HHMI awards $10 million for interdisciplinary graduate education

November 22, 2005

Biomedical science is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, as reliant on the physical and computational sciences as on biology. But how are the biomedical investigators of the future going to learn to work effectively across disciplinary lines?

U.S. universities will lead the way, using 10 grants of $1 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to initiate fundamental changes in the way Ph.D. scientists are trained. They will use the three-year grants to develop innovative graduate education programs designed to produce a cadre of scientists with the knowledge and skills to conduct research at the interface between the biomedical, physical, and computational sciences

HHMI is partnering with the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) to ensure sustaining support as well as start-up funds for the new programs. Following a second competition to ensure that the HHMI-funded recipients achieved their original goals, the NIBIB--committed to integrating the physical and life sciences--will support the second phase of this program, which is aimed at sustaining interdisciplinary graduate education.

"The HHMI-NIBIB partnership capitalizes on the special strengths of each organization," said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. "HHMI can provide flexible support to catalyze development of new interdisciplinary programs, and the NIBIB will sustain these and related programs once they are developed, as NIH does so well with traditional training grants."

The recipients of the HHMI awards were chosen from 132 applicants. Their proposed programs are diverse, including:
  • Intensive academic "boot camps" to provide fundamental research skills and the vocabulary of the physical, mathematical, and biological sciences.
  • Nanotechnology for biology and medicine.
  • A Ph.D. program in computational biology, including specialization in computational genomics, computational structural biology, systems modeling, biomedical imaging informatics, and computational neuroscience.
  • An interdisciplinary neuroscience doctoral program involving three different institutions.
  • "Paired training," in which students from biology, math, engineering and computer sciences will work together to solve interdisciplinary problems.

    After HHMI support ends, NIBIB will step in with peer-reviewed institutional training grants. "NIBIB is excited to enter into this historic alliance with HHMI to support training of the biomedical scientist of the future, one skilled in interdisciplinary research," said Roderic Pettigrew, NIBIB director. "These scientists will be better equipped to advance medical research in the 21st century, solve major challenges, and optimize the delivery of human healthcare."

    "We hope that the proposal preparation at many institutions, whether funded or not, initiated conversations across disciplinary groups that might not have occurred otherwise and that will have lasting effects," said Peter J. Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. "Our goal is to facilitate changes in doctoral education that will enable biomedical scientists to work well across disciplinary lines."

    The new graduate training grants mirror HHMI's commitment to collaborative, interdisciplinary research by biologists, physical and computational scientists, and engineers at Janelia Farm, the Institute's new research campus that will open in 2006 in Loudoun County, Virginia.

    Recipients of HHMI's interdisciplinary graduate training awards and the titles of their programs are:

    Brandeis University: Quantitative biology - a new curriculum to link the physical and biomedical sciences Carnegie Mellon University: A new comprehensive, inter-university Ph.D. program in computational biology (collaborator - University of Pittsburgh)

    The Johns Hopkins University: Interdisciplinary graduate research training program in nanotechnology for biology and medicine

    New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers-Newark, the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School: Development of a quantitative neuroscience doctoral training program (equal partners)

    University of California, Irvine: Mathematical, computational and systems biology

    University of California, San Diego:Multi-scale analysis of biological structure and function

    University of California, San Francisco: Integrated program in complex biological systems

    University of Chicago: Graduate program in biophysical dynamics and self-organization

    University of New Mexico: Program for interdisciplinary biomedical sciences - applications of mathematics, physics, and computer science for investigating the structure and dynamics of complex biological systems

    University of Pennsylvania: Integrated graduate training program in clinical imaging and informational sciences

    Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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