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Published in CenterView on January 10, 2011

New grant expands UMMC's research vision

By Jack Mazurak

A $2 million training grant to fund graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will help UMMC researchers in the Center for Excellence in Cardiovascular-Renal Research attract top young scientists from across the United States, free up money for additional research and possibly lead to more training grants.

The five-year grant, received this fall from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, will fund five postdoctoral researchers and three graduate students, said Dr. Joey Granger, the cardiovascular-renal center's director and dean of the School of Graduate Studies.

It also completes a cycle more than a quarter century in the making.

As a physiology graduate student from 1979 to '83, Granger received funding through a training grant, the last period UMMC had one. Now, as the head of the center, he's brought one back.

Front row from left, Dr. Sydney Murphy, Dr. Drew Pruett, back row from left, Dr. Eric George, Marilyn Burke, Dr. Kedra Wallace and John Clemmer.
Front row from left, Dr. Sydney Murphy, Dr. Drew Pruett, back row from left, Dr. Eric George, Marilyn Burke, Dr. Kedra Wallace and John Clemmer.

Two graduate students and four postdoctoral researchers were put on training grant funds this fall. It pays for stipends, lab supplies and work-related travel expenses. Usually graduate students and postdoctoral fellows initially receive funding from their mentors' grants or institutional resources.

"Getting this training grant frees up that money for other uses like experiments and equipment," Granger said.

Dr. Kedra Wallace, a second-year postdoctoral researcher in obstetrics and gynecology, is researching preeclampsia and started receiving training-grant funding in October.

"It does open up opportunities because normally in your second year you'd have to have your own funding," Wallace said. "This allows me more time to gather data, concentrate on my experiments and get the work published while I'm applying for my own grant funding."

She'll also be able travel to San Francisco next month to present a poster at the Maternal-Fetal Medicine annual meeting.

A stipend from the training grant also supports first-year graduate student John Clemmer while he's finding his niche in physiology - maybe the cardiovascular system, maybe obesity-related trauma.

The grant, limited to U.S. residents and green-card eligible foreign residents, is already being used to recruit promising new scientists.

"We have ads in major journals, on the APS listserv and we're talking about it at meetings. We also aim to recruit more minorities and are working with Jackson State University and Tougaloo College," Granger said.

"The grant will help train the next generation of scientists and leaders for the Medical Center and other institutions. My goal is to make sure we continue this record of progress and keep this grant renewed."

For helping to bring back a training grant to UMMC, Granger credits a record of producing scientists who rise to leadership positions - department chairs at the Medical Center and other universities and presidents of the American Physiological Society. He credits the center's accomplishments of 225 students trained and over 750 manuscripts published in the last decade, and the renown of a world-leading Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

"We also had to have our ducks in a row in terms of strong institutional support and multidisciplinary teams established," Granger said.

Those came together in the last few years with the new Guyton Research building's opening - the Cardiovascular-Renal center's home - and hiring of more investigators like Dr. Richard Roman, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and co-director of the grant-crated training program.

Gathering people from multiple disciplines strengthens a group's knowledge base, provides broader training for students and lets researchers attack health issues from multiple angles. Combining basic scientists and clinicians helps move research findings into clinical use.

Members of the Cardiovascular-Renal center hail from departments and divisions including pharmacology, medicine, pediatrics, physiology and biophysics, pediatric surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, biochemistry and endocrinology. Currently the center includes over 30 postdoctoral researchers and 10 graduate students.

Granger is encouraging other programs, centers and institutes - such as the Center for Psychiatric Neuroscience, Cancer Institute, and Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Center - to apply for training grants as well.

Already Dr. Gregory Chinchar, professor of microbiology and associate dean of the Graduate School, is writing an application to submit this month for a training grant. If accepted, it would fund students in cellular, molecular biology and biochemistry research.

"I think this is going to be a snowball effect," Granger said. "Getting this first one is going to help build a solid foundation for future grants."