May 24, 2017: NCATS Training Produces New Generation of Translational Research Stars

I am fond of saying that translation is a “team sport,” and like any team sport, translational science is inherently cross-disciplinary. Those training in this burgeoning field therefore must have not only robust education and mentoring in a scientific discipline on the translational team, but they must also have broad-based training in other disciplines. All that is in addition to a solid understanding of the scientific and operational principles of translational science. Through its Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program, NCATS is creating and implementing innovative training programs that are producing the translational science leaders of tomorrow. A few examples demonstrate why I am so excited about these young translational scientists.

Faheem Guirgis, M.D., is an emergency room physician at the University of Florida who is interested in understanding the causes and physiologic effects of sepsis — bloodstream infections — as a basis for better treatment. Using the skills and knowledge he acquired while working with experts in sepsis, oxidative stress and inflammation biology, along with classroom training in clinical and translational research design and methods, Guirgis made the leap from clinician to clinician-scientist by developing and launching a study for sepsis patients. He hopes to better understand the connection between sepsis and lipids in the blood and eventually identify new therapies.

Shawn Hingtgen, Ph.D., is a cell biologist and CTSA Program trainee at the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute. Through collaborations with an array of neurosurgeons, oncologists, stem cell experts, drug development specialists and others, Hingtgen created a potential stem cell therapy for glioblastoma multiforme, a deadly type of brain cancer. With guidance from NC TraCS investigators, Hingtgen has published stem cell therapy results of laboratory and mouse studies, established a start-up company based on the stem cell technology, and garnered NIH funding support for his research, all of which are paving the way to a new brain cancer therapy.

Lilyana Amezcua, M.D., is a University of Southern California assistant professor and neurologist who researches the genetic risk factors for multiple sclerosis (MS) in the Latino population of Los Angeles. She found that little was known about whether Latino social and cultural factors might also affect disease severity and progression, and her previous training had not given her the skills to find out. But thanks to the CTSA Program-supported community mentorship, Amezcua is now studying the perceptions and behaviors of Latinos with MS to determine those factors’ influences on the disease and enable the creation of interventions to address them.

I firmly believe that all academic translational science training should include an externship in a non-academic component of the translational ecosystem, such as a biotechnology or pharmaceutical company, a regulatory agency, or a patient group. I am therefore delighted that the first partnership to provide externships to CTSA Program grantees has gotten underway. NCATS has partnered with Eli Lilly and Company to offer externships for CTSA Program scholars, trainees and investigators. Participants receive training in product development-oriented clinical trial design, clinical pharmacology, toxicology, regulatory affairs and other critical drug development processes. The first group of Lilly externs found the experience invaluable to their career development, and we are now expanding the program. I look forward to telling you more about this exciting new direction for translational training. Connect with NCATS to make sure you hear the latest!

Christopher P. Austin, M.D.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences