The application of quantitative approaches to study biology and medicine is identified as an essential underpinning for the advancement of biomedical research. This proposal requests support for the Molecular Biophysics Training Program (MBTP) at Vanderbilt University, which is now nearing the end of its fifth cycle of NIH funding. The goal of our MBTP is to train students to work at the interface between quantitative molecular approaches and key problems in biology and medicine. The MBTP operates in a unique niche, providing a deeper grounding in the physical sciences for trainees who have a biological sciences background, and a more thorough exposure to the biological sciences and medicine than is usual for students with a physical sciences or engineering background. Though the program draws its training faculty from 7 different departments, it is rooted in an established network of common research and training activities. The 75 current students associated with the MBTP is nearly 3 times the number (27) from 10 years ago. Moreover, 12 of the current trainees (16%) are from groups that are underrepresented in science. Together, our trainees, the 23 Training Faculty and scientific staff and postdoctoral fellows make for a highly collegial and collaborative community. Beyond a personally designed curriculum, trainees meet along with the entire MBTP community at a minimum of two formal research seminar and one informal gathering each month. The scope of research spans the range of modern molecular biophysics, from understanding the principles of protein folding, to structural characterization of membrane proteins, to defining the action of multi-protein cellular machinery, to investigating the movement of biomolecules into, out of, and within cells. Research projects involve a broad spectrum of physical, chemical, and computational approaches, including X-ray crystallography, NMR, EPR and fluorescence spectroscopies, mass spectrometry, cryo-electron microscopy, cell imaging and molecular/cellular simulations, and often utilize multiple approaches. Trainees join the MBTP in their first year of graduate training after choosing a thesis laboratory, and are then supported for one and/or two years. Grant support covers the time needed for additional specialized didactic training and the initiation of thesis research. However, all trainees (and ther preceptors) remain active in MBTP program activities throughout the duration of their graduate training. Overall, the MBTP enriches each student's research and training experience and is designed to foster the development of the next generation of independent research scientists.
Molecular Biophysics seeks to define the basic underpinning of health and disease by obtaining a quantitative description of the shapes, surface features and network of interactions between the many thousands of molecules that bring cells to life. Our training program provides a highly enriching environment for training scientists in the language and implementation of Molecular Biophysics so that they may be applied to the most critical questions in medicine and biology. By fostering the development of these key quantitative scientists, our program will contribute in a significant way to understanding normal physiology and the malfunctions that lead to disease, which in turn can be used to develop new approaches and technologies to address the critical challenges at the forefront of biomedical science.
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