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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Grant to fund new grad program

    The UA will soon be home to a new multidisciplinary curriculum that will allow student researchers to better understand how genes and the environment affect human health, courtesy of a $1.4 million grant awarded Aug. 13.

    “”It’s a new program that will bring together students and their faculty mentors from a variety of colleges,”” said Vicki Chandler, director of BIO5 Institute and co-investigator for the grant. Chandler also stated that the UA’s selection from among steely competition is very rewarding.

    “”When you succeed at these very competitive national level of programs it’s a really strong endorsement. It helps to validate the interdisciplinary faculty and students we have here at UA. And I’m very proud of what BIO5 is doing to promote that type of thing.””

    BIO5, named due to the inclusion of five different colleges – Agriculture, Science, Engineering, Medicine and Pharmacyð – is UA’s collaborative effort that focuses on complex biology-based problems.

    The grant, which was funded by the National Institute of Health, will essentially provide funds for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who are continuing their education. However, unlike previous programs, the UA’s program will build upon and interweave several disciplines.

    “”We already have an Environmental Health Sciences program in (the department of) Toxicology and Toxicogenomics, a National Science Foundation graduate program in Evolutionary Functional and Computational Genomics, and a Statistics graduate program. Those will provide a nice foundation,”” said Terrence Monks, head of the toxicology and pharmacology department. In total, there will be 17 faculty members in six different colleges counseling the initial class.

    “”This program is designed to combine those three disciplines so we have a multi-disciplinary training program,”” said Monks.

    Monks added that faculty will also be assisting in the new training and will be exposing the appointed students to a combination of the disciplines.

    “”It is much like an umbrella that incorporates strengths that we already have on campus,”” Monks said. “”I think there’s an increasing realization that there’s a number of complex diseases … where’s there’s clearly an environmental component in addition to a genetic component, diabetes, for example, or asthma.

    “”Students being trained will be able to understand all those components,”” Monks said. “”They won’t just be experts in genetics or environmental exposure, they’ll be trained across those disciplines and therefore can ask the appropriate questions with respectable interplay between genes and the environment.””

    Although Monks does not expect the students to have the same in-depth knowledge as specialists, he said the base understanding will be present.

    “”This way they can engage and communicate with folks in those disciplines. But we will still need specific experts,”” Monks said.

    The training length will depend upon the student, but Monks stated that most take between four and five years to complete such programs. Candidates for the program will be selected in the near future.

    Monks and Chandler agree that the future is very bright for not only the inaugural class of the project, but for what results may come in the future.

    “”I think in five to 10 years time this kind of work will lead us to how the environment actually influences the way which that genome acts within all our bodies,”” Monks said. “”I think everyone who works in science wants to give back to society. I think they give back by discovering key findings and making innovations that can be turned into either products or approaches that can really help people. It’s not just about this project, but what this project helps initiate.””

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