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Med into Grad Initiative

In 2005, HHMI launched the Med into Grad (MIG) Initiative to address the growing gap between basic biology and medicine. The Institute recognized that biomedical scientists could benefit from additional training to help them translate biological knowledge into effective medical treatments and diagnostics. MIG training includes the fundamentals of pathobiology, an introduction to how medicine is practiced, and a survey of the problems and challenges faced by medical practitioners.

HHMI has held two MIG Initiative competitions, awarding $26 million in grants to 25 graduate institutions. This funding has enabled them to initiate or enhance existing programs designed to help students obtain the skills necessary to partner with clinician-scientists in the application of emerging biological knowledge to medical practice. These programs train students to recognize and capitalize on translational opportunities that may arise from their research and, in some cases, may influence the direction of their future investigations.

Program Characteristics

The institutions in both MIG competitions developed one or more of the following types of program structures:

A PhD program in translational biology or molecular medicine:

A Master’s degree in medicine concurrent with the PhD:

A certificate program concurrent with the PhD:

A designated emphasis in medicine concurrent with the PhD:

A new PhD track in translational science:

An add-on program to the PhD program recognized on the student’s transcript:

*2006 awardee
†2010 awardee

PhD graduate students participate in MIG programs as first-year students and/or beyond, depending on the program. The number of participants in each program ranges from four to 20 annually. Despite the additional coursework and activities required, the programs typically add only 0.5 to 1.5 years to a student’s PhD program. Many MIG courses also fulfill graduate school requirements.

The institutions use a variety of approaches to integrate medical knowledge into the PhD curriculum, including:

  1. New courses or seminars in pathology or pathophysiology;
  2. Co-mentoring or co-advising of students by basic scientists and physicians;
  3. Grouping graduate and medical students together in “active learning” environments;
  4. Exposing graduate students to medical settings through participation in clinical experiences with physicians;
  5. Building a team-based research community where basic scientists and clinicians participate jointly in seminars and journal clubs.

Program Outcomes

As of 2011, more than 2,000 graduate students had participated in some element of the Med into Grad Sponsored Programs, and more than 700 participated in the full programmatic curricula at their respective institutions. Of these 700 HHMI Med into Grad (MIG) Scholars, more than 100 have received PhD degrees and about 60 percent reported they were pursuing a research career at the interface between basic science and medicine. The time to degree for these graduates has averaged less than five years, which is considerably shorter than the national average of about 6.5 years. A number of participating students have published translational studies in traditional biological journals, and some student research efforts have linked basic and clinical research laboratories, resulting in collaborative research programs and grant funding.

MIG programs have influenced other graduate programs within the institutions as well. For example, at some schools, graduate programs have begun to provide students the opportunity to participate in a clinical experience. At other institutions, MIG programs have initiated new courses that are open to graduate and medical students in other programs. These courses include "Team Science "(University of California, Davis), "Phenotyping Human Disease" (University of Alabama at Birmingham), and "Human Physiology" (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center). Several MIG programs have reported increased interest and enhanced recruitment to their programs as a result of their focus on translation of biology to clinical practice.

Curricular elements of MIG programs are increasingly supported by funding entities other than HHMI. Three MIG programs (at Baylor College of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic/Case Western Reserve University, and the University of Washington) have been awarded T32 Molecular Medicine predoctoral training grants by the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Science (NIGMS). At other institutions, the MIG philosophy and educational components are being integrated into existing NIH T32 training grant renewal applications with success. Additionally, a MIG program at Cornell University successfully renewed a NIH T35 training grant that provides support for students to participate in a summer clinical immersion program at Weill Cornell Medical College. Particularly rewarding has been the merging of interests and efforts of MIG and Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) programs at numerous institutions. The CTSA (sponsored by the National Institutes of Health) and MIG programs have similar education and training goals and often share resources, courses, and program evaluation efforts. All of these approaches strengthen and sustain the integration of biomedical sciences into medical practice.

Participant Comments

Humanizing Research

It is awesome that I get to meet patients who are benefiting from the HIV-AIDS drug I helped develop in the lab. My clinical preceptor introduces me as being part of the team that developed the drug. I never thought I would actually meet any of the people who are living normal lives because of the efforts in my lab. It is an indescribable experience." (Student in Emory/Morehouse/Georgia Tech MIG program) 

“It is great to see how the therapies that are being developed in the lab are reaching the clinic and what aspects need to be worked on. An important issue that I thought we miss in class/lab is if these therapies are improving the quality of life of the patients or not, something the clinician has to keep in mind while suggesting treatment plans. So unlike lab, where the focus is only on getting the therapy to work on tumors or animal models, in the clinic one can see the bigger picture with more emphasis on patient care." (Student in Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center MIG program)

"Although basic science biomedical research is highly relevant, this experience, along with the knowledge acquired in classes heavily focused on histology, physiology, and pathology, helped me to recognize the importance of proposing and conducting research that can have a direct impact on patient care." (Student in Ohio State University MIG program)

"Working in the clinic showed me where research efforts are currently lacking and also where knowledge from basic science research could be applied to tangible treatment and prevention strategies for patients." (Student in University of California, San Diego, MIG program)

Promoting Collaboration

“I have had four students complete the MIG program. All have returned with a heightened sense of the potential impact of biomedical research, and two have had collaborative projects with their clinical mentors that ultimately became parts of their theses.” (Basic Science Mentor, Cornell University)

"Prior to the appointment of (my student) to the HHMI training program, we did not have a collaboration with (a clinician). Now, as a consequence of the program, he is an active collaborator in our research. (The clinician) is working with us to establish human tumor glioma explants in brains of mice in order for us to test IKK/NF-kappaB inhibitors for the treatment of this cancer." (Basic Science Mentor in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill MIG program.)

"The interactions with (my student's) clinical mentor has led to investigations involving EGFR mutations in her work. We were not initially thinking about this as a primary aspect of her project, but after interacting with (the clinical mentor), we initiated studies in this area that have proven fruitful." (Basic Science Mentor in the Vanderbilt University MIG program.)

Product Development and Dissemination Grants

HHMI continues to support the development and dissemination of unique and effective approaches to integrating medical knowledge into PhD biomedical graduate study. Limited funds have been provided to several MIG-funded programs to develop tools to provide PhD students with a better understanding of pathobiology and medicine and to gather best practices for establishing and conducting a MIG-like program. The one-year grants were awarded in March 2013.

Program Highlights

A Selection of HHMI MIG Scholar Publications:

  • Nature. 2010 Jun 17;465(7300):932-6
  • Development. 2010 Jul;137(14):2417-26
  • Nature. 2010 Sep 23;467(7314):420-5
  • Nat Immunol. 2010 Dec;11(12):1136-42
  • Sci Transl Med. 27 October 2010;2:55-79
  • Cell. 2011 Mar 4;144(5):675-88
  • J Biol Chem. 2011 Jul 1;286(26):22982-90
  • Nature. 2011 Jul 27;476(7359):210-3
  • Sci Transl Med. 14 December 2011;3:113-125
  • Neuroscience. 2012 Mar 1;204:38-52

Publications about the Med into Grad Program:

  • Dis Model Mech. 2009 Nov-Dec;2(11-12):531-2
  • Anat Sci Educ. 2012 Mar-Apr;5(2):122-4
  • Academic Medicine 2013 Jan;88(1):137-43

MIG Resources

  • University of Washington Molecular Medicine Public Lecture Series: Molecular medicine is an interdisciplinary approach to human biology that integrates and applies advances in the basic biomedical and genomic sciences and in biotechnology to the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of human disease. The programs in this series of lectures cover topics such as human genomics, malaria, cervical cancer, and diabetes.