The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center has received its first ever National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grant, designed to support graduate students conducting research in infectious diseases. The grant will be administered by the College of Medicine’s Department of Medical Microbiology, with participation by researchers from other College of Medicine departments, the A&M System Health Science Center’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT) in Houston and the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University.
David McMurray, Ph.D., Regent’s Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, is principal investigator on the $483,000 grant, funded over five years. The grant, “Mechanistic Studies at the Host – Pathogen Interface,” will expand and improve pre-doctoral training in infectious diseases.
“The availability of NIH training grant support will make our already strong graduate program even more attractive to highly competitive applicants nationally and should increase the quality and size of our applicant pool,” says Dr. McMurray. “There’s a certain panache about NIH training grants — it looks good on students’ resumes. Receiving this grant will enable our program to attract students who might not normally choose to come to our institution. And only the best students will be offered stipends under the grant.”
McMurray noted that aggressive efforts to recruit students under the grant will begin immediately for fall 2004. Meanwhile, three currently enrolled students will receive support under the grant for the fall 2003 and spring 2004 semesters.
“Our emphasis will be on recruiting high-quality students, regardless of their particular research interests,” said McMurray. “After they have taken classes and completed short rotations through three or four laboratories during their first year, students will have a better idea of what they want to research, and research scientist mentors will be able to identify which students they wish to have work in their labs. After the first year of support from the NIH grant, students’ remaining work will be funded by mentors out of their research grant monies.”
Besides McMurray, 14 other faculty members from the College of Medicine, IBT and the College of Veterinary Medicine will be involved in mentoring students funded by the grant.
“The Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology will assure that grant dollars are properly spent and that students are progressing smoothly toward their degrees,” said John M. Quarles, Ph.D., professor and department head and interim dean of the A&M System Health Science Center’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. “Getting the NIH training grant represents an important benchmark for our program. All the really top-notch graduate microbiology programs have such grants. It represents recognition by the NIH reviewers of the quality of our science, of our faculty’s productivity and record in training students and of our facilities.”
The grant specifically provides support for three Ph.D. students each year, including their stipend, health insurance, some travel funds to present research results at national scientific meetings and a small amount of discretionary support for research-related activities. However, the majority of research expenditures will continue to be provided by the individual mentor’s grants.
“Our receiving this grant represents the College of Medicine’s identification as a premier institution by NIH peer reviewers representing the nation’s best scientists,” McMurray observed. “What we’re going to do under the grant is no different from what we’ve been doing successfully for over 20 years. NIH just gave us an additional funding source in recognition of our well-established faculty who have trained scores of graduate students during their careers.”
The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its five components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology and the School of Rural Public Health.

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