Starting work on a doctorate is an adventure in itself, but two students from The University of Texas at Austin are adding another layer of excitement this fall.
Julieta Scalo and Kelly Daniels, from the College of Pharmacy, are members of the first class working toward a Ph.D. in Translational Science, a cooperative program involving The University of Texas at Austin and three other University of Texas System institutions.
The program trains scientists to move health and medical discoveries from the research laboratory to the patient at a faster pace. It takes 24 years, on average, to translate a scientific discovery into an application that improves people's health.
"This program will lead to well-trained and uniquely prepared individuals who are able to mobilize scientific discoveries and apply them in ways that are helpful to patients," said Dr. Chris Frei, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy who is involved in the program.
The program draws from the faculty and research resources of The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy, UT San Antonio (UTSA) and UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Each institution will grant the new degree. Also participating but not offering a degree is the the UT School of Public Health, San Antonio Regional Campus.
It is one of about 20 translational science Ph.D. programs in the United States and is part of a push by the National Institutes of Health to accelerate the research and development process.
Students can work in areas that include basic discovery, clinical research, health services, epidemiology, community-based participatory research and health policy research.
The idea, said Dr. Michael Lichtenstein, M.D., of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, is to get people out of their disciplinary silos and into a big tent.
Daniels will study the prevention and treatment of health-care associated infections, such as pneumonia and catheter-related bloodstream infections. Scalo will study oncology. She's working on a project that investigates the treatment of sleep disturbances in cancer patients.
Before she enrolled in the doctor of pharmacy program at The University of Texas at Austin, Scalo was a human resources director and strategic analyst and saw the value of a multi-disciplinary approach.
"Each expert with specialized knowledge has key insights and ideas," she said, "and when these are coordinated and integrated successfully, the team's productivity and creativity typically far exceeds the sum of its parts."
Students will take many classes that already exist in the graduate programs at the four participating institutions. There are also new classes and seminars related to translational science that have been developed just for this program.
"This allows participants to receive the best training from those most knowledgeable in the course content," Daniels said. "The program also promotes collaboration with investigators from different research institutions."
Although the College of Pharmacy is the UT Austin home for the program, faculty members and graduate students in other UT Austin departments can also participate.
Scalo and Daniels are excited to be the first two UT Austin students to enter the new program.
"I know that the program will be very demanding, but I am up for the challenge," Daniels said.
Scalo added: "I spent four years in the Pharm.D. program at UT Austin and during that time came to recognize that the faculty and staff in the College of Pharmacy are incredibly caring and devoted to the success of their students. They are very good at what they do."
Scalo is also confident that faculty members and graduate students at the four institutions will rise to the challenge.
"After completing this Ph.D. program, I expect to be able to conduct original research on my own," Scalo said. "Just as important, however, is that I expect to be able to develop effective and efficient collaborations with other researchers."
Story by: Tim Green