Million dollar grant by the Paul G. Allen Foundation for Medical Research to University of Washington medical scientist program

The Paul G. Allen Foundation for Medical Research has given a $1 million grant to support the University of Washington’s Medical Scientist Training Program.

“We are pleased to support the University of Washington School of Medicine in exploring new healthcare frontiers. We anticipate a fruitful relationship that will benefit the entire Pacific Northwest region,” said Jody Patton, executive director of the foundation.

The MST program, established in 1970, was designed to produce talented, creative and dedicated physician scientists capable of translating new advances in biotechnology, informatics and genetics into patient-care enhancements. The program is fulfilling its mission with many graduates involved in dynamic research projects. These projects are leading to the development of new medications and new strategies for immunotherapy, as well as the identification of hereditary factors related to leukemia.

“This grant opens further opportunities for doctors to enhance their skills as scientists,” said Dr. Lawrence Loeb, the director of the MST program. “It enhances our mission of training these exceptional students so they emerge with the knowledge, experience, and self-confidence to create breakthroughs in medical research.”

Loeb added his thanks to Dr. Mary-Claire King, a professor at University of Washington School of Medicine, who first approached the foundation with the suggestion it support the MST program.

Students in the MST program complete an 8-year combined M.D./Ph.D. degree program. MST scholars are selected for their history of academic excellence and their potential as future physician scientists. Admission is highly competitive.

Seven Allen Scholars have been named as the first beneficiaries of the grant that will pay the program $250,000 a year over 4 years. Four fellows began their tenure Dec. 1, 2000. The other three start July 1, 2001. The 7 will work on research projects reflecting a variety of interests, including genetics, disease pathogenesis, cellular and molecular biology and rehabilitation medicine.

Kyle Garton, of Lincoln, Nebraska, graduated with honors in biochemistry from Carleton College in Northfield, MN. He subsequently worked for a year at the UW as a research technician in the Department of Anesthesiology before entering medical school. Garton’s current research project involves characterizing the functions of a novel gene family that may play a role in the development of lesions in atherosclerosis. He hopes to complete an anatomic pathology residency. Garton’s wife Rachel is currently a resident in dermatology.

Adam Lauring graduated from Yale in 1994, with degrees in biology and the history of science. Lauring just completed his graduate work in the molecular and cellular biology program and returned to medical school this fall, as part of the M.D./Ph.D. program. For his thesis, Lauring studied the pathogenesis of feline leukemia virus, which serves as a model system for both human cancer and AIDS. Knowledge of how the virus causes feline leukemia could provide clues to how HIV, a similar virus, causes human AIDS. Lauring is from St. Petersburg, FL.

Ed Miao is in his final year of his Ph.D. thesis research in microbiology. The University of California graduate is focusing on Salmonella, which causes typhoid fever. He hypothesized that proteins synthesized by the bacteria alters human cells so they cannot fight off the bacteria. Miao is married to Cheryl Carlson, a fellow student in the M.D./Ph.D. program. Miao’s parents live in Bend, Oregon.

Premal Patel, a graduate of Rutgers University, has focused his research on DNA polymerases, the enzymes that synthesize the genetic material in human cells. The former Fairlawn, New Jersey, resident has established large libraries of mutant enzymes that carry out different biological functions for use in the biotechnology industry. Patel plans a career in drug discovery and cancer research. He has been honored by the Puget Sound Blood Center for his active role in minority bone marrow recruitment.

The three scholars starting their fellowships next summer are:

Heather Cheng, a graduate of Princeton University in molecular biology. She is currently in her third year of the Medical Scientist Training Program at the UW, and beginning her Ph.D. work on understanding the mechanisms of entry of feline leukemia virus. Cheng grew up in Edmonds, Washington.
Kristen Jaax graduated from Stanford University with a degree in mechanical engineering and is currently an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Department of Bioengineering. Her research focuses on modeling the neuromuscular system using robotics. Jaax’ hometown is Clear Lake City, TX. She hopes to use knowledge of the neuromuscular system to design intelligent medical devices for rehabilitation and sports medicine applications.

Benjamin Pinsky of Farmington Hills, Michigan, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University before becoming an M.D./Ph.D. student in the molecular and cellular biology program. His research uses yeast to identify novel therapeutics for treatment of certain infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, often a fatal complication of cystic fibrosis.

The Paul G. Allen Foundation for Medical Research promotes innovative medical research in a variety of fields. The Foundation is interested in funding programs encompassing a broad range of disciplines including biochemistry, biomedical engineering, virology, immunology, cell and molecular biology, pharmacology and genetics. In particular, the Foundation is dedicated to supporting research for the conduct of investigations, experiments and studies to develop knowledge relating to the prevention or successful treatment of cancer.

Founded in 1988, The Paul G. Allen Foundation for Medical Research is administered through Vulcan Northwest, Inc., of Bellevue, Washington.

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