Physician-Scientist Early Career Award program supports biomedical research  

June 27, 2006 

WORCESTER, Mass. -As individuals like UMass Medical School Assistant Professor of Surgery Jennifer F. Tseng, MD, can readily attest, the first few years as a junior faculty member at an academic medical center are critical for physicians who want to pursue a career in biomedical research. In fact, new faculty physicians often abandon plans for research careers due to lack of flexible funding to accommodate needs of new labs and lack of time to actually do research.  In response to these challenges, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) created the Physician-Scientist Early Career Award program to cultivate talented investigators like Dr. Tseng, who was recently named one of the 13 inaugural awardees. The program will provide $150,000 over three years to Tseng, who is also a surgeon with UMass Memorial Medical Center, with the stipulation that the funds must be used for direct research expenses. UMass Medical School is also committed to supporting Tseng's efforts to spend at least 70 percent of her professional time doing research. 

"We feel that the Early Career Awards program is one of the best investments we could make in the future of biomedical research," said William Galey, director of HHMI's graduate science education and medical research training programs. "There is a pressing need to recruit talented physicians to careers in medical research, to help translate basic science discoveries into new medical therapies for patients. We hope that these competitive grants will enable some of the most promising MDs and MD/PhDs to make a successful transition from mentored training to independent junior faculty research positions at academic medical centers." 

Tseng joined UMMS and the Division of Surgical Oncology and Endocrine Surgery at UMass Memorial Medical Center last fall from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She received her medical degree from the University of California-San Francisco Medical School (UCSF) in 1995 and served her residency in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was a staff surgeon and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. Tseng also completed a research fellowship in molecular medicine at Children's Hospital, focusing on pancreatic tumor vaccines. 

"I am humbled and honored to receive this support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and to be included with such a fine group of scientists," said Tseng. "This funding will greatly benefit my research into the treatment of pancreatic cancer - one of the deadliest cancers and also one of the least well-funded. With my colleagues at UMass Medical School, it is my goal to develop the tools and technology to beat this cancer, both one patient at a time through clinical excellence, and globally, through basic and clinical research." 

HHMI supports two other programs to recruit future physician-scientists: the HHMI-NIH Research Scholars Program, which enables medical or dental students to spend a year doing research in laboratories at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the HHMI Research Training Fellowships for Medical Students, which provides funding for medical or dental students to conduct full-time research at any academic institution in the U.S., except the NIH.
HHMI established the Early Career Awards to encourage alumni of these HHMI programs to continue to pursue their interest in research once they accept academic positions. Only alumni of HHMI's medical and dental student research training programs were eligible to apply. Tseng spent 1993-1994 pursuing basic science research as an HHMI Medical Student Fellow at UCSF.  On a personal note, at the year-end meeting of fellows at HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland, she fortuitously met her future husband, Marc Sabatine, at that time an HHMI fellow at Harvard Medical School.

"We want to make sure that these talented young physicians, who have already shown exceptional promise in the research lab and in the clinic, are not lost from the ranks of research scientists," explained Peter J. Bruns, HHMI vice president of grants and special programs. 

HHMI received nearly 50 applications for the first awards. A panel of leading physician-scientists reviewed the applications, evaluating the applicant's ability and promise for a research career as a physician-scientist. They considered the quality and quantity of formal research training, the commitment of the applicant's research institution, the quality of the research environment, the applicant's commitment to pursuing a biomedical research career, and the quality of the proposed research plan. 

According to UMass Medical School Vice Chancellor for Research John L. Sullivan, MD, professor of pediatrics and molecular medicine, Tseng's achievement is particularly exciting given that UMMS has initiated a major commitment to growing clinical and translational, "bench-to-bedside" research at the medical school. "HHMI's programs are designed to enhance the academic development and career progression of young and promising physician-scientists and are a unique mechanism to expand the population of physicians dedicated to clinical research. A talented researcher and accomplished surgeon, we look forward to supporting Dr. Tseng's promising work in pancreatic cancer." 

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The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research.  The Medical School attracts more than $174 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. UMMS is the academic partner of UMass Memorial Health Care, the largest health care provider in Central Massachusetts. For more information visit . 

For more information on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, please visit . 

HHMI's 2006 Early Career awardees are 

Atul J. Butte, MD, PhD, Stanford University School of Medicine
Jayanta Debnath, MD, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine
Emad N. Eskandar, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
John L. Hartman, MD, University of Alabama School of Medicine
Siavash Kurdistani, MD, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
David Martin, MD, University of Washington School of Medicine
Vamsi K. Mootha, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital
Scott A. Oakes, MD, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine
Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, MD, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Stelios M. Smirnakis, MD, PhD, Brigham and Women's Hospital
Kimberly Stegmaier, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Jennifer F. Tseng, MD, University of Massachusetts Medical School
Catherine J. Wu, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Contact: Kelly Bishop, 508-856-2000,