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$1 Million from Howard Hughes Medical Institute for Clinical Imaging Training Program

Peter DaviesJames GeeAndrew Maidment

The School of Medicine received $1 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to establish an integrated graduate training program in clinical imaging and information sciences. HHMI is partnering with the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) in this effort.

Penn’s grant was one of 10 awarded by the HHMI-NIBIB Interfaces Program to set up interdisciplinary graduate education programs. The three-year, $1 million grants will be used to develop innovative programs designed to produce a cadre of scientists with the knowledge and skills to conduct research at the interface of biomedical, clinical, physical, engineering, and computational sciences. The 10 recipients of the HHMI awards were chosen from 132 applicants.

The department of radiology is providing additional funds to hire two new faculty members to support the program. By the end of the three-year development period, 10 new Ph.D. students, designated “HHMI Trainees,” will be enrolled in the program, notes Program Director Dr. Peter F. Davies, director of the Institute for Medicine and Engineering (IME), who led the initiative. “This is a good example of the role of an inter-School Institute in creating synergy among multiple departments in SOM, SEAS and SAS.”

The imaging sciences are well established at Penn, within multiple schools and academic departments, but no formal integration of efforts in graduate training existed prior to this program award. Through this grant, Penn will recruit graduates in engineering, physics, chemistry, applied mathematics, and computer science who want to learn clinical skills, and those in biological sciences with strong quantitative skills.

“We’re extremely excited about this opportunity,” said Dr. Nick Bryan, chair of the radiology department. “The ability for this initiative to cross schools is critical for the type of research and education that this program will stimulate.”

IME is coordinating the new program, working closely with the department of radiology, and coordinating with the departments of bioengineering, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and the basic science departments in the School of Medicine. “We’ve purposely cast our net wide because we want to bring basic scientists—physicists, applied mathematicians, biophysicists, and fundamental biomedical researchers—together to address imaging research in a clinical context,” says Dr. Davies. “The innovation is that trainees will get a Ph.D. in clinical imaging and informational sciences, which will be a thorough grounding in the fundamental science of imaging, but be closely integrated with clinical medicine.”

The Ph.D. program is unique in that students will complete many of the classes in the School of Medicine curriculum. The program is set to recruit five students at the end of the second year of the grant to start in the fall of 2007 and an additional five at the end of the third year of the grant in 2008. The grant began January 1, 2006.

“The main focus of these HHMI grants is to facilitate new interdisciplinary programs in cutting edge areas for which there are currently no coordinated training opportunities,” says Dr. James Gee, associate professor of radiologic science, and a co-principal investigator of the program along with Dr. Andrew Maidment, assistant professor of radiology. “Imaging science has traditionally been developed in a variety of disciplines and has allowed important advances to be made in many fields, including medicine. Further progress, however, demands programs that treat biomedical imaging science as a discipline in its own right in the same way that computer science has emerged as a primary discipline in the applied sciences. Our students will graduate as medical scientists, but their primary focus will be developing and using imaging as their primary tool. It is critical that the students come away with the clinical and basic medical perspective needed to develop new methods for detecting, diagnosing, and treating disease.”

HHMI and NIBIB will work together to ensure sustaining support beyond the start-up funds for the new programs. Following a second competition to ensure that the HHMI-funded recipients achieved their original goals, the NIBIB will support the second phase of this program through five-year training grants. The overall program is aimed at sustaining interdisciplinary graduate education.



  Almanac, Vol. 52, No. 22, February 14, 2006


February 14, 2006
Volume 52 Number 22


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