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Updated 10:00 AM December 4, 2006




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New master of clinical research degree program off to a strong start

The Medical School and schools of Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy have launched a new Master of Science in clinical research program.
Fourth-year medical student Babak Orandi studies the effects of secondhand smoke on peripheral vascular disease as part of the new Master of Science degree program. (Photo by Juliet Fuller, UMHS Public Public Relations and Marketing Communications)

The degree is awarded through the School of Public Health, with a goal to increase the ranks of researchers who focus on turning laboratory research into treatments and cures that benefit the community. The first cohort began in September and includes six medical and nursing students who have interrupted their original training programs in order to learn the skills needed to successfully embark on a career in clinical research.

"Clinical investigators are a dying breed, but there is a huge backlog of basic science research findings to be translated into clinical care for patients," says Dr. Sewon Kang, a professor of dermatology and the program's director. "Our program seeks to reverse this trend by encouraging predoctoral students in programs like medicine, dentistry, nursing and pharmacy to consider a career in clinical research."

The multidisciplinary curriculum includes training from faculty in the School of Public Health, Stephen M. Ross School of Business and Medical School in such areas as study design, data quality, management of a research team, ethics and responsible conduct of research. Students also identify a mentor and participate in original research in areas such as drug development and discovery; genomics and proteomics; tissue, device and regenerative medicine; health care delivery and outcomes; and clinical translation and community-based research.

"In the world of human research, clinical translational research and collaboration go hand in hand. And to make it so, the National Institutes of Health now shapes its funding opportunities to reward teams whose resources span schools, campuses, states and even continents," says Dorene Markel, program director for the Center for the Advancement of Clinical Research, which administers the NIH grant for the training program. "People interested in clinical research need to think collaboratively and across disciplines. That's the foundation for what's taught in the new program."

Babak Orandi, a member of this year's cohort close to completing his fourth and final year in medical school, enrolled in the program as he was already considering a career in academic surgery and clinical research.

"The program is great. It's giving me broadly applicable skills in research and has given me a clear vision on how to reach my goals," Orandi says. "And, since the program is small, we get a lot of support."

He is working with Dr. Gilbert Upchurch, a vascular surgeon, and Dr. James Froehlich, a cardiovascular medicine specialist, who are mentoring him to analyze a database compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics to look at the effect of secondhand smoke on peripheral vascular disease. In the final months of the program, Orandi will be conducting research full time. He'll be awarded the Master of Science degree in August 2007.

"From talking to faculty, I know I could learn how to do clinical research on the job once I'm a practicing physician, but with this program, I can hit the ground running," Orandi says. He is looking forward to a career as an academic surgeon, with research interests in surgical outcomes and quality of care.

Funding from the NIH provides for tuition and a competitive stipend for program trainees who meet certain criteria. However, beginning with academic 2007-08, the program also is open to people who don't qualify for the scholarship or stipend.

Other portions of the NIH grant cover a nondegreed summer program including stipend for predoctoral students, and a short seminar series that is open to the public. The three programs are organized collectively as the Multidisciplinary Clinical Researchers in Training program. More information is available at

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