The complexities of biological, behavioral, social, and environmental risk factors for obesity and cardiovascular disease (CVD) necessitate team science, capable of crossing the boundaries of disciplinary-specific silos to conduct and evaluate research from a transdisciplinary approach to prevent and treat obesity and CVD across the lifespan. Efforts to facilitate greater collaboration among scientists trained across many fields and levels of training are not only valuable but essential to solving such complex problems. Thus, we propose an innovative, transdisciplinary pre- and postdoctoral training program in obesity and CVD at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). WUSTL is a world-class research institution promoting transdisciplinary, translational research through its unique, collegial, scientific environment across campuses and departments. This program will: 1) recruit and train talented transdisciplinary pre- and postdoctoral trainees; 2) provide trainees with collaborative, transdisciplinary mentorship teams; 3) target diversity in the future scientific workforce; and 4) provide training in the ethical and socially responsible conduct of obesity/CVD research. International authorities on obesity, Denise Wilfley, PhD (Director) and Samuel Klein, MD (Co-Director), will lead the program, supported by highly- qualified, primary and co-mentors spanning 15 departments in the biomedical, cognitive and behavioral, and population health sciences. Primary mentors have been extremely successful in training productive scientists; over the last 10 years, 78% and 87% of past pre- and postdoctoral trainees, respectively, are in research careers or training. Of those in research, 67% and 72% have obtained external funding. Our mentors are well funded (93% with NIH funding) and have strong collaborative ties to facilitate the training of 4 pre- and 4 postdoctoral trainees. Combining pre- and postdoctoral trainees from diverse backgrounds (e.g., genetics, molecular cell biology, psychology, social work, public heath, neurosciences) creates a uniquely dynamic training environment. The WUSTL Nutrition Obesity Research Center, Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences, Institute for Public Health, Diabetic Cardiovascular Disease Center, and Center for Diabetes Translation Research will provide infrastructure and state-of-the-art resources to support trainees' engagement in transformative, translational science. Program evaluations conducted by trainees, program administration and collaborative mentorship teams will ensure trainees achieve short- and long-term indicators of productivity positioning them for success in obtaining academic positions and independent grants. The Diversity Advisory Committee will assist in the recruitment and retention of highly qualified trainees from diverse backgrounds. Not only is our proposed training program innovative in its design, but using a team science approach guided by stellar mentors, our trainees will be prepared to create and contribute to transdisciplinary scientific approaches that are more likely to yield innovative solutions to the complex problems of obesity and CVD than research previously conducted by individual scientists within a single disciplinary field.

Public Health Relevance

Obesity is an area of critical public health concern, as it is associated with significant cardiovascular health risks and the onset of cardiovascular disease; as such, the National Institutes of Health has called for an acceleration of efforts to combat these problems from a multi-level, transdisciplinary perspective. In response to this significant public health priority, this training program, housed within Washington University in St. Louis, a world-class research institution with state-of-the-art resources, proposes to recruit highly-qualified pre- and postdoctoral trainees from diverse backgrounds across disciplines and place them within transdisciplinary mentoring teams with faculty members who are leading researchers in the fields of obesity and cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment. These training experiences will produce a diverse cohort of young scientists with the transdisciplinary research skills necessary to address the complex problems of obesity and cardiovascular disease prevention and treatment across the lifespan.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Institutional National Research Service Award (T32)
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NHLBI Institutional Training Mechanism Review Committee (NITM)
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Pratt, Charlotte
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Washington University
Schools of Medicine
Saint Louis
United States
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Kass, Andrea E; Balantekin, Katherine N; Fitzsimmons-Craft, Ellen E et al. (2017) The economic case for digital interventions for eating disorders among United States college students. Int J Eat Disord 50:250-258
Balantekin, Katherine N; Birch, Leann L; Savage, Jennifer S (2017) Eating in the absence of hunger during childhood predicts self-reported binge eating in adolescence. Eat Behav 24:7-10