. "Funders can demand that the research they support be interdisciplinary, but the funders need to become more interdisciplinary themselves," Cech said.

Other speakers focused on certain things that private philanthropies can do better than anyone else. "Philanthropies can be the risk-takers," said Enriqueta Bond, president of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, co-sponsor of the conference with HHMI and the American Cancer Society. Philanthropies also can catalyze innovation, change direction rapidly and jump-start emerging fields. "They can prime the pump," said Jaleh Daie, director of The David and Lucile Packard Foundation's Science Program.

Conference participants identified a number of challenges and opportunities, including:

  • the importance of researchers serving as teachers and mentors;
  • support of controversial research;
  • development of alternative career paths;
  • the potential for private-private and private-public partnerships;
  • the ethical implications of biomedical research;
  • support for pre-hypothesis-driven, discovery-focused research;
  • a growing need for multidisciplinary and team research efforts.

"The history of the private sector is that each organization does its own thing," said Robert A. Goldstein, chief scientific officer of Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International. "It looks like [that] model is not going to work in 21st century research. If a group of us gets together and shares resources, we could actually fund something that could help all of us," Goldstein went on to say.

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Jim Keeley
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