Duke Emerges as Key Player in National Initiative to Develop Physician-Scientists

Monday, July 30, 2018
By Duke School of Medicine blog

Physician scientists—those who hold MD or MD/PhD degrees and pursue biomedical research —offer a unique skill set, as they are especially well positioned to translate basic science discoveries into treatments or cures.  

However, the number of physician-scientists in the workforce has been steadily decreasing, prompting the NIH to create a Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group in 2014 to address this growing problem. 

Duke’s School of Medicine has emerged as a leader in the development of physician-scientists, with the announcement of three new training awards, the appointment of  faculty member to a national leadership role and the development of a new office within the school.

Duke was one of five recipients of The Burroughs Wellcome Fund Physician-Scientist Institutional Award, which provides $2.5 million ($500,000 over five years) to address training gaps and the high rate of attrition in the physician-scientist pipeline. Rasheed Gbadegesin, MD, MBBS, a professor of pediatrics and medicine, will serve as principal investigator (PI) on the project. Faculty leadership on this project represents a number of departments and in addition to Rasheed includes Michael Gunn, MD, professor of medicine, professor of immunology, and associate professor in pathology; Sallie Permar, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics, immunology, and molecular genetics and microbiology; Andrew Alspaugh, MD, professor of medicine and professor of molecular genetics and microbiology; Gowthami Arepally, MD, professor of medicine and professor of pathology; Gerard Blobe, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and professor of pharmacology and cancer biology; Chris Kontos, MD, professor of medicine, professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, and director of the Medical Scientist Training Program; William Steinbach, MD, professor of pediatrics, professor in molecular genetics and microbiology, and chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases; and David Harpole, MD, professor of surgery, associate professor in pathology, and resident research director.

Duke has committed for many years to a unique dedicated year of research in the third year of medical school. Yet, newly graduated physicians in residency training programs are infrequently afforded the opportunity to integrate research with clinical training, creating an impediment for MDs with research interests to re-enter research once their clinical training is complete. 

To address this challenge identified in the 2014 NIH workforce report, the NIH recently initiated a novel training program to support research during the residency period, the Stimulating Access to Research during Residency (StARR) R38 awards. A Duke faculty mentor team was the recipient of two of these coveted R38 awards from two institutes within the NIH—the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.  Both awards provide approximately $884,000 over five years to support dedicated research track for resident-investigators within the departments of pediatrics, medicine, and surgery. 

The PIs for both awards are Sallie Permar, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics, immunology, and molecular genetics and microbiology; Scott Palmer, MD, vice-chair for research in the department of medicine and a professor of medicine and immunology; and David Harpole, MD, professor of surgery, associate professor in pathology, and resident research director.

Permar has also been named the next program director for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)-sponsored Pediatric Scientist Development Program (PSDP).  This national K12 program for pediatric scientists in subspecialty fellowships, administered by the Association of Medical School of Pediatric Department Chairs, has an unprecedented track record in developing independent pediatric scientists, with over half of fellows going on to receive NIH R01 awards. 

Permar will assume the role in July 2019, and for the next year, will work alongside the current PSDP Program Director, Peggy Hostetter, MD, BK Rachford Professor and chair of the department of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to transition this highly successful program. 

“Cultivating the physician-scientist workforce through the support of research during clinical training is critical for developing the next generation of leaders of biomedical discoveries and innovation in health care,” said Permar.

Dean Mary E. Klotman recently announced plans to form a new Office for Physician-Scientist Development at Duke to coordinate Duke’s efforts in the recruitment, development, mentorship, and retention of physician-scientist across career levels. A search is underway for an Associate Dean for Physician-Scientist Development that will be responsible for the operational and strategic oversight of these new initiatives.

“Duke’s receipt of these important awards and establishment of this new office will catapult our ongoing efforts to encourage and help develop more physician-scientists, the number of which has been steadily decreasing,” said Klotman. “Physician-scientists bring a knowledge of both laboratory and clinical research that is essential for translating discovery.”

This blog post is re-purposed from the Duke School of Medicine website