The first few years as a junior faculty member at an academic medical center can make or break a physician who wants a career in biomedical research. Two reasons why new faculty physicians abandon plans for research careers are lack of flexible funding to accommodate the needs of new labs and lack of time to actually do research.
In fact, focus groups of young physicians--all of them alumni of training programs run by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)--have identified the first few years as a junior faculty member as the most critical stage in a physician-scientist's career.
HHMI responded to these challenges by creating the Physician-Scientist Early Career Award program. It will provide $150,000 over three years to promising physician-scientists in their early years as tenure-track faculty at academic medical centers. The money must be used for direct research expenses, and the recipients' institutions must agree to let the young physician-scientists spend at least 70 percent of their time doing research.
HHMI named the first 13 awardees today. Many of them have already made impressive, original contributions to research in a variety of fields.
Vamsi Mootha, for example, is a clinician-researcher who uses large data-set, computer-based technologies such as genomics and proteomics to understand human disease. He used these tools to identify the gene and mutation associated with Leigh syndrome, a rare genetic disorder found in French Canada. Mootha, an assistant professor of medicine and systems biology at Harvard Medical School and the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, has been named a MacArthur Foundation fellow for his pioneering work in mitochondrial biology, identifying the genes underlying mitochondrial function in healthy and diseased cells. Mitochondria are the cellular structures responsible for energy metabolism.