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Program Plan for Biomedical Research Training for Veterinarians

Introduction

The Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine National Center for Research Resources-graduate training program provides veterinarians with backgrounds in pathology and/or comparative medicine training in modern molecular and multidisciplinary research with the goal of enabling them to become NIH-funded principal investigators. The training environment emphasizes primary bench research employing methods in molecular biology and immunology, critical thinking, experimental design, scientific writing and communication skills. This enables trainees to build bridge basic research and in vivo application using animal models. The Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology (MIP), Colorado State University (CSU) boasts a strong established postgraduate (DVM/VMD) training program. The investment made to produce principal investigators with these skills will be most effective in advancing national health research priorities.

CSU MIP has it roots in the over 40-year record of post-DVM/VMD graduate training. Over this period the department has developed a multidisciplinary approach to investigation of disease mechanisms by fostering collaborations with other departments--an approach naturally reflected in this application. We have substantial experience in recruiting, evaluating and selecting high quality post-DVM candidates for training in a research-based graduate program with a foundation in anatomic or clinical pathology and recently initiated programs in comparative medicine and veterinary microbiology. Veterinarians with this training are oriented to pathobiology and human health research by employing animal models and represent an underutilized potential pool of primary and collaborative biomedical investigators. Our graduate program director and mentor faculty are experienced NIH-funded investigators conducting contemporary biomedical research and have the capacity to offer training in modern molecularly-oriented research to a broader range of well qualified veterinarians.

Since 1980, over 100 students have received graduate degrees from the Department of Pathology (approx 70% Ph.D; 30% M.S.). Graduates of the program have been successful. All are engaged in teaching and/or research: two-thirds hold positions in academia or non-profit research organizations: one-sixth is employed in the biotechnology or pharmaceutical industries; and one-sixth engages in public sector diagnostic/public health laboratories. Opportunities for employment in the various contexts of research discussed above substantially exceed the number of graduates of this program. Our collective faculty mentorship experience and basic research support base has ample capacity to provide high quality research training to more post-DVM trainees.

Our goal in the CSU NIH NCRR-sponsored training program is to provide rigorously selected post-DVM/VMD candidates already possessing backgrounds in pathology and/or comparative medicine with training in modern molecularly oriented research into mechanisms of disease. Our prime objective is to prepare these candidates to become successful principal investigators in biomedical research. We feel these objectives--to provide state-of-art research training to equip veterinarians to become successful principal investigators-- represent the most effective way to enhance and utilize the resource represented by comparative medical scientists in advancing national health research priorities.

Faculty mentors are members of three Programs of Research and Scholarly Excellence at Colorado State University: Infectious Disease, Biochemistry, and Environmental Toxicology and Technology. These concentrations are part of the University strategic plan to focus and support research excellence through investment in programs that have attained national and international stature. The College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University emphasizes research. It ranks first in extramurally funded research among the 27 schools of veterinary medicine in the United States.

Edward A. ​Hoover​, DVM, PhD, is Director of the program and an University Distinguished Professor of Pathology at Colorado State University. Advice concerning operation of the training program will be solicited annually by on-site review of the External Advisory Committee. This committee is comprised of three current Directors of NCRR-funded post-DVM training programs. The External Advisory Committee will review and advise on the trainee selection process, trainees selected, and program structure and content, and will in addition contribute their specialized expertise to courses, seminars, and informal meetings with trainees.

Eleven program mentor faculty represent 4 academic departments at Colorado State University (Biochemistry, Environmental Health Sciences, Microbiology, and Pathology) and 3 Colorado State University Programs of Scholarly Excellence (Infectious Disease, Center for Environmental Toxicology, and Biochemistry). Each of the eleven core faculty in the proposed program is an established NIH-funded investigator and a documented successful mentor.

The core faculty represent expertise in three research concentrations:

1. Protozoan, parasitic and vector-borne diseases

2. Retrovirus pathogenesis and gene therapy

3. Environmental chemical carcinogenesis and toxicology

The diversity in scientific disciplines represented in these research concentrations include, but are not limited to:

  • Molecular biology

  • Virology

  • Toxicology and pharmacokinetics

  • Immunology

  • Parasitology

  • Laboratory animal medicine

  • Pathology

  • Clinical pathology

Colorado State University (CSU) and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) and the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) offer a diversified and talented array of faculty and wealth of contemporary biomedical research programs. The CVMBS contains 200 faculty, 5 of the 14 Programs of Research and Scholarly Excellence at CSU and 5 of the 12 University Distinguished Professors.

In the Department of MIP, 16 other faculty will contribute on a daily basis teaching and mentoring to trainees basic pathology training prior to program entry, through continued pathobiology training in gross and microscopy seminars, service on graduate advisory committees, participation in graduate course offerings, and in informal meetings.

Training Program Description

The training program provides highly selected post-DVM/VMD candidates with research training in molecular biology, genetic technology, and animal models to prepare them for careers in comparative medicine and pathology. Each candidate entering the training program will have completed basic residency training in pathology or laboratory animal medicine or a related discipline.

The NIH-NCRR-supported program spans 3 years following the candidates' completion of residency training. Coursework consists of a minimum essential core of graduate courses in molecular and cell biology, program-tailored coursework in immunology and either infectious or environmental disease pathogenesis (e.g. virology, and/or toxicology), biostatistics, scientific writing, and ethical conduct of research.

The program of each candidate will be designed by her or his mentor and graduate study advisory committee to fulfill the core and research-field-specific course requirements. As part of the PhD program, a preliminary examination emphasizing the proposed research topic and field is required. One advisory committee meeting per year and presentation of at least one public format progress report per year will be required of each candidate. The vast majority of course credit, time, and emphasis will be on experimental design and primary laboratory research.

Application

Formal application to the training program, and the Graduate School of Colorado State University, will require several documents including transcripts of prior coursework, letters of reference, Graduate Record Examination scores, curriculum vitae, a letter of intent, and a completed application to the CSU Graduate School.

We will seek to recruit candidates with demonstrated interest in research, beyond their experience in applied aspects of pathology or laboratory animal medicine. During the selection process we will seek evidence of intellect, creativity, scientific curiosity, independent motivation, exploration, participation, and communication skills that would indicate individuals with a high probability of completing the program successfully. We will first seek the best candidates but we also will strive through recruitment and selection for trainees to represent as diverse a population of trainees as possible.

Specific Components of Training Program

Overall Plan

The trainee and mentor will together agree on a graduate advisory committee and a general research topic. The primary mentor (major professor) and the graduate advisory committee (a minimum of 3 professors representing a minimum of two academic departments) will perform the following functions:

  • determine the core and specialty coursework and that it will be suitable for granting of the PhD,

  • review research design and protocol with the criteria that the work will be original, address an important contemporary question, and that the results will be suitable for publication and as the basis of the PhD dissertation,

  • administer the PhD preliminary examination,

  • monitor research and program timetable and progress at least annually,

  • provide continued advice as needed, and

  • approve the candidate's final dissertation and research report.

The mentor and graduate advisory committee will thus be the trainee's primary guidance, evaluation, and support group. Ancillary faculty and peer trainees will be invaluable in a secondary advisory role. This network of support will help to insure the success of each trainee.

Core Coursework

The training program emphasizes primary mentored research experience in established laboratories with sufficient personnel and resources to support trainee research. Given the limited time span of the program, the graduate coursework requirement will be focused to an essential minimum representing: molecular and cell biology, immunology, either microbiology or toxicology, and biostatistics. Required seminars in scientific writing and ethical conduct of research will complete the program. Trainees will have completed many of these core requirements prior to entry into the program as part of a residency or previous graduate training experience. Remaining coursework requirements will be completed during the first two years of the program.

These courses or the equivalent completed in previous training are required as preparation for laboratory research:

  • BC 463 Molecular Genetics. The molecular basis of gene structure, repair, replication, recombination, and expression.
  • MIP 651 Immunobiology. Structure, function, regulation, and dysfunction of the integrated immune system.
  • EH 542 Biostatistical Methods. Analysis of biological data by parametric and non-parametric methods.

Graduate advisory committees will recommend a selected specialized course specific to each trainee's research area, e.g:

  • MIP 636 Mechanisms of Viral Infection and Disease.
  • EH 733 Environmental Carcinogenesis.
  • PA 792G Seminar in Advanced Parasitology.

Trainees will be required to attend three seminar courses:

  • MIP 792A Current Research Seminar is a weekly presentation of current research by trainees, faculty, and visiting scientists and covers a wide range of topics, disciplines, and methods.
  • PA 792F Contemporary Topics in Comparative Medicine Seminar will be a semester-long course taught in alternate years. Seminars will be presented by faculty and members of the Advisory Committee on topics relative to induced and naturally occurring animal models of human disease, including transgenic technology, gene therapy and other genetic manipulations, and basic animal care and use topics.
  • MIP 792C Microscopy Seminar is a weekly seminar emphasizing basic microscopic analysis of cytologic and histologic examples. The primary intent is to develop microscopic skills in analysis of cell and tissue morphologic changes and utilization of special staining methodologies.

Examinations

Graduate advisory committees are critically involved at two major points in the evaluation of the trainees' progress, the preliminary examination and the dissertation defense examination. The preliminary examination usually spans one week. The trainee prepares a written response to 3 to 5 essay questions submitted by each committee member and designed to examine the student's knowledge in contemporary biomedical fields with emphasis on those areas directly relevant to the trainee's research. Following completion of the written exercise, the committee meets with the trainee to explore further the written responses or extend the examination to other relevant subjects. A majority vote of the committee is required for the student to pass the preliminary examination. The preliminary examination will occur at the beginning of year 2.

The defense examination will occur at the end of year 3. The student provides each committee member with a draft of the thesis dissertation prior to the defense examination. The examination begins with an open seminar in which the student presents research results. The student then meets with the committee and discusses specific points in the dissertation draft. A majority vote of the committee is required for awarding the PhD degree. PhD dissertations are prepared in manuscript format and trainees are required to publish the results of their research in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Our experience is that post-DVM trainees usually publish a portion of their dissertation research before completion of the training program.

Program Description by Year

Year 1 Objectives

The principle objectives in year 1 of the program will be to:

  • Orient the trainees to program, peers, and faculty and introduce trainees to research opportunities;
  • Select mentor and graduate advisory committee;
  • Formulate a program of study including coursework (if any), seminars, and research topic identification;
  • Begin learning laboratory methodology and initiate a pilot study; and
  • Prepare and present a formal research protocol.

The first phase of the formal biomedical research training will consist of an introduction to the training grant program, the faculty mentors, the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, and other participating academic departments and facilities at CSU. This will be done in a series of informal meetings scheduled by the program director in which each of the faculty mentors will describe his or her research programs and provide opportunity for questions and an initial sense of personal interests and personalities.

During the next step of this process, trainees will visit faculty that have been mutually identified as potential research mentors. The program director will oversee this process to insure that establishment of faculty advisor commitment is accomplished within 4 months of initiation of the program. There will not be an pre-conceived or assigned allotment of trainees to faculty or areas of faculty research concentration, though the director will review trainee distribution and faculty mentor commitments annually.

At the start of year 1, students will begin core coursework as recommended by the program director and selection committee, as well as the required seminars discussed above.

We have found that trainees not experienced in laboratory research, or those who have been away from laboratory research and involved in residency training, benefit greatly from early involvement with laboratory assays pertinent to their research topic. Thus trainees will be encouraged to begin work on a limited scale and attend laboratory meetings. To facilitate this process, each mentor's laboratory will have technical personnel able to assist and support trainees in the initial stages of laboratory orientation and teaching techniques. The trainee will be encouraged to initiate a focused mastery or at least familiarity with at least one technique pertinent to her or his research area, e.g., PCR, cloning, specialized cell culture, ribonuclease protection assay, hybridization, etc. This hands-on introduction is also useful in providing the trainee a base of confidence and increased insight prior to first research protocol presentation.

The mentor, trainee, and graduate advisory committee will come to mutual agreement on a general research topic at the first committee meeting. It is expected that the trainee's research will coincide with an aim of the principal investigator's laboratory. The research project outline presented at the initial graduate committee meeting is then expanded by the trainee with the mentor's assistance into a formal research plan or protocol in general following the format of an NIH F32 or KO8 grant application. The trainee will also present the research plan at a departmental seminar that will be attended by all members of the graduate advisory committee.

The trainee will prepare for preliminary examination, which will occur at the beginning of year 2.

Thus at the conclusion of year 1 the successful trainee will have begun core coursework, affiliated with a mentor, formed a graduate program advisory committee, selected and presented her or his research topic and plan, and begun a pilot study in the mentor's laboratory. The trainee will then be positioned to concentrate primarily on research in the years to follow.

Year 2 Objectives

The principle objectives in year 2 of the program will be for the trainee to:

  • Complete the preliminary examination;
  • Concentrate on and further develop the primary research project;
  • Continue and complete any remaining course requirements; and
  • Present a progress report to the graduate advisory committee and at a departmental public seminar.

The preliminary examination will be administered as described above during the first half of year 2. Trainees will also continue with coursework outlined by their graduate committee.

During year 2 additional methodologies in molecular and cell biology will be developed, unanticipated problems will be encountered, and alternative approaches will need to be sought through the guidance of the mentor and the initiative of the trainee. The trainee will meet with the graduate advisory committee at least once. However, as also is true of the research process, informal meetings with individual faculty, peers, and the mentor will be the vital and continued basis for problem solving, motivation, support, and development of new ideas.

Year 2 is a vital period in the progress of the trainee and the trainee's research. In recognition of this fact, the trainee's progress also will be monitored by the program director with the goal of identifying and rectifying any problems which may develop in the mentor relationship, program of study, or trainee performance.

At the end of year 2, the successful trainee will have designed and performed experiments to test the hypotheses posed in her or his research protocol, perfected laboratory research methods, become familiar with the contemporary literature and ongoing work in his or her research topic, generated data leading toward publication, and completed all core course requirements.

Year 3 Objectives

The principle objectives in year 3 of the program will be for the trainee to:

  • Complete his or her primary research project;
  • Prepare a manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal based on the results of that research;
  • Present the results of that research at one national scientific meeting;
  • Prepare a research grant based on that research to a national funding agency; and
  • Present a final progress report and thesis defense at a public seminar.

Students will prepare and submit manuscripts and a research grant in order to develop essential processes in research, including data analysis, hypothesis examination and development, and familiarization with the peer review process. Students will be strongly encouraged to present their findings at an appropriate scientific meeting in order to gain experience in presentation skills and meet peers and colleagues in their field of study.

Preparation for the major goals in the final year of the program will have been provided through initial experimental development of the formal research plan, literature research, attendance at seminars, and the course in scientific writing completed in year 2. The successful candidate will have, at the end of year 3 of the program, completed requirements for the PhD degree, submitted at least one manuscript to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and submitted a fellowship or research grant application.

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