Wally Koch, PhD, says he remembers his days at UC fondly.
The director of the Center for Translational Medicine and vice chair for research in the medicine department at Thomas Jefferson University in Pennsylvania began his medical career as a trainee under the wing of Arnold Schwartz, PhD, distinguished university professor and director of the Institute of Molecular Pharmacology and Biophysics at UC.
Schwartz recently received a $2.5 million renewal from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund a continuing training grant in cardiovascular biology—a program that has received consistent funding and has helped promising students like Koch for over 30 years.
“That training grant allowed me to learn without worrying about funding,” Koch says. “Being able to do this kind of work as a graduate student paved the way for me.
“Working in a cutting-edge environment and being exposed to people who were doing some of the best research in the field provided me tremendous opportunities that may not have been there otherwise.”
After completing the program at UC, Koch became a Howard Hughes Fellow at Duke University and stayed as a faculty member until 2003 when he moved into a leadership position at Thomas Jefferson.
“Arnie’s program was the best,” he says. “It’s a testament that it has lasted this long.”
Schwartz’s grant involves roughly 22 UC faculty and their laboratories which focus on researching molecular processes that affect cardiac function. Five predoctoral and five postdoctoral fellows are chosen to participate in the program.
“We train individuals to be highly contemporary and think in the future,” Schwartz says. “These people become professors and chairs of departments.”
Predoctoral students are allotted a stipend from the NIH, receive health insurance, a budget for travel and free tuition for up to five years. Postdoctoral fellows are given funding from the NIH for up to three years.
“The program creates a multidisciplinary environment and is made up of well-funded faculty with notable research experience,” Schwartz says, adding that there are researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center involved.
The faculty provides knowledge ranging from the gene to the overall organism within the human cardiovascular system, offering a wide educational experience for trainees. Fellows meet with faculty every two weeks to discuss results and plans.
Koch, who has 12 faculty members in his center that focus on translating basic findings in cardiovascular research to the improvement of patient care, says the training grant was such a benefit for him, he is going to be working on getting a training grant for his department.
“We are in danger of losing a whole generation of scientists,” Koch says. “These opportunities open doors for our students.”
Schwartz agrees. “How do we create the researchers that make breakthrough discoveries?” he asks. “We train them.”