Student-run symposium focuses on translational medicine

The sixth annual Translational Medicine Symposium was held this week at the Koury Oral Health Sciences Building at UNC. The event features students trained to engage in the clinical side of research

Student-run symposium focuses on translational medicine click to enlarge Students and faculty begin to gather at the sixth annual Translational Medicine Symposium (Photo by Max Englund, UNC Health Care)

The event, which featured student presentations and keynote speakers, was sponsored by the Cancer Cell Biology Training Program and the certificate Program in Translational Medicine (PITM), which has helped train more than 80 scientists since 2006.

Unlike the typical basic science approach of mentoring scientists, the PITM student trainees also team with a clinical co-mentor who guides the student through clinical experiences, clinical vocabulary, and the overall culture of clinical research. Along with experiential learning, the training program includes a two-semester human pathophysiology course, a translational medicine seminar series, lunch and learn meetings, and the yearly symposium on topics in translational medicine.

Student trainees organize the symposium in its entirety, including inviting top scientists to deliver keynote speeches. After three years of trying, the symposium planning committee lured Peter Turnbaugh, PhD, a microbiologist at UC-San Francisco renowned for his work on the roles of microbes in human health. The second keynote speaker was Kris Wood, PhD, a Duke pharmacologist who is trying to create methods to match cancer patients with the most effective therapeutic strategies. The local faculty speaker was Ilona Jaspers, PhD, a professor of pediatrics and deputy director of the UNC Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology.

In 2006, UNC was one of 13 universities awarded a “Med into Grad” training grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) for the purpose of engaging more graduate students in translational medicine.

Students enter the program at the end of their first or second year and remain in the program until graduation. Trainees receive a certificate in translational medicine when they graduate from one of the 15 PhD granting programs associated with UNC's Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program. To date, there have been 39 graduates of the program.

The HHMI funded the certificate program through 2014. The program, which is now funded by the Office of Graduate Education at the UNC School of Medicine, trains students from a wide variety of disciplines, mostly within the UNC School of Medicine.

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