Mentorship and Funding Award Supports Up-and-Coming Researchers
For researchers early in their careers, it’s not just funding that matters—mentorship is also critical for success.
Dr. Dan Morgan has been studying cannabinoid signaling in the brain. Dr. Greg Lewis recently developed simulation software for fracture surgeries. Dr. Joslyn Kirby investigated bundled payments for management of a skin condition. These three Penn State College of Medicine doctors received guidance from senior researchers, along with $200,000 to fund their research, through the College’s Junior Faculty Research Scholar Awards program.
The program, launched in 2011, provides support to early-stage investigators in basic, clinical, and translational science research.
“It’s a way for us to jump start the research programs and career development of researchers here,” says program co-director Dr. Sarah Bronson, who is also director of Research Development and Interdisciplinary Research and co-director of the Junior Faculty Development Program. “We put equal weight on funding the scholar’s research program and recognizing a career and development plan that is going to make that research program happen.”
To that end, applicants don’t just propose the research they want to do. They also submit mentorship “dream team”—at least three experienced investigators who will provide advice and assistance in developing and executing a research proposal and a career development plan. The mentoring team meets with the scholar a minimum of once every six months.
Each scholar’s award is named to honor the contributions of senior investigators at Penn State Hershey who made a difference through their own research and through the mentoring of colleagues and trainees.
“We consider the program a success if a scholar publishes journal articles, wins additional funding, is promoted or obtains tenure,” Bronson says.
Scholars have been appointed every two years, with the last group named in 2013. Starting this year, awardees will be chosen yearly instead of every two years.
“We had so many excellent applications this year, there is definitely a need for this program,” Bronson says.
Morgan, Lewis and Kirby, the 2013 scholars, are wrapping up their award-period now.
Morgan is an assistant professor of anesthesiology. His work examines the question of whether “overactive” cannabinoid signaling plays a role in drug and food addiction. He’s also looking at how mice develop tolerance to THC, the main psychoactive and pain-relieving component in marijuana.
“With support from the JFRSA, I was able to participate in and present my research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory/National Institute on Drug Abuse week-long course on the ‘Cellular Biology of Addiction’ last summer,” he says. “The award also enabled me to present my work at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting and the annual Winter Conference on Brain Research.”
Dr. Morgan anticipates that he will publish five peer-reviewed articles on his JFRSA-funded research. There will likely be more papers to come. He has secured additional grant funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Lewis is an assistant professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation. His research involves developing new simulation software for fracture fixation surgery, a common and costly hospital procedure where implants are used to fix bones. Lewis’s simulation lets doctors and trainees work on hypothetical patient cases. They try different fracture fixation options in a safe virtual environment. The software even predicts the outcome and cost associated with each option.
“The Junior Faculty Research Scholar program helped provide necessary resources to develop and test this technology, and to develop a multidisciplinary team with expertise in orthopaedic trauma, simulation and education,” Lewis says.
He’s now developing human‐computer interfaces that will help surgeons identify the optimal surgery for a particular patient.
Kirby is an associate professor of dermatology. She’s looking at different payment models for treating actinic keratosis (AK), a skin disorder caused by UV light-exposure that can lead to cancer. Bundling services into one flat fee instead of paying for each service separately could result in improved access to care and lower costs, and could encourage innovations in patient care. With a few months remaining in her award period, Kirby is implementing one of the eight versions of a bundled payment for AK. She also performed a review and rating of the guidelines that make recommendations for AK management, which she presented at this year’s Society for Investigative Dermatology Annual Meeting.
“I hope that the results of my research will improve AK care and change how treatment is delivered,” Kirby says. “For me, this grant has opened new avenues of research and exposed me to experienced researchers who acted as mentors. Most importantly, this experience has reinforced my desire to continue to perform research and to use this research to positively impact the patients that I, and my colleagues, see in clinic on a daily basis.”
The Next Group
Out of 27 applicants, three new awardees were named this year:
Andrew Foy, assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences, will look for ways to reduce unnecessary testing of low-risk chest pain.
Nicholas Buchkovich, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, will investigate how an infectious virus called human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) replicates.
Milena Bogunovic, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, will research the role of immune cells in the GI tract.
- Jennifer Abbasi