Translational Cardiovascular Research at Columbia University Medical Center


Kerri pic The graduate program in Physiology and Cellular Biophysics includes a training program in Translational Cardiovascular Research at Columbia University Medical Center. This is an optional program for those students interested in pursuing advanced graduate training in cardiovascular biomedical research. It is a unique NIH funded program. Each year a subset of graduate students participate in this program but it is not required.

The NIH funded training program in Translational Cardiovascular Research is conceived to enhance and ensure the development of cardiovascular scientists who have broadly-based knowledge in the fields of Cardiovascular Cell Biology, Biophysics, Genetics and Genomics, Bio- and Tissue-Engineering and Clinical Sciences. The training is based within the Clyde and Helen Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology, the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, and the Department of Medicine. The Center and the Departments of Physiology and Medicine offer Cardiovascular seminar series and journal clubs, joint laboratory meetings, and retreats, which are designed to encourage collaborations and foster excellence.

This component of the Department’s training program seeks to prepare tomorrow’s cardiovascular scientists and endow them with clinical/pathophysiological insights, thus enabling the development of a group of investigators that is focused upon clinically relevant investigation in matters pertinent to heart and vascular diseases. Applicants may have two co-mentors one with primarily basic science expertise and one with translational/clinical science expertise.

Applying to the training program in Translational Cardiovascular Research
Students can choose to apply to the training program in Translational Cardiovascular Research at any time during the first two years of their graduate training. If applicants think they may be interested in this program they can indicate this in their application essay and ask to meet with some of the faculty who direct the cardiovascular research program (Andrew Marks, Henry Colecraft, Ira Tabas, Jeanine D’Armiento, and Alan Tall) during the interview process but this is not a requirement. No special application is required, merely discussion with the student’s advisor. The process is straightforward, simple and requires no extra work on the part of the applicant. Based on an evaluation of the student’s interests jointly with the student’s mentor the mentor recommends the student to the training program in Translational Cardiovascular Research and the student is formally accepted into the program by the program Director Dr. Andrew Marks.

Overview of the Program
A key strength of the training program is the quality and breadth of scientific disciplines of interest of the training faculty. There are 25 participating mentoring faculty in the training program spread across both basic science (Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, Pharmacology, Nutrition, Biochemistry) and clinical (Medicine, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Nephrology) departments and divisions at Columbia University Medical center. Fitting with the varied research interests of the faculty mentors, the training program is divided into four thematic units: (1) Structural Biology of CV Signaling Molecules, (2) Biophysics of CV Cell Signaling, (3) Animal Models of CV Diseases, and (4) Clinical-Translational CV Sciences.

The training program includes a unique course that provides in depth training in the fundamentals of drug development from target validation through proof of concept to IND filing and clinical testing. The course is directed by Dr. Marks and includes faculty from the Depts. of Physiology, Pharmacology, Medicine, Genetics, Bioengineering, Chemistry, as well as the School of Public Health, the Law School, the Technology Transfer Office, the Business School and visiting lectures from alumni who have successfully developed therapeutic and been leaders in the Pharmacology Industry.

(1) Multidisciplinary training and exposure to collaborative research. Trainees are exposed to multidisciplinary training through our program-specific annual retreat, and a series of lectures, journal clubs, seminars and research-in-progress meetings (monthly). The Medical Center has established a Cardiovascular Research Initiative (CVRI- headed by Dr. Andrew Marks), in which symposia are conducted four times/year, focusing on presenting cutting-edge science from within the university.

(2) Bedside exposure/training. We believe it is important to educate and expose our trainees to clinical manifestations of various cardiovascular diseases to highlight the unmet needs in these areas, and the challenges associated with their treatment. To accomplish this, trainees are paired with Cardiology fellows in the clinics and hospital, and have the opportunity of attendance at Cardiology grand rounds and research seminar series. Trainees may have up to four clinical experiences per year. This aspect of the program is overseen by Dr. Steven Marx, Director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship at NY Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University Medical Center and the Director of the 4th year medical student clerkship in Cardiology.

(3) Trainee Development. Faced with increasing competition for grant support, our trainees will be optimally-prepared for obtaining funding through a program–specific series of lectures, small group sessions and one-on-one counseling by Dr. Ellen Lumpkin on grant preparation.

(4) Co-mentorship: Co-mentorship of our trainees is offered such that each trainee has a basic and a clinical mentor who will meet together monthly with the student to coordinate all aspects of their training. This not only instructs trainees in collaborative research, but also significantly enriches their training by exposing them to a greater diversity of research techniques and experiences.

(5) Visiting faculty. Recognizing the importance for trainees to be exposed to cutting edge cardiovascular research from leaders in the field, the training program sponsors various seminars and lectureships given by renowned scientists. Recent speakers have included: Robert Lefkowitz (Duke), Helen Hobbs (UTSW), Shaun Coughlin (UCSF), Richard Lifton (Yale) and Gary Gibbons (NHLBI Director). Trainees act as hosts to the visiting faculty and also have lunch with the seminar speaker.

Trainees participate in the following activities:
• Journal Club in Molecular Cardiology. At appropriate times in their training, trainees are asked to lead such sessions. A list of sample topics reviewed in the past year is given in Appendix. This format provides excellent teaching experience for each post-doctoral fellow.

• “Wu Visiting Professor: Frontiers in Cardiovascular Biology” is a distinguished speaker seminar series held annually. Trainees meet with Drs. Marks, and Colecraft to choose and host the speakers, and there is a lunch for speaker and trainees following the seminar. Recent speakers have included: Robert Lefkowitz (Duke), Helen Hobbs (UTSW), Shaun Coughlin (UCSF), Richard Lifton (Yale) and most recently Garry Gibbons (Morehouse School of Medicine).

• Joint Ion Channel Journal Club. For trainees in ion channel research labs, a monthly joint journal club (which includes labs from several training grant faculty ─ Colecraft, Kass, Marx, Karlin─ and others at Columbia) affords an opportunity for research presentations to a specialized audience, as well as exposure to cutting-edge ion channel research from different labs.

• Trainees attend and participate in an annual, one-day retreat of the Department of Physiology. In addition to formal lectures by students and postdocs, there is a poster session with contributions from trainees and faculty.

• A Program specific trainee research seminar series is held every Tuesday evening. Students in the later years of their research training present their work to their peers in the absence of any faculty. We emphasize to the trainees the importance of acquiring teaching and communication skills. At appropriate times in their training the trainees are expected to make presentations and lead sessions in the activities listed above.

• Program specific retreat for the training program pre- and post-doctoral trainees. A one-day annual retreat features presentations from trainees and a keynote lecture from a faculty member. In addition break-out sessions with mentors focus on identification of unmet needs in the program and career development counseling. Students provide feedback on their individual training programs as well as the overall experience. This is attended by training grant faculty mentors and the program directors.

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