Diabetes is a complex disease with multiple risk factors/causes, and a broad spectrum of complications. The rational development of novel clinical treatments for diabetes will require interdisciplinary approaches to integrate multiple data sources, build predictive models, and develop new technologies that will together reveal the multifactorial underpinnings of the disease. Such approaches are well-developed in engineering, but they have not been widely applied to diabetes, in part because of a lack of people skilled in both engineering and biomedical research. To develop such an interdisciplinary workforce, we propose to create a novel Integrated Training in Engineering and Diabetes (ITED) program to attract both predoctoral students and postdoctoral fellows with engineering and quantitative physical science backgrounds to work on research problems at the interface of engineering and diabetes. Vanderbilt University is an ideal location for this program because of the close integration and proximity of the Schools of Engineering and Medicine, the outstanding environment for diabetes research, and the long-standing tradition of collegiality and collaboration across the Vanderbilt campus. The overall goal of the program is to provide talented individuals from engineering backgrounds with state-of-the-art training in diabetes research, which will give them a broad perspective of both basic biomedical research and associated clinical challenges. Twenty-five faculty preceptors, equally distributed between those with an engineering background and a diabetes research focus, will work together to offer a wide variety of research opportunities in engineering and diabetes research.
Our program includes: a) a novel dual mentor plan where each trainees performs interdisciplinary research in two labs, b) an efficient didactic program that provides trainees with the necessary knowledge base in a compact time-frame that promotes timely completion of their degree, and c) interactions with other trainees, faculty, and visiting scientists. Two experienced mentors, one from engineering and one from a diabetes research background will supervise each trainee. This interdisciplinary approach will require the trainees to spend significant time in each of the mentors' labs. A broad educational program for predoctoral trainees will leverage existing courses in the Schools of Engineering and Medicine, supplemented by research seminars, a monthly ITED Journal Club, and an annual ITED Retreat. Postdoctoral trainees with engineering degrees will be specifically recruited to this program, and will participate in all ITED activities We do not expect the postdoctoral trainees to have a background in diabetes research, so they will achieve competency through didactic instruction. Support for 4 predoctoral trainees and 2 postdoctoral trainees is requested based on the research resources of the 25 faculty preceptors. A Steering Committee that represents the breadth of participating investigators will select trainees based on their academic and research performance, and their promise as independent investigators. The program will provide RCR training and actively seek to support disabled individuals and those from minority groups.
Public Health Relevance
Understanding the complexity of diabetes is critical for creating new clinical therapies to control the current diabetes epidemic better treat its complications, and lead to an eventual cure. Because engineering approaches have proven useful for solving complex biomedical problems, we propose to train a new multi-disciplinary work force with the skills needed to integrate both engineering and diabetes research approaches. This will be accomplished through formal course work and an unconventional dual mentor arrangement, where each student or postdoctoral trainee is supervised by one advisor with an engineering background and another from the diabetes research field.
This Diabetes Research and Training Center Pre-Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Training Program is supported by an NIH training grant (NIH grant T32 DK101003) and by the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center (NIH grant DK20593).