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Chemical biology training program secures funding through 2020

Monday, August 03, 2015

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas graduate training program that supports national efforts to cross-train chemists and biologists at the intersection of their disciplines has received federal funding to continue its mission for five more years.

The National Institutes of Health announced it will renew the grant that supports KU’s Dynamic Aspects of Chemical Biology training program. KU is the only university in all neighboring states to host a Chemistry-Biology Interface Research Training Program supported by the NIH.

The NIH institutional training grants answer a demand in the chemistry community for more multidisciplinary training. Programs seeking funding must help advance NIH’s goal to produce more chemists with training in biology and of biologists with training in chemistry. The result is chemists and biologists who can speak the same language and function effectively in multidisciplinary teams, according to NIH.

KU’s program meets the NIH criteria through several distinct offerings, including an interdisciplinary curriculum that is found at few universities in the U.S., providing students opportunities to invite and host internationally recognized speakers on campus, and facilitating internships or lab rotations at research institutes outside KU to broaden connections and experience in the field.

These factors influenced Trey Ronnebaum, who is a trainee in the program pursuing a doctorate in chemistry, to come to KU.

“Nowadays, science is becoming more and more interdisciplinary. The Dynamic Aspects of Chemical Biology training grant is the ideal gateway to pursue my educational and career goals. As a chemistry graduate student, being part of the training program has allowed me to acquire skills that more effectively incorporate biology into chemistry, which not only enhances my contributions to my group’s current research, but ultimately strengthens my skills and leads my career down a successful path,” Ronnebaum said.

Currently, there are eight active students supported through the NIH funding.

The KU program, which began in 1994, emphasized career development as an area it would enhance with its grant renewal. In recent years, the program has sent students to England, Germany and Australia, as well as to the National Institutes of Health, The Scripps Research Institute, Harvard and several pharmaceutical companies here in the U.S., said Paul Hanson, professor of chemistry.

“Trainees will be encouraged to investigate all career paths open to them with a doctorate at the chemistry-biology interface, including industry, academia, law, business, entrepreneurship, science writing and government,” said Tom Prisinzano, professor and chair of medicinal chemistry.  “This will be implemented through a new course called Careers in Chemical Biology and also through our seminar series where the students invite speakers pursuing careers that started with doctorates in chemical biology fields.”

Earlier this year, KU introduced a new graduate certificate in chemical biology that emerged from the Dynamic Aspects of Chemical Biology training program. Through the graduate certificate, the curriculum of the training program has been expanded and made available beyond the trainees funded by the grant.

“The writing of the renewal application allowed us to formulate the new Certificate Program in Chemical Biology that will be offered for the first time this fall,” said Audrey Lamb, professor of molecular biosciences. “We are quite excited by this new program, because it provides the chemical biology curriculum to all graduate students, not just those eligible and chosen to be funded by the training grant. The training grant is providing added value to all students at KU.”

The training program and graduate certificate in chemical biology are a partnership between the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the School of Pharmacy: the departments of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences in the College; and the departments of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Chemistry in the School of Pharmacy. 

Chemistry department receives more than $8.5 million in research grants annually
14 chemistry faculty members have NSF CAREER Awards
Longest-running chemistry Research Experience for Undergraduates in the nation
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