Frequently Asked Questions
Some of the answers are based on the presentation by Andrew Zinn, M.D., Ph.D. (Dean of the UT Southwestern Graduate School for Biomedical Sciences and Associate Dean of the MSTP) at a “Meet the MoDTS Track” event.
What is translational research?
Translation research refers to the translation of biomedical discoveries across a spectrum from the laboratory to the population.
What is the history of Mechanisms of Disease and Translational Science Program (MoDTS)?
In 2004, a report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, entitled “Bridging the Bed-Bench Gap,” described how by the late 1990s, the workforce for biomedical research overwhelmingly consisted of Ph.D.s rather than M.D.s or M.D./Ph.D.s. However, there were very few opportunities for Ph.D. students to train in disease-oriented or translational research.
As a result, following earlier pilot programs by the Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust, the HHMI in 2006 created their Med into Grad initiative, the long-term goal of which is to effect a fundamental transformation in the nature of Ph.D. training to increase the pool of scientists who are doing medically oriented research.
HHMI awarded $10 million to 13 institutions to create the Med into Grad Initiative. Around this time, UT Southwestern independently created our MoDTS Track within the Integrative Biology Graduate Program with the same vision. The MoDTS Track obtained a State of Texas Innovative Graduate Program Award in 2008.
When HHMI announced a second round of funding in 2009, this time for a total of $25 million, UT Southwestern joined 11 renewing and 12 newly funded Med into Grad programs. The list of awardees reads like a “Who’s Who” of graduate schools: Harvard, Yale, U Penn, U Chicago, UCSF, UCSD, Cornell, Columbia, etc. With these additional funds, we were able to expand the MoDTS to offer a specialized clinical translational research curriculum option to students in all Division of Basic Science graduate programs.
In 2014, MoDTS was awarded a 5-year NIH Molecular Medicine Predoctoral Research T32 Training Grant.
What do students get out of the MoDTS curriculum?
- You take advantage of the fact that you are at a medical center with clinical and translational researchers, basic scientists, and a large patient population. This environment is required for true translational, disease-oriented research. NIH is increasingly directing funds toward translational research, and exposure at the early stage of Ph.D. training will broaden students’ career options.
- You get the excitement of seeing how your research can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. All of you are smart, talented individuals, who could just as easily be pursuing other careers that are likely to be more financially lucrative. You chose to do science, and in particular, biomedical science, for a reason. For many, that reason includes the desire to improve the health and lives of others.
- The curriculum can make you a better biomedical scientist. One of the main limitations of our basic science graduate students is that they have difficulty understanding pathophysiology. In my hat as the M.D./Ph.D. MSTP Program Director, I see that the ability to distinguish normal versus diseased cells and tissues and to understand the disease process more than compensates for the lack of graduate courses when MSTP students join the lab. The MoDTS is an opportunity for you as a Ph.D. student to gain some of these perspectives and focus on translational research.
- The current MoDTS students are enthusiastic about the enrichment provided by the curriculum. The MoDTS Track is obviously voluntary, and it is not for everyone, but those students who have chosen to participate and have blazed a trail for others have been uniformly positive about their experiences. We publish the names of all the students on the MoDTS website; I encourage you to contact your peers and ask what they have to say about the MoDTS Program.
Will there be an increase in time to degree?
The MoDTS curriculum is designed to increase clinical translational research training. These opportunities should enhance students’ ability to successfully carry out their dissertation research and add a translational dimension. Most members of our MoDTS students have been productive. We are very pleased that the MoDTS students’ average time to degree (4.6 years as of May 2014) is shorter than the overall 5.3 years average for the Division of Basic Science Graduate School.