Rodbell Auditorium at NIEHS was filled to capacity Aug. 28-29 by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from NIEHS and three area universities. They came for the first Translational Science Training Program (TSTP) offered at NIEHS.
Because more postdocs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found jobs in the field of translating laboratory research into medical interventions that improve health — a field known as translational science — NIH responded by developing the program.
Launched in 2010 by Phil Ryan, Ph.D., from the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education, the training is a high-intensity program. A paper by Ryan and colleagues, published in January, describes the NIH strategy for the course.
"The [program] ... introduces NIH postdoctoral trainees and graduate students to the science and operation of turning basic research discoveries into a medical therapeutic, device, or diagnostic, and also exposes them to the variety of career options in translational science," the authors wrote.
Adapting for the RTP experience
Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows Career Development, collaborated with Ryan to adapt the program for NIEHS. "We've had several NIEHS fellows attend the training on the main campus, but we thought it would be a good idea to re-create it here in RTP," Collins said. "We wanted to expose fellows to the drug development process."
Research Triangle Park (RTP), where NIEHS is located, is home to a number of pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations, so drug development was the main theme for the class. The planning team used development of the cancer drug Gleevec as a case study, lending cohesion to the variety of speakers and topics.
Broad scope of speakers and topics
Speakers represented pharmaceutical companies, research institutions, clinical research organizations, regulatory agencies, and universities. They addressed the full cycle of drug development, including identifying the therapeutic target, early testing for effectiveness and safety, clinical trials, U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, marketing, and protecting intellectual property.
"The presentations demonstrated the broad scope of employment opportunities for life science Ph.D.s in industry, and provided a vignette of what each sector was about, including day-to-day life," said Logan Brown, a graduate student working in the NIEHS Synaptic and Developmental Plasticity Group. "It provided insights not only into how some of the industry areas operate, but which ones might attract you."
NIEHS alumni share insights
NIEHS participants were particularly interested to hear from two NIEHS alumni. John Busillo, Ph.D., is now a principal medical writer at Merck & Co. Inc. "Establishing a multidisciplinary, dynamic, and interactive drug development team that can follow a drug through from inception to marketing is fundamental to successful translational science," he said.
Alumna Samantha Hoopes, Ph.D., from Rho, Inc., also presented. "A huge part of transitioning to industry is learning the language," she said, adding that classes such as TSTP can help.
Her insight was borne out by NIEHS research fellow Juhee Haam, Ph.D. "The bootcamp helped me learn details about clinical development trials and acronyms used in the field," Haam said.
At the NIH program in Bethesda, participants are offered a follow-up visit to the National Center for Advancing Translational Science to see drug development in action.
At NIEHS, some fellows took advantage of the Enhancing Local Industry Transitions Through Exploration (ELITE) Consortium program to visit INC Research/inVentiv Health, a local biopharmaceuticals solutions company. According to Collins, follow-up visits with local pharmaceutical companies will be part of future offerings.
The class was a great introduction to drug development, according to Cody Nichols, Ph.D., from the NIEHS Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Laboratory. "[Although I had] already been introduced to the process, the course offered enough depth that I learned a lot," he said. "This experience would be helpful to anyone considering a career other than academia, as well as anyone interested in translational science."
Citation: Gilliland CT, Sittampalam GS, Wang PY, Ryan PE. 2017. The translational science training program at NIH: introducing early career researchers to the science and operation of translation of basic research to medical interventions. Biochem Mol Biol Educ 45(1):13−24.
(Simone Otto, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research and Training Award postdoctoral fellow in the Ion Channel Physiology group of the NIEHS Neurobiology Laboratory.)