Michelle Ozbun, PhD
Michelle Ozbun, PhD, is the Maralyn S. Budke Endowed Professor in Viral Oncology. She is a professor with dual appointments to the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and to the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. 

Starting a new scientific research program is like starting a new business. Both need to create a set of systems to track people, projects and money. But scientists’ formal training doesn’t always include business classes. To bridge this gap, Michelle Ozbun, PhD, at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center, is improving a program that helps new scientists learn nuances of conducting science.

Using a 3-year $360,000 Institutional Research Grant from the American Cancer Society, the program not only distributes the funds in several $30,000 grants each year but also helps the grant awardees to manage their research. Ozbun recently won a renewal of the grant, marking the eighth time that the UNM Cancer Center has done so.

“Many new professors coming in from their postdoctoral training don’t know how to keep track of the fiscal part of the grant,” says Ozbun. “So, we have a number of mentoring components that we offer.”

The components include classes that teach how to track expenses and how to write compelling grant applications. Grant applications are similar to business plans; both are written to procure investment. Ozbun also manages a seminar series in which the ACS Institutional Research Grant awardees present their research accomplishments. The seminars offer a way for the awardees to get feedback and to meet other established cancer scientists.

Ozbun places mentorship as the highest priority for new professors. “Applicants [for the grants] really need a key mentor who is a cancer researcher,” she says. Like a board of directors who guides a new company founder in building a business strategy, the one or more cancer-scientist mentors help a new professor build a long-term research plan. “Moving the research to the next grant is an important part of the process,” Ozbun adds.

The program has been very successful. Over the past 21 years of funding at UNM, more than 64 cancer scientists have launched their careers with these grants. Past awardees include Ozbun herself, Bridget Wilson, PhD, and Richard Larson, MD, PhD.

Ozbun studies human papillomavirus and earlier this year won a grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Wilson co-leads a UNM Cancer Center research group and recently won a $12 million 5-year grant to support systems biology research at the New Mexico Spatiotemporal Modeling Center. Larson oversees biomedical research at UNM as the executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for research at the UNM Health Sciences Center.

Nationally, the ACS Institutional Research Grants have helped 47 Nobel Prize winners get their careers off the ground. The ACS raises money through several events nationwide, including in New Mexico. “This is a way that the money comes back to this community,” says Ozbun. “It funds people here.”

The grants support new professors from almost every field. The program also sets aside funds to support research in survivorship. “We’re getting much better at prolonging people’s lives,” Ozbun says. “But we need to be concerned about what the quality of those lives will be.”

Not every institution that wins these grants sets aside money for survivorship research or offers training for the awardees, but the UNM Cancer Center program does. “I think the mentoring is really invaluable,” says Ozbun. “Mentoring is how we learn everything in life.”

About Michelle Ozbun, PhD

Michelle Ozbun, PhD, is the Maralyn S. Budke Endowed Professor in Viral Oncology. She is a professor with dual appointments to the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and to the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Ozbun’s laboratory studies the basic science molecular virology of HPV infections and cancer progression. Her laboratory’s translational efforts are aimed at HPV lesion treatments and improving clinical outcomes. She has more than 20 years’ experience in biomedical research focused on women’s cancers and infectious diseases and has secured research funding from the NIH for more than 12 years.

About the American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant

An Institutional Research Grant (IRG) is a block award to an institution that enables it to give small grants to beginning investigators who have no national peer-reviewed research grant support. The intent is to support these junior faculty in initiating cancer research projects so they can obtain preliminary results that will enable them to compete successfully for national research grants.

The purpose of the Institutional Research Grants program is to support the development of new investigators to conduct independent cancer research; to foster direct relationships between funded institutions and the local American Cancer Society; and to support research by newly independent investigators in areas of special interest to the Society.

Learn more at http://www.cancer.org/