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$2.5 million Burroughs Wellcome Fund grant to help cultivate physician scientists

Collaboration includes Houston Methodist and Texas Medical Center
Houston Medical Center

Texas A&M University is one of 10 degree-granting institutions competitively selected to receive a $2.5 million Burroughs Wellcome Fund Physician-Scientist Institutional Award to catalyze the establishment of innovative programs that enable physicians to enter research training pathways across the continuum of their medical education and clinical residency. The five-year grant, which begins on Sept. 1, is a collaborative between the Texas A&M College of Medicine and College of Engineering, Houston Methodist and the Texas Medical Center to establish an Academy of Physician Scientists.

The academy will serve as a pipeline for attracting and nurturing medical students and physicians during residency to pursue training that will enable them to launch and sustain successful academic research careers as physician scientists. A unique feature of the Texas A&M proposal is a focus on training physician scientists as a new generation of physician engineers capable of leading the innovative development and implementation of technological and engineering advances for improving health care. Another unique feature is the breadth and depth of opportunities for training afforded by the collaboration of Texas A&M, Houston Methodist and the Texas Medical Center.

The principle investigator for the grant and director for the Academy of Physician Scientists is David P. Huston, MD, professor, associate dean and director of the Clinical Science & Translational Research Institute of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Our approach is unique in that it is the only Burroughs Wellcome Award that has an engineering theme,” he said. “It complements our EnMed medical student program and our MD Plus and MD/PhD graduate programs, but it is distinct, and enables both medical students and residents who become interested in basic, translational or clinical research during the course of their clinical training to receive rigorous and intensely mentored research training that will lead to successful independent research careers as physician scientists.”

The academy will competitively select five medical student scholars annually for one year of in-depth mentored research and physician scientist career training between their third and fourth years of medical school at Texas A&M. In addition, five physician scholars will be competitively selected annually for two years of rigorous research and physician scientist career training during their clinical residency training. “The candidates for these scholar awards will be particularly interested in an engineering aspect of medical research,” Huston said. “Their focus can span from engineering genes, molecules, or tissues to imaging to creating devices for surgical, diagnostic or therapeutic applications.”

Huston is working with other faculty members to develop curricula that will enable the students to more effectively pursue their research. Each scholar will be supported by a mentoring team comprised of a primary research mentor paired with a clinical research mentor, a peer mentor, a career mentor and a business mentor to help with management of research resources. Sessions will be scheduled for focus group meetings, retreats and mentoring sessions from senior faculty and institutional leaders. In aggregate, the scholars, faculty, and staff of the academy will constitute a Community of Physician Scientists that promotes research cross-fertilization throughout the continuum of physician training. Scholars emerging from their training will be strong candidates for both intramural and extramural academic faculty positions as physician scientists who are highly competitive for independent research careers.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is an independent private foundation dedicated to advancing the biomedical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities.

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