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$2.1 million NIH grant advances U-Iowa child health research

The University of Iowa Department of Pediatrics has been awarded a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to continue a mentorship project that helps junior faculty members embark on research careers.

The grant renews support that has been in place since 1990 and resulted in the training of 26 UI clinician-scientists in pediatrics. They learn research skills to study the underlying mechanisms of conditions such as prematurity, heritable disorders such as hemophilia and cystic fibrosis, and adult-onset diseases that are thought to have fetal origins. Known as "scholars," the trainees also gain the skills needed to ultimately secure their own grant funding.

"Science is more complicated and challenging than ever before, so the program is essential to developing the next generation of leaders in pediatric science and health," said Michael Artman, M.D., physician-in-chief of University of Iowa Children's Hospital and principal investigator for the grant.

"Research increasingly requires more resources, technical knowledge, expense and interdisciplinary understanding. We need to keep up with this changing environment and by extension, the changing clinical care environment, while capitalizing on existing resources," Artman said. "In particular, the program involves experts across departments and colleges who serve as research mentors for the scholars. We are excited that the grant will renew efforts to help physicians, who are clinically trained, to develop the skills necessary to succeed as clinician-scientists."

The grant is titled "Molecular and Cellular Research to Advance Child Health" and emphasizes developmental biology, applied genetics and genomics, animal models of human disease and translational research. In addition to taking advantage of strengths of UI Health Care and UI colleges and centers, the training funded by the grant will involve the new UI Institute for Clinical and Translational Science. The program also involves eight UI internal advisors and three external advisors at other institutions.

"Each scholar comes in with a unique set of interests that are matched up from a broad list of more than 30 mentors," said the grant's program director Brian Schutte, Ph.D., UI associate professor of pediatrics, who has also served as a mentor. "These scholars are exceptionally smart and creative. If they come into your lab and do research, you will learn from them as they learn from you."

Nineteen of the 26 scholars remain at the UI -- some are now mentors themselves -- while seven are building research efforts at other institutions, according to records kept by Donna Friel, grant administrator and a contracts administrator for UI Children's Hospital. "This program is a launching pad for many clinician-scientists," Friel said. "We track the grant funding these researchers go on to secure."

In addition to providing a mentored research process, the program funds protected research time and resources for young faculty members. "Funding is tighter than ever," Schutte said. "A trainee 'graduates' from the program when they are able to secure their own funding for research."

One individual who made that transition is Fred Lamb, M.D., Ph.D., UI professor of pediatrics and director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Lamb was a scholar from 1994-1997 and has been a mentor for nearly 10 years.

"Without the program, it would be hard to find an environment that is so nurturing. We do a lot of collaboration, and I like to work and think in groups. You get more done by involving others," Lamb said. "The program allowed me to work on a topic that interested me and get trained in new techniques without feeling like I was taking up someone else's productivity."

Lamb entered the program with a background in physiology and electrophysiology and then developed molecular biology and molecular genetic skills, as well as improved his ability to secure grants on his own. Working primarily with Schutte, he studied the ClC-3 chloride channel and made a mouse model that lacked this channel. He continues to work on chloride channels.

"Understanding CLC-3 is very important in understanding inflammation because the chloride channel plays a critical role in producing free radicals," he said.

Lamb has since mentored others, including Robert Roghair, M.D., UI assistant professor of pediatrics, who recently completed the scholar program himself and is studying fetal origins of disease.

"It's been fun to see the next generation of clinician-scientists develop and build their careers," Lamb said.


Contact: Becky Soglin
University of Iowa

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