New Ph.D. program bridges gap between bench research and population health

Curing infectious diseases requires extensive knowledge of the microscopic cells that make up the body. Ensuring the population embraces those cures necessitates a deep understanding of the massive, 7-billion-strong human populace.

A new Ph.D. program at the University of Rochester Medical Center will train scientists to think small and big at the same time.

The program, called Infection and Immunity: From Molecules to Populations (IIMP), will develop scholars who are adept with both bench research and population health, in the hopes of providing a shorter path between basic science advances and health improvements for the community at large. IIMP is supported by $2.5 million from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and aims to bridge the gap between bench research and population health.

“We have a strong pipeline for basic scientists, and we train many physicians and doctoral students in population health science,” said Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., co-director of URMC’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, where the new program will be housed. “But the great scientists of tomorrow are going to have to do both, and to participate on teams including scientists at both ends of the spectrum of research.”

URMC was selected by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund from dozens of applicants in part due to the university’s history in infection and immunity, as URMC researchers have previously expanded on bench research to develop vaccines that prevent childhood meningitis, pneumonia, and human papillomavirus infection.

The program also leverages unique URMC resources in both laboratory and population science – including the Respiratory Pathogens Research Center, the New York Influenza Center of Excellence, the Center for Community Health and its Rochester Emerging Infections Program, and the UR’s National Vaccine Surveillance Site – as well the University’s new Institute for Data Science.

Many additional resources within URMC will further support the IIMP program, which will be a track within the Translational Biomedical Science doctorate. Scholars in the program will cross-train in both basic research and population sciences, and will have dual mentors drawn from each discipline. They will also have the opportunity to take courses from a wide range of departments and disciplines, and to learn from other scientists working at the interface between laboratory and population sciences. Students can choose to do internships and externships with scientists in a variety of settings from academia, to industry, to public health.

“Team science is the wave of the future,” said Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., vice dean for research. “This grant builds on URMC’s exceptional contributions in vaccine science and public health, and gives us the opportunity to launch a new kind of training program that will prepare our students to be leaders of the interdisciplinary scientific teams that are going to advance public health in years to come.”

The IIMP program is now accepting applications for the Fall 2015 semester. Visit the IIMP homepage for more information.

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