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Selected to participate in a new pediatric physician scientist training program are, from left, Erin Plosa, M.D., Michael Eckrich, M.D., and Kristie Young, M.D. William Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., right, is the programís director. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Grant boosts pediatric science training

BY: CAROLE BARTOO

6/12/2009 - A new physician-scientist program is focusing on training the next generation of researchers to work with vulnerable pediatric populations.

Vanderbilt's Department of Pediatrics received $1.6 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to train 14 fellows over the next five years in the “Conducting Child Health Research in Vulnerable Populations Training Program.”

“There are a lot of unanswered questions for these populations of children and this training grant gives us funds not only to develop these bright physician scientists, but also to take advantage of opportunities to interact with the community, something that has been difficult in this population in the past,” said program director and mentor William Cooper, M.D., M.P.H., professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine.

The first four fellows selected for participation in the program are:

• Michael Eckrich, M.D., a Pediatric Hematology and Oncology fellow, who will work with Cooper on a project entitled “Access to Healthcare for Children with Sickle Cell Disease;”

• Jennifer Esbenshade, M.D., a Pediatric Infectious Diseases fellow working with mentors Tom Talbot, M.D., and Kathryn Edwards, M.D., on a survey to better describe influenza infections and virus shedding among health care workers at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt;

 Erin Plosa, M.D., a Neonatology fellow working with Lawrence Prince, M.D., on inflammatory signaling pathways that might lead premature infants to develop chronic lung disease; and

• Kristie Young, M.D., a Pediatric Cardiology fellow who is working with mentors Dan Roden, M.D., and Prince Kannankeril, M.D., to identify a gene for the common heart arrhythmia disorder Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.

In addition to supporting the fellows' salary costs, the program covers a portion of the tuition so they can obtain a masters degree in public health or clinical investigation and expenses related to the research project.

Each student submits an application with a plan for a research project and requests a high-ranking mentor to work with.

As an additional feature of the program, junior pediatric faculty will be brought in to work on the projects as well. That will allow them to learn more about the mentoring process.

“These are really promising young individuals and the ripple effects of their training and mentoring experience gives this program a great opportunity to have an impact,” Cooper said.

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