UNDERGRADUATE BIOMEDICAL TRAINING PROGRAM
THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
Basic research has been the source of all advances
in the biomedical sciences. However, a large number of physicians
regard clinical practice and research as mutually exclusive career
avenues. Because medical schools devote almost all of their effort
to transmitting medical knowledge, there is very little opportunity
to instruct students in how to become good researchers as well.
As a consequence, most medical students have limited exposure
to the research process, and so lack both the confidence and the
skills necessary to conduct biomedical research after they become
physicians. Further, the residency years are primarily focused
on pragmatic and clinical concerns and offer little time to devote
to the research process. Indeed, targeting the postgraduate years
for such training (as is the case with the Howard Hughes-NIH Fellowship
program) forces what many residents regard as a prolongation and
postponement of other, equally important, aspects of their professional
and personal lives.
This situation is unfortunate because physicians
have a unique perspective concerning pathophysiology and behavioral
disorders that could be put to good use in the research laboratory.
PURPOSE OF THE UBTP PROGRAM
To combat this problem, The Undergraduate Biomedical
Training Program (UBTP) was created at Harvard University in 1976
and transferred to the University of Texas in 1982. The purpose
of the UBTP is to instruct a select group of outstanding undergraduates
destined for careers in medicine the skills essential to biomedical
The research projects available to students span
a variety of levels of analysis, but all bear in some way on the
biological basis of behavior. An individual's behavior is the
interface between the organism and the environment, and is a consequence
of two interlocking systems. One system is represented by the
interrelationship between the animal's behavior and its internal
state. Here we are concerned with the ways in which physiology,
primarily neural and hormonal inputs, influence behavior. The
other system is represented by the interaction of the organism
with its environment. That is, how does the individual modify
its behavior according to its environment and how, in turn, do
the physical and psychological environments influence an organism's
physiology. Thus, behavior is the result of, and the brain the
final common pathway between, the internal and external environments.
The approach used is comparative, the traditional
method of biological investigation and the basis of modern medicine.
This is because to understand how the internal and external environments
influence behavior, we must constantly remind ourselves that behavior,
and the underlying mechanisms and functional outcomes of behavior,
evolved as the result of natural selection to be coordinated under
a specific set of environmental conditions. It should be obvious,
then, that what is urgently needed are more studies of naturally-occurring
species in the field and in seminatural settings. Only in this
way will we gain insight into how physiology, behavior, and the
environment are functionally interrelated. A second point must
be emphasized. Our understanding of the biological bases of behavior
has resulted largely from study of the physiological mechanisms
and functional outcomes of behavior. These studies, however, yield
information only on the immediate, or proximal, causes of behavior.
It is important to realize that this is only one side of the coin.
The continued existence of a species, including humans, depends
upon the ability of the nervous system to respond in an adaptive
manner to the changing environment. This requires appreciation
of the physical and social environments in which animals evolved.
By comparing extant species, we are able to reconstruct evolutionary
history. This phylogenetic perspective gives insight not only
into the past, but also into the future potential of behavioral
controlling mechanisms. This relates to our understanding of the
biological bases of normal and abnormal behavior as it reflects
the ultimate plasticity of behaviors and the limits of adaptability.
The essential question addressed in this research, then, is why
we have the brains that we have.
BUT WHY REPTILES?
Research has shown reptiles to be ideal subjects
for investigations of the neural and hormonal control of behavior.
First, because they represent a pivotal group in vertebrate evolution
(both birds and mammals arose from reptilian stock approximately
250 and 350 million years ago, respectively), we gain insight
into the origin and adaptation of neuroendocrine control mechanisms
in "higher" vertebrates by studying the living representatives
of this ancient group. Second, many reptile species fulfill the
criteria essential for effective investigation of the biological
bases of behavior. That is, many species are conspicuous and easy
to observe in their natural habitat. Reptiles have complex yet
highly stereotyped and species-characteristic behavior patterns.
Experimental manipulation of individuals is possible in the field
and, when transferred into semi-natural laboratory conditions,
animals continue to exhibit behavioral patterns and social structures
similar to those observed in nature. Further, a number of reptile
species reproduce reliably and at frequent intervals in captivity.
Because reptiles are found in every conceivable habitat, species
differ not only in behavior (as consequence of environmental constraints),
but also in the physiological mechanisms underlying behavior.
Finally, the reptilian brain may be viewed as the foundation from
which the qualities of the mammalian central nervous system are
derived. All of these attributes, plus the many unique qualities
of reptiles, make them appropriate model systems for demonstrating
psychological phenomena which, in mammals, are difficult to isolate
and dissect into their component parts.
STUDENTS ACCEPTED INTO THE UBTP PROGRAM
Potential trainees are identified by faculty and
administrative advisors to undergraduate honors programs and societies
(e.g., premedical, predental, and preveterinary societies). Students
accepted into the program spend at least two years in the laboratory,
including the summer of their junior year; many have spent the
summer of their sophomore year in the lab as well. Throughout
this period the students work under my direction on a variety
of important biomedical problems. In the first six months of their
tenure, each student is integrated into ongoing experiments in
the laboratory. During this time the necessary technical skills
are developed and the pertinent literature is reviewed.
By the end of the first year each student chooses
a problem which becomes the focus of their research activities.
Working in close association with an established researcher, a
research project is developed and an experimental protocol is
prepared; special emphasis is placed during this period on scientific
rationale for the study, experimental design, control groups,
hypothesis testing, and statistical analysis. Each trainee is
then responsible for all phases of their project, from care and
maintenance of the experimental animals to data acquisition and
preparation of periodic progress reports. If warranted, the results
are prepared for publication, again in close collaboration with
the sponsor. In this manner the trainee is exposed at the hands-on
level to every phase of the scientific process.
SUCCESS OF THE UBTP PROGRAM TO DATE
This program, which was awarded a President's Award
for Innovative Teaching in 1979 at Harvard University, has to
date trained 27 individuals. All trainees have graduated Magna
cum Laude or Summa cum Laude and the program has generated 37
research articles in major scientific journals; in most instances
the trainee has been the senior author (see the accompanying Tables
for citations). Of the undergraduates who have completed the program
to date, most are currently in, or have graduated from, medical
schools. The schools represented include Baylor University School
of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences
Technology, Southwestern Medical School, University of Pennsylvania,
University of Chicago Medical School, University of California
at San Diego and San Francisco, and University of Texas Health
Sciences Center at Dallas and San Antonio.
The success of the program is evident in the continued
participation in research by former trainees (see enclosed vitae).
Attached are statements of former trainees describing the importance
of this training experience to their careers (Appendix 1). As
they advance in their respective careers, their contributions
will undoubtedly increase. However, it already is clear that the
goal of the program is being met and that the UBTP is increasing
the number and quality of physicians interested and engaged in
sustained investigative work in basic biomedical areas.
CREDENTIALS OF DIRECTOR OF THE UBTP PROGRAM
My credentials and the genesis of the UBTP are as
follows: After receiving a PhD in Psychobiology from the Institute
of Animal Behavior at Rutgers University in 1973, I spent a two
year post-doctoral fellowship in steroid biochemistry at the University
of California at Berkeley. I then joined the faculties of Biology
and Psychology and Social Relations at Harvard University (1975-1981)
where the training program at Harvard and awarded the President's
Award for Innovative Teaching. In 1982, I joined the faculty at
the University of Texas at Austin, transferring the program with
me. I have been privileged to receive a number of awards during
my career, including a Sloan Fellowship in Basic Neuroscience,
the American Psychological Association's Early Career Award (1979),
the first Esquire Register of Outstanding Americans Under Age
40 (1984), and election as Fellow to the American Association
for the Advancement of Science (1983), the American Psychological
Society (1991), the American Association of Applied and Preventive
Psychology (1995), and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
(1996). Since 1976 I have been a recipient of a Research Scientist
Award from the National Institute of Mental Health; there are
only 20 such awards in the entire country. An abbreviated curriculum
vitae is provided (Appendix 2).
FUNDS NEEDED TO CONTINUE THE UBTP PROGRAM
Ultimately, I would like to build a $200,000 endowment
at the University of Texas that would provide the $9,000 per year
to support three undergraduates per year in the training program.
Past experience indicates that each student requires $3,000 per
year; a sum split evenly between a summer stipend and the remainder
in research costs during the year. Until recently the UBTP was
funded by generous grants from the from the Abell-Hanger Foundation
($24,000) and the Denton A. Cooley Foundation ($3,000) as well
as by my own research grants. These resources have been expended
and funds to continue this important program are needed.
Individual (Period in UBTP) Medical School/Graduate School Attended and Publication while on UBTP Traineeship