The first El-Hibri Biomedical Research Scholarship has been awarded by the NIH-Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program, a program that fundamentally changes how academia looks at biomedical research education.
Sam Katz received the award, which is named for Fuad El-Hibri, the founder of vaccine developer Emergent BioSolutions.
Katz and his colleagues discovered why some patients develop lung infections after bone marrow transplants and worked on a novel strategy to repurpose mature cells, called “direct reprogramming,” during his National Institutes of Health Fellowship and Fulbright Scholarship, respectively.
As an El-Hibri Scholar, Katz will be working with a dozen other students in the scholarship program and be given the chance to form collaborative partnerships between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
“The idea of this program is to allow the students to select any pair of researchers at either Oxford and the NIH or Cambridge and the NIH, and they form a collaboration, and the student is the bridge in the collaboration,” said Tom Wynn, scientific director of the NIH-Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program. “What our students rave about is they’re instantly being trained by two experts.”
A student wanting to study a particular research question would spend two months at the National Institutes of Health developing a research proposal and selecting the two mentors they would study under, based on the expertise necessary for that question. Unlike most programs, the pool of potential mentors is vast; hundreds of researchers on both sides of the Atlantic are available.
“What’s unique about the Ox-Cam program, compared to other programs at NIH, is it’s very multidisciplinary,” Wynn said. “They can do anything: brain, kidney, heart, lungs, infectious diseases -- you name it.”
That is a strength of the program’s design. A breadth of specialists and labs not only allows for international collaborations, but it also affords a vast array of topics the students can focus their attention on. Instead of being a program focused on immunology alone, for example, students in the Ox-Cam program are free to engineer science they are excited about.
Scholars in the program first author an average of 2.75 peer-reviewed papers and co-author another 4.17 papers, many of which are published in top science journals including Nature, Lancet and the Journal of Experimental Medicine. Because these papers are internationally developed, according to a study in Nature, they are cited more often.
As a result, the Ox-Cam program not only changes the future of biomedical research, but it changes how we think of biomedical research education.
“The student basically becomes more talented than their two mentors because they know both sides of the story,” Wynn said. “That’s really the power of the program for me.”