Jeremy Meier, MD, PhD, Simon Gray, MD, PhD, Erica Brenner, MD, MSCR, and Erin Steinbach, MD, PhD, will receive support from the UNC School of Medicine Physician Scientists Training Program to cultivate their careers as translational clinician scientists.
As part of the Forward Together Strategic Plan, the UNC School of Medicine Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP) supports a small number of clinicians committed to translating research findings to advance the practice of medicine in addition to providing clinical care and teaching. PSTP is a pipeline to recruit, train, and retain promising individuals and provide them with support and mentorship to cultivate their research programs.
The PSTP supports physician scientists at both the resident or fellowship level and the early stage faculty level. In the inaugural cycle, four individuals were inducted into this prestigious program. The success of the “grow our own” physician scientist development philosophy is already highlighted by these initial inductees. The two inaugural fellow trainees, Alena Markmann and Erin Steinbach have joined the UNC faculty and of the initial four inductees, Alena Markmann (Medicine), Tessa Andermann (Medicine), and Peyton Thompson (Pediatrics) have already successfully acquired NIH funding through K-series career development awards. In 2021 an additional six physician scientists were added to the program and this year’s four awardees in 2022 will join them in receiving funding and mentorship to help them develop successful research programs.
“Physician scientists are a critical bridge for translating the gap between novel discovery science and patient care, and the UNC SOM PSTP has cultivated a very successful environment that continues to grow and support our talented pool of physician scientists at early stages in their career” says Blossom Damania, School of Medicine Vice Dean for Research. “We are committed to the PSTP as a catalyst for translational research that enhances our recruitment and retention of the best and brightest physician scientists.”
In this round, two awards were given at the resident/fellowship level to Jeremy Meier, MD, PhD and Simon Gray, MD, PhD, both clinical fellows in the Department of Medicine. Erin Steinbach, MD, PhD, a former fellowship level awardee and now assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, is joined by Erica Brenner MD, MSCR, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, to receive support at the early-stage faculty level.
“Five clinical departments nominated physician scientists from their faculty and residency/fellowship training programs this year and our advisory committee made up of physician scientists from ten clinical departments in the School of Medicine reviewed these nominees and selected the awardees. As in prior years, all nominees were highly competitive and talented candidates with promising research careers ahead of them. We hope the success of the programs trainees continues to encourage our clinical department leadership to recruit and nominate developing physician scientists for this program as we build a community of physician scientists at UNC with a diverse range of clinical and scientific interests,” said Joseph (Alex) Duncan, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and director of the UNC School of Medicine Physician Scientists Training Program. “We are happy to support their translational careers and look forward to the impact of their future research success.”
Meier’s research focuses on utilizing Chimeric Antigen Receptor-expressing T cells (CAR-T cells) to treat solid tumors, where these novel immune therapy tools have been less effective than they have been in combatting blood derived cancers like leukemia. His project seeks to understand how intracellular signaling molecule known as STING induces metabolic changes in T cells driving the development of T memory stem cells with enhanced efficacy against solid tumors.
Gray’s research interests focus on developing microbiome-based therapeutics to treat inflammatory bowel diseases. He has developed refined mouse models of inflammatory bowel disease that remit and relapse with standard IBD therapies and now seeks to test whether restoring a subset of normal gut bacteria can lead to long term remission of the disease.
Brenner is a pediatric gastroenterologist whose research falls at the interface of women’s reproductive health and chronic gastrointestinal disorders like inflammatory bowel disease. Her project focuses on understanding the safety and impact of estrogen-containing contraceptive products in adolescent and adult young women with Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Steinbach’s research will build on her previous research understanding how leakiness of the gastrointestinal tract contributes to the development of peanut allergies using a combination of mouse models, cutting edge cultured organoids, and clinical studies of patients with peanut allergies.