Fewer and fewer healthcare professionals are choosing to be clinician-scientists like Anthony Fauci; a UB program aims to reverse the trend
BUFFALO, NY — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has seen an astonishing number of life-saving breakthroughs, from mRNA vaccines to Paxlovid and Evusheld. But long before the pandemic, the United States was beginning to see a dramatic shortage of clinical scientists — the very people who are developing such breakthroughs. In the 1980s, nearly 5% of physicians said research was an important part of their work, while in 2019, only 1.5% were engaged in research.
This is a shortage that the University at Buffalo is working to address. And the National Institutes of Health took notice.
The NIH has awarded UB’s Clinician Scientist Summer Training Program a rare and perfect score of 10, along with nearly $300,000 in funding over the next 5 years.
The funding renews a program that UB runs with the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center as a partner, which aims to attract current health science students to biomedical research. Previously restricted to medical students, the program is now open to eight medical students and two pharmacy students.
While the majority are from UB, students from any medical or pharmacy school are eligible. The program also partners with Meharry Medical College and the University of Puerto Rico, and has hosted their students in UB labs to conduct research with UB faculty.
UB’s program has had a 100% success rate, meaning that all 70 participating students over the past decade have completed the nine-week summer research program and many impactful research papers published with their UB mentors.
During the pandemic, Marielisa Cabrera-Sánchez, a University of Puerto Rico student enrolled in the UB program, conducted research on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease remotely with Tim Murphy, MD, SUNY Professor Emeritus at Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. She ended up winning the American Medical Association’s $10,000 research challenge grand prize.
The program has successfully recruited underrepresented students from UB’s post-baccalaureate program and through its partnerships with Meharry Medical College and the University of Puerto Rico; 30% were underrepresented students and 63% were women.
Training ‘the next generation of Anthony Faucis’
To imagine what a clinician-scientist is, think no further than the example of Anthony Fauci, who will leave his post as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases later this year.
“Anthony Fauci is the quintessential clinician scientist,” said Murphy, who is also senior associate dean for clinical and translational research at the Jacobs School and program director at UB. “It is people like him who are responsible for developing the COVID-19 interventions that have been so successful. When you think about treating the virus now, fewer people get seriously ill. It’s largely because of vaccines and Paxlovid. Essentially, we are training the next generation of Anthony Faucis.
“Fewer clinician-scientists mean fewer lifesaving breakthroughs,” said Allison Brashear, MD, vice president of health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School. “It’s that simple. That’s why we’re especially pleased that the NIH is once again funding this program, a testament to Dr. Murphy’s many years of research leadership and unwavering commitment to fostering the next generation. Students who experience the joy of research early are more likely to pursue research in their careers.”
This is the first year that PharmD students, as well as MD students, are eligible to apply, a significant benefit, according to Brian T. Tsuji, PharmD, professor of pharmacy and associate dean for clinical and translational sciences at the School. of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
“The shortage of clinical pharmacist scientists has delayed rational drug development in clinical trials and therapeutic drug optimization in patients,” he said. “Having PharmD students involved in this program from the start of their freshman year will enable critical research from bench to bedside to individualize patient care.”
The program provides a $4,472 stipend to students who complete the nine-week research fellowship during the summer between their freshman and sophomore year in vocational school, the only summer they have “out” of school .
This year, the program also includes a digital badge and the possibility of obtaining a micro-credit that students can put on their online CV, directly related to the specifics of the research they have carried out.
“Our program is unique because we will offer both a digital badge or a micro-certificate to differentiate students and provide them with a competitive edge in the job market,” Tsuji said.
The emphasis is on research in infectious diseases, microbiology and immunology, and it matches students with researchers in these fields.
“Considering that they have such a short period of time – only nine weeks – to complete their research projects, these students have had tremendous success,” Murphy said. “Many of them manage to become authors of articles published in peer-reviewed journals. And because they have this experience so early in their training, it tends to positively influence their career choices.
Jordan Gaston, MD, who participated while a student at the Jacobs School, can attest to that.
A “highlight of going to medical school at UB”
“It was one of the highlights of going to medical school at UB,” Gaston said of the program. He graduated in 2022 and is now a family medicine resident at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“It was a great opportunity to find mentorship, and it’s still ongoing,” he enthused about his relationship with Chelsie Armbruster, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. from the Jacobs School.
Armbruster studies microbial interactions in catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI), one of the most common healthcare-associated infections worldwide.
Gaston has worked with her on research related to how different bacteria interact with each other and how these interactions in the urinary microbiome can influence disease in humans. He was first author of one peer-reviewed article and co-author of another to be published soon.
This has already had an impact on his ability to provide patient care. “Honestly, it gives me more value,” he said, noting that on his first rotation to the emergency department there was a patient with a urinary tract infection. His research gave him additional insight, which did not go unnoticed by his colleagues. “People started asking me about them and I became kind of a subject matter expert on UTIs,” he said.
In addition to publications, Gaston said the program complements the medical school experience in a very positive way. “What the program does best is allow students to shine in a way that isn’t just about grades or stats,” he said. “It also gave me such a support system; I’m still friends with everyone at the lab.
“I loved being a mentor,” said Armbruster, who mentored Gaston and another student, who also became a peer-reviewed article author.
“I had an absolutely fantastic time on the program,” Gaston said. “I’m so grateful that I was able to do that.”
First-year students enrolled in an accredited MD or PharmD program in the United States can apply here; applications will be accepted between November 1, 2022 and January 31, 2023.