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20 years and counting

GCC bioinformatics training grant wins fifth competitive renewal

By Jade Boyd
Rice News Staff

One of the Texas Medical Center’s (TMC) longest-running federal grants — a training grant for pre- and postdoctoral fellows in biomedical informatics that was first awarded to Rice University 20 years ago — has been renewed for another five years following a competitive review process by the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The $4.1 million multidisciplinary, multi-institutional grant will fund graduate students and postdoctoral trainees at Rice and five other institutions that make up the Gulf Coast Consortium (GCC), which took over management of the NLM Training Program (NLMTP) 10 years ago.

“From the outset, we promoted multidisciplinary training that links pre- and postdoctoral fellows with faculty experts across a range of disciplines, including computer science, cognitive science, computational and applied mathematics, statistics, chemistry, biochemistry, cell biology, microbiology, molecular genetics — and increasingly with physicians at our participating institutions,” said principal investigator Tony Gorry, Rice’s Friedkin Chair in Management and professor of computer science, who has directed the training program since its inception.

Gorry said one of the most successful elements of the training is its mentoring program. Each trainee is assigned two mentors, one expert in computation or mathematics and another in biomedicine or health care. This dual mentoring better prepares trainees to work across disciplines and helps stimulate the development of new avenues of attack on complex biomedical problems, he said.

“Many of the trainees who have completed training in the NLMTP within the past 10 years are now in visible and productive positions,” Gorry said. “For example, 11 are full-time faculty members in ranks from assistant to full professor, and 13 are informatics specialists in clinical and industrial settings. A number of our recent Ph.D. graduates are engaged in further training as postdoctoral fellows.”

The five-year grant for GCC’s NLM training program was one of 14 awarded by at the NLM this year.

“In this era of the 1,000 Genomes Project, regional health data repositories, virtual clinical trials and real-time tracking of disease outbreaks, the need for trained scientists who understand the complex health-information landscape and can render it more tractable is greater than ever,” said NLM Director Donald Lindberg.

The NLMTP is the largest of six competitively funded training programs overseen by the Keck Center for Quantitative Biomedical Sciences, the GCC’s training arm. GCC members include Rice, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the University of Houston, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. NLMTP trainees and their dual mentors are drawn from across the six institutions.