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HST to Offer New Medical Program

Program For Graduate Students Interested in Translational Medicine

By Kirtana Raja
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

Starting February 2007, MIT’s Division of Health Sciences and Technology will offer graduate students interested in translational medicine — a field in which basic biological research and clinical medicine are integrated — an opportunity to become part of the first class of Graduate Education in Medical Sciences program scholars.

The GEMS program was chartered through a $650,000 award grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The GEMS program will be offered to current MIT science or engineering PhD candidates involved in research projects with potential clinical applications, but is not equivalent to a medical degree. Ten students will be chosen from the applicants based on their academic standing and merit to become part of the first group of GEMS scholars in Feb. 2007.

According to a recent article by the News Office, William Galey, director of graduate education programs at HHMI, said that the GEMS program aims to help “facilitate development of training programs that improve the understanding of medicine and pathology by PhD scientists conducting biomedical research.”

Dr. Elazar Edelman, director of the Harvard/MIT Biomedical Engineering Center, and director of the GEMS program at MIT, said that HHMI asked schools to submit proposals to their award grant program called the Med Into Grad Initiative, targeted at integrating medical knowledge into graduate Education.

Edelman said that two main forces came into play regarding HHMI’s decision to fund this program: concern that basic research in the life sciences was not making it into clinical medicine research to the extent that practical medical applications could be developed to better the lives of people, and the realization that in order for medical research to receive more funding, it had to become more pertinent to real life, such as through translational medicine research.

“The HHMI wants to remove science from its ivory tower and bring it down to the plane where it can have communal and clinical impact,” said Edelman.

The GEMS program will have a supplementary curriculum that students can complete alongside their own degree, ensuring that they can finish both the PhD and GEMS training by the time of graduation. The program will commence in February and continue for a span of three academic semesters.

The curriculum is as follows: a human pathology course, including molecular and cellular mechanisms of disease; a medical pathophysiology course; a clinical experience, working with mentors who collaborate clinical medicine techniques and basic biological research; a seminar with examples of translational medicine; and HST’s Graduate Seminar which discusses the professional skills needed in interdisciplinary research, such as ethics, responsible conduct of research, and proper communication.

The program is offered by HST, through collaboration with MIT, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The required classes will be developed and taught by HST faculty. The pathology class will most likely be held at MIT, while the pathophysiology class will likely be taught at Harvard. Students will travel to one of the three participating hospitals for their clinical experiences.

Scholars will be expected to complete the pathology course this spring, the pathophysiology course in fall 2007 and finish the next spring with the clinical experience. The seminars will be held every other week for the duration of the program.

The program will continue under support of the HHMI grant for the next four years, and after that time, will hopefully become part of MIT’s programs and thus be funded by the Institute, said Edelman.

Eligible applicants can be from any major in the School of Science or School of Engineering, but should have completed 7.01, 7.05, or any other comparable biology course. Although the program is geared at students in the first three years of graduate school, more senior students with applicable research projects will also be considered.

Edelman said that although merit certainly plays a part in the selection process, students that can provide the most compelling reasons why he or she wants to participate in the program and how the experience will make the greatest impact on their career will be selected first.

Edelman said that students will benefit from GEMS most because they can “develop a perspective that they did not previously have.”

An informational meeting about the program was held on Nov. 8 and 42 students attended. Edelman said that he was pleased with the student interest in the program, as well as the widespread support from MIT faculty and staff.

Deadline for applying to the program is Nov. 30 and more information is available at hst.mit.edu/gems/.