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Director’s Corner

April 28, 2016: Training the Translational Science Leaders of the Future

Christopher Austin

Biomedical scientists likely remember their graduate school days as being filled with learning the basics of their scientific disciplines, how to critically read journal articles and write their own, and other best practices for contributing new knowledge to their fields. However, too few learn how to translate their discoveries into interventions that improve health.

This is one key reason translation is currently a slow and inefficient process. A critical part of NCATS’ mission is to strengthen the translational science workforce through innovative education and training initiatives, mentored research programs and career development support for translational investigators.

One exciting initiative is the Translational Science Training Program (TSTP) at NIH. This collaborative effort between NCATS and the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education offers NIH intramural postdoctoral fellows and graduate students the opportunity to learn more about the science and operation of the full spectrum of translation. The annual program features a mixture of classroom-based instruction, small group discussions and a hands-on workshop to introduce NIH trainees to fundamentals of the therapeutic development process, professional skills development, clinical trial terminology and career exploration in translational science.

Follow-up participant surveys show that the program has been very successful, with multiple alumni going on to establish successful careers in translational science. In the NCATS “3Ds” vernacular, we developed the TSTP, demonstrated its utility and, as will be outlined in a forthcoming publication, plan to disseminate the course as a model to be used by academic institutions and other translational research organizations to educate and train tomorrow’s translational scientists.

The NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program supports two formal clinical research training awards at CTSA Program institutions, as well as a wealth of training resources available to all investigators interested in translational research. You can read about a scientist who used some of those resources to open new doors at the University of Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), a CTSA Program hub. As a new assistant professor at Miami, Suhrud Rajguru, Ph.D., attended a “boot camp” similar to the TSTP offered through the CTSI and used several CTSI resources to develop a device to improve cochlear implant surgery. To help fellow researchers at Miami benefit from the knowledge he gained in moving his device to the clinic, he is participating in the NCATS-supported “train-the-trainer” program to bring an Innovation Corps (I-Corps) short course to Miami to provide entrepreneurship training to other translational scientists.

These young scientists — TSTP alumni, CTSA Program trainees and leaders like Rajguru — are paving the way to a new era in which biomedical researchers will begin their careers equipped with the tools and knowledge to more effectively translate basic science into interventions to improve human health.

Christopher P. Austin, M.D.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences