Newswise — COLUMBUS, Ohio – Cardiovascular scientists at The Ohio State University Heart and Vascular Center, Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute and the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology have been awarded nearly $900,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help ensure that young, eager scientists are prepared to carry on life-saving work in a multi-disciplinary setting. 

“We’re very fortunate to have a highly collaborative and multi-disciplinary scientific infrastructure at Ohio State. We want to foster this and build upon it,” said Jill Rafael-Fortney, a professor in physiology and cell biology and recipient of the grant. 

Rafael-Fortney and her team developed a new training program to address two fundamental problems they see on a national level. While there are pockets of multidisciplinary collaborative work happening, it’s not the norm, she said. In general, biomedical scientists haven’t been taught how to reach outside their area for help. 

This fall, the program will start teaching doctoral cardiovascular students skills for working with multidisciplinary teams – from fellow basic and translational scientists to engineers, pharmacists and physicians. 

“We need translational researchers exchanging ideas sooner and more efficiently. We’ll also emphasize career and leadership development, such as learning how to write grant proposals or manage a lab. Science can’t afford to wait while they learn these skills on the job,” Rafael-Fortney said. 

The second issue is a lack of women scientists advancing to leadership roles in the field. While the post-doctoral graduation rate is 50-50 among men and women biomedical scientists, only 20 percent of the women go on to become full professors. Just 15 percent of department chairs in medical schools are women, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. 

“That’s a tremendous loss of talented scientific investigators, which hinders the development of novel tests and treatments for cardiovascular disease,” Rafael-Fortney said. “Our program is the first to directly address this issue and do so early on.” 

Brandon Biesiadecki, an associate professor in physiology and cell biology, serves as co-director of the training program. He said men and women both need to shift their thinking to improve the culture and foster success. 

“It could be something as small as moving a standing meeting away from 5 o’clock, so no one feels pressure about missing family events,” he said. “That’s just one example, but different expectations will help advance and retain the brightest investigators in translational cardiovascular science.” 

Rafael-Fortney and Biesiadecki are encouraged, not only by the backing they’ve received from professors and chairs, but also the interest in the training from outside cardiovascular science. 

Funding from the NIH covers training up to 24 doctoral candidates over a five-year period.