Beginning next fall, the University will launch an multidisciplinary science-training program.
The program, called Integrated in Microbial Systems: Modeling, Population and Experimental Approaches, will combine population and microbiome sciences to explore human health and diseases. A microbiome is defined as the microorganisms in a particular environment.
Betsy Foxman, program co-director and professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, said the goal of the program is to train scientists who are able to apply laboratory and population approaches to the study of microbial communities in human health.
“Our long term research goal is to learn how to sustain healthy microbial communities and to manipulate unhealthy ones so as to improve human health,” Foxman said.
Tom Schmidt, the program’s other co-director and professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said he hopes the program will lead to new discoveries about how the microbiome is related to diseases. He added that the program’s work could extend beyond just human health and allow study of microbial communities in other organisms like animals and plants.
Schmidt said the program will be able to fund four doctoral students per year. Other students will also be able to benefit from workshops and symposia hosted by the program.
“We are looking for people who reach across the traditional academic boundaries, people who are willing to gain expertise not only in microbiology, but also in modeling and ecology and dealing with large datasets that come with the study of the microbiome,” he said.
The program will be funded through the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Award, which will provide $2.5 million over a five- year period. The fund donates money to similar programs at universities across the country with the goal of integrating the fields medicine with public health. The University was one of the four grant recipients in 2014.
The other three were Dartmouth College, University of Rochester and Washington University in St. Louis.
Russ Campbell, communications officer for Burroughs Wellcome Fund, said the University’s program connects bench sciences and public health.
“Students who would have otherwise taken a traditional laboratory-based Ph.D. are thinking about problems through a public health lens and students who would have otherwise trained in traditional public health approaches are exposed to the power of asking questions at the molecular or organismal level,” he said.
Schmidt said he hopes the program grows each year, as well as potentially gain more sources of funding.
“We hope that we will continue it and build on the success of this program,” Schmidt said. “That could be through funding of Burroughs Wellcome but through elsewhere also. We are looking at the National Institute of Health for training programs. This is just a start for what we think will be a much bigger program.”
Foxman said the program is currently in the process of recruiting students. The application deadline is April 7 and decisions will be reached by May 1. She noted that admitted and current doctoral students anywhere at the University are eligible to apply and that the website for the program is slated to launch next week.