By David Hungate
Second class joins the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program
Seventeen students recently became the newest members of the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program. The doctoral program, the Virginia Tech Graduate School’s largest interdisciplinary program, launched last year.
“This country needs translational researchers who can accelerate the transformation of fundamental biological discoveries into new approaches to prevent, diagnose, treat, and even cure disease,” said Michael Friedlander, co-director of the program and Virginia Tech’s associate provost for health sciences. “The Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program teaches students how to conduct a variety of biomedical research, including clinical and health-implementation research, and – of critical importance – how to place that research in the context of achieving improved health for individuals as well as across populations.”
Nine women and eight men compose the class, with representation from three countries.
Three members of the class earned their undergraduate degrees at Virginia Tech. Other institutions represented include Baylor University; Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid, Jordan; Presidency University in Kolkata, India; Purdue University; Roanoke College; the University of Delaware; the University of South Carolina; Virginia Commonwealth University; and Washington State University.
Nearly half of the students have already earned master’s degrees. The class members hold undergraduate or graduate degrees in such disciplines as agricultural and applied economics, biological systems engineering, biology, biomedical sciences, biophysics and molecular biology, neuroscience, nursing, pharmacology, pharmacy administration, psychology, and public health.
The doctoral program draws on the talents of more than 200 Virginia Tech members of the Faculty of Health Sciences, which includes affiliates from 25 departments in seven colleges and several institutes and centers. The students will take classes and conduct research in a variety of laboratories, clinics, or health care settings, primarily at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and on Virginia Tech’s main campus in Blacksburg.
“We hope to build on the success of the program’s first year,” said Audra Van Wart, who co-directs the program along with Friedlander. “Already our students’ hard work has resulted in two first-authored publications, a research fellowship award, and the acceptance of numerous conference abstracts.”
The students will spend the first semester immersed in their core coursework before selecting a focus area for more in-depth study. These students can choose from six focus areas: cancer; development, aging, and repair; health implementation science; immunity and infectious disease; metabolic and cardiovascular science; and neuroscience.
Throughout the first year, the students will rotate through the research programs of three faculty mentors. At the close of the first year, they will be matched to a faculty member under whose guidance they will conduct research for their final thesis.
This program provides a rare opportunity for doctoral students to explore other fields before selecting a specialty, said Friedlander, who is also executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. The interdisciplinary approach gives students insights into how researchers in disparate fields can collaborate to solve complex health problems.
“Most notably, the program affords students the opportunity to interact daily with other students and faculty from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, including laboratory scientists, physicians, veterinarians, and public health researchers,” Friedlander said. “The program also equips the students with the most contemporary approaches – from molecular biology to genetics, physiology, computation, behavior, and modeling – to bear on major issues of biomedicine and health.”