An Investment Opportunity: Training in Biosciences
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of graduate and postdoctoral education and training provides the biggest return on investment.
At last year’s Association of Independent Research Institutes, The Hutch’s Lee Hartwell urged non-profit organizations to find ways to fund junior faculty who have not yet received support for their first research project as an independent scientist, such as an R01 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This venerable NIH grant mechanism has funded the discoveries that are the foundation for the modern medicine from which we all benefit. However, the average age of investigators receiving their first R01 grant has steadily risen and today hovers around 42. Thankfully, NIH is aware that this discourages young and promising scientists who will feel compelled to defect to other endeavors and is working to develop new programs that offer innovative funding to young scientists. However, there are still gaps that must be filled to prevent a drop off of these scientists who have been highly trained at considerable expense – and to avoid ceding Seattle’s, and the United States’, leadership in biomedical research. A combination of public and private partnerships and funding, as well as a sensible strategy, is needed to conserve the past investment and to provide for the continuity of the valuable renewable resource represented by our highly trained skilled biomedical scientists.
Collaboration is a valuable tool to leverage our existing resources. Through collaboration, we can attract more scientists to Seattle as well as retain the ones we have, while offering unique mentorship and training opportunities. Affiliations, especially with the University of Washington, and participation in graduate and postdoctoral training programs are valuable tools to recruit the best scientists to Seattle and to keep them here. Participation in graduate student research committees enhances interactions among scientists, enriches and broadens their research experience and catalyzes the development of novel collaborative research programs.
For example, between 20 and 30 graduate students perform their thesis research at Seattle BioMed. Seattle BioMed scientists provide mentorship for this research and also serve on committees for students doing their research at various departments at the UW, Fred Hutchinson, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Benaroya Research Institute, the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) and ISB. This network of scientific interactions through the educational and training programs is healthy and productive. It leads to collaborative research projects, attracts funding that support those activities and creates jobs that benefits the Seattle economy. These activities bring together the brightest minds from both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and offer young researchers opportunities to develop their talents. But there is still a need to continue to push the boundaries of scientific collaboration and offer new opportunities for the next generation of researchers.
Aside from airplanes, coffee, software and now a growing biotech/life sciences sector, Seattle is famous for something else: its ability to partner to get things done. By working together – non-profits and for-profits, public and private entities – we can train the next generation of scientists to sustain our industry and to continue the important work that is being done for the world here in our city.