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Feature

Lisa Chow

Through the CAPS program, University physician Lisa Chow has the time and resources to study the role of muscle metabolism in Type 2 diabetes.

From test tubes to treatments

CAPS program provides a package of incentives for faculty in the Academic Health Center

By Erin Peterson

Jan. 3, 2007

As a young physician Lisa Chow has been fascinated by the complexity of Type 2 diabetes. While it's known this disorder is associated with obesity and that exercise can help control it, Chow says, "Some people may be obese and not have diabetes, while others may be only overweight and have terrible diabetes with many complications." Chow wanted to understand how exercise may shape muscle metabolism and glucose use, but researching the question required more time than she had.

Like many young faculty in health-care fields, Chow wanted to build a research career, but patient care always took priority. By the middle of their careers, many health-care providers in academic settings have overly busy schedules, but little research completed.

Research in genetics, microbiology and other sciences basic to medicine has established a rich knowledge base from which clinical researchers can explore ways to treat cancer, prevent genetic diseases and create vaccines, but moving from test tubes to useful treatments has been a slow process. This is, in part, because health-care professionals like Chow with the skill to do the research have limited time and resources to address the problems.

To help remedy this situation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding a new venture at 12 universities nationwide, including the University of Minnesota. The Career Advancement Program for Clinical Research Scholars, known as CAPS, provides time and funding for young faculty members to focus on clinical research. The competitive program, which is offered to those in the fields of dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health, provides a package of incentives, including partial salary reimbursement, research funds, mentorship teams and tuition for further schooling.

"We're buying scholars time so they can get a good research career started," explains Russell Luepker, the University of Minnesota's CAPS program director. "And that will help [speed the process of] translating these basic discoveries into useful things for patients."

"We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars in basic science discovery trying to determine how disease works," says Luepker, "but now the transition from basic discovery to usefulness for people is in the spotlight. This program is one way to do something about it."

It was the perfect grant for Chow. She is in the first group of seven who began work last summer and will be funded for up to four years. Chow says the grant has been critical to her career. "Clinical research is becoming more complicated, and proper training is important to having a successful career as a clinical researcher," she says. "The funding will provide protected time and resources to build skill sets essential for a clinical investigator."

Luepker adds that one of the unique and important aspects of the program is the mentorship team, an interdisciplinary group of three or four veteran faculty members for each scholar. Each mentor pledges to provide guidance as the scholars pursue their research. "The NIH recognizes that people who develop academic careers in clinical research do best when they have senior people who help them along," explains Luepker. They help young researchers assimilate within the research culture."

CAPS scholar Kamakshi Lakshminarayan is an assistant professor of neurology committed to making sure stroke victims receive the latest, most effective treatment. She says having several mentors has been invaluable. "My research is multidisciplinary and involves neurology, epidemiology, health services and biostatistics." Lakshminarayan says, "the CAPS program allows me to work with a team of mentors to acquire the relevant background and skills necessary to be an independent researcher."

Luepker believes the time has never been better to have young faculty members at the University focusing on clinical research. "We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars in basic science discovery trying to determine how disease works," he says, "but now the transition from basic discovery to usefulness for people is in the spotlight. This program is one way to do something about it." The best and brightest scientists have the potential to solve some of the most challenging medical problems that our world faces; CAPS offers them the time and the resources they need to do so."