Two UNM School of Medicine students recently received notice they have been awarded research training awards from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Jessica Valdez received a HHMI-National Institutes of Health Research Scholars Program award. These awards bring top medical students to the National Institutes of Health campus to participate in hands-on biomedical research. Students in this program are also known as Cloister Scholars because they live during training in apartments and dormitory-style rooms at a refurbished cloister on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md. They visit several NIH labs before choosing the research project they will pursue with an NIH mentor.

Heidi Hillesland received a 2008-2009 Research Training Fellowship for Medical Students which allow students to implement a research plan and work at a lab anywhere in the U.S. except the NIH campus in Bethesda. These students submit a plan to conduct work in a specific lab with a mentor they have chosen. Most Medical Fellows do research at their home institution, but nine have chosen to work at another research center.

The awards were part of an $11.1 million effort on behalf of HHMI to encourage students to become physician-scientists and support their early careers. Medical, dental and, for the first time, veterinary students will get a chance to conduct biomedical research full time for a year. Young scientists who bridge the gap between basic research and clinical medicine at 14 academic medical centers will get a boost at a vital time in their career.

This is the 24th year that HHMI has provided support for students to work in research labs. Researchers who bridge the gap between clinical medicine and basic science are in a unique position to exploit knowledge of the human genome and other recent advances to make discoveries that will improve human health.

Despite the unprecedented opportunity for translating basic science discoveries into clinical treatments, the number of students who actually pursue careers that bridge the lab and the clinic has remained flat. The range of possible research areas is immense; newly emerging areas include creating new technologies for biomedical imaging, identifying and using markers of disease progression, finding new molecular targets for agents that could be used as therapies, and understanding of the basic biological processes that cause human disease.

Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322