Clinician-scientists are uniquely positioned to ask new and insightful scientific questions inspired by patient observations, yet, they often lack the expertise to be able to translate their observations into carefully designed basic scientific and translational experiments. There are likely many reasons for this, but the most cited barriers are lack of specific training, mentoring, funding, and time. If these barriers could be removed, more clinician-scientists could pursue careers in laboratory-based translational research, thereby helping to reverse the current state of affairs in many neurological disorders, in which basic research is proceeding at an increasingly rapid pace but translational research is lagging, and most patients with neurological disorders are left without preventions, treatments or cures. Here we propose a research training program for MD-PhDs or MDs who have finished their clinical training in a neuroscience-related specialty and are highly motivated to pursue careers as physician-scientists in innovative, laboratory-based translational research in brain diseases. The ReConNecT-IT (Remapping Clinical Neurosciences through Translation and Innovation Training) program consists of intense research training under the close mentoring of 1-2 faculty mentors. Trainees design and conduct independent research projects that they can take with them when they transition to independent support, and upon which they will base their NIH K-award application. Research projects are directed toward the translation of the genetic, molecular and cellular pathophysiology of neurological diseases into strategies for prevention, treatment or cure. Trainees will be encouraged to pursue projects that are collaborative and cross-disciplinary, as this fosters their research development, and linking disciplines helps generate ideas that are novel. Trainees will have access to 20 core faculty and can collaborate with other groups. Trainees will work alongside PhD researchers and participate in journal clubs, lab meetings and basic science seminars. The curriculum includes formal training in experimental design, statistical methodology and quantitative literacy, and well as individualized training on statistical/quantitative methodology by our Director of Statistical Training. Trainees will gain an understanding of critical topics in translational research and how basic research is translated into clinical trials (patient-oriented research) via two specific, semester-long courses. They will gain professional skill and understand career opportunities by participating in workshops on developing a K-award application, grant and scientific writing, pursuing an academic career, job search skills, laboratory and project management, and responsible conduct of research. A unique feature of ReConNecT-IT is that prospective trainees can know of their acceptance before their clinical training ends, allowing them to schedule research into their remaining clinical time, thereby expanding the total amount of research experience they will have before writing a K-award application. The main expected short-term outcome for this program is application for an NIH K award or equivalent grants.
The majority of neurological and psychiatric disorders remain without effective preventions, treatments, or cures. One contributing factor may be the lack of individuals who have a deep understanding of both the clinical conditions, and of how to conduct laboratory research into the causes of disease and the development of treatments. This grant supports an education program for physicians who want to develop laboratory research skills so that they can be a bridge between doctors and scientists, helping to translate the results of basic innovative scientific research into new, effective preventions, treatments, or cures for persons with neurological, psychiatric, and neurodegenerative disorders.