Miller School’s Neurosurgery Program Awarded NIH Grant to Train Physician-Scientists

Thanks to a prestigious grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Neurological Surgery will be able to deliver valuable support to neurosurgery residents aspiring to careers as physician-scientists.

The five-year, $400,000 Research Education Program (R25) grant was awarded to the University of MIami Neurosurgery eDucation Strategy (UMINDS) training program and will provide neurosurgery residents with opportunities to engage in diverse research.

“This grant is a significant step forward for our training program,” said Allan D. Levi, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chairman of neurosurgery, chief of neurosurgery at UM/Jackson Memorial Hospital, and the Robert M. Buck Distinguished Chair in Neurological Surgery. “The nearly half-million-dollar grant will leverage our university-wide initiatives in neuroscience and neurobiology, allowing neurosurgery residents and fellows to engage in significant structured research under the guidance of an interdisciplinary group of 30-plus mentors.”

The R25 grant is only awarded to an elite subset of neurosurgery residency programs with significant research capacity and a rich history of NIH funding. The current awardees of the R25 program include Stanford University; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Southern California; Washington University in St. Louis; Duke University; University of Washington; Emory University; and Baylor College of Medicine. UM’s Neurosurgery Department is currently ranked fourth in NIH funding among all neurosurgery programs in the country, according to Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research.

Dr. Levi serves as one of the grant’s principal investigators, along with M. Ross Bullock, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery and director of clinical neurotrauma at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery, neurology and cell biology, scientific director at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the Kinetic Concepts Distinguished Chair in Neurosurgery, and senior associate dean for discovery science at the Miller School. The team will ensure successful selection of candidates among the residents with the greatest potential for research success both as a resident and as an academic faculty member. Fifth-year resident Ashish H. Shah, M.D., was selected as the first resident recipient of the R25 NIH/NINDS grant.

“Most neurosurgery residents go into clinical training after earning their medical degrees and may not be properly exposed to mentored-scientific research,” Dr. Shah said. “Now, this grant will create new opportunities for the residents in our program to prepare for careers as independent NIH-funded researchers in the future.”

Over the past four years, Dr. Shah has taken a special interest in neuro-oncology research under the mentorship and guidance of Ricardo J. Komotar, M.D., associate professor of neurosurgery, Michael E. Ivan M.D., MBS, assistant professor of neurosurgery, and Noriyuki Kasahara, M.D., Ph.D., professor of cell biology.

“I have been involved in research on the efficacy of replicating retroviral vectors and gene therapy for high-grade tumors of the brain or spinal cord,” said Dr. Shah, who has published more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers focusing on surgical neuro-oncology.

The UMINDS training program has two separate research education tracks: basic/translational science and health outcomes/disparities, which combines genomic, epidemiologic, and clinical research.

“The goals of our program are to create an avenue for residents to maintain robust research throughout their residency and to prepare neurosurgery residents for careers as independent surgeon-scientists,” Dr. Levi said. “We also want to enhance our trainees’ ability to attain research funding and to generate high-quality research that will ultimately improve health outcomes and scientific knowledge in our diverse community.”

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