Grant renewed for biomedical and behavioral research program

FIU received a five-year renewal for its Minority Biomedical Research Support-Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS-RISE) Program.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), the $4.8 million grant will provide direct support and training of 15 undergraduate and 16 graduate students in the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Engineering and Computing, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, and Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work.

“Students in the program are paired with mentors and work directly with them in their labs,” said Charles H. Bigger, director of the MBRS-RISE Program and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. “Classes teach scientific theories and concepts. But the scientific community has a certain culture. By working with other researchers, fellows learn how to interact and communicate within this culture. You don’t learn those skills in a traditional classroom.”

An initiative from the Division of Research, the MBRS-RISE Program strives to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who enter and complete Ph.D. programs in the biomedical and behavioral fields. MBRS-RISE fellows are given travel money for conferences and presentations. They are also provided with a variety of opportunities in lab safety, responsible conduct of research, CPR, and professional development training. By working alongside active research faculty and the larger scientific community, program fellows gain hands-on research experience in these fields.

Deannys Batista is a senior majoring in biological sciences and minoring in sociology/anthropology. She has spent the past two years as an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Lidia Kos, investigating ulitraviolet-induced melanoma metastasis in the lymph nodes of mice.

“Because of the program, I’ve been able to form a great working relationship with Dr. Kos and her research team,” Batista said. “Working in her lab has been a privilege. They’ve provided financial support for presentation materials and travel to conferences. Most recently, I went to the annual Society for Melanoma Research’s conference where I got to meet leaders in the field, it was a great experience.”

Batista is expected to graduate in Fall 2012. She is currently studying for the MCAT and will apply for medical school, or a combined Ph.D/M.D. program, next year. Batista hopes to dedicate her career to melanoma- or cancer-related research.

Marcy Lowenstein, ’09, associate chairwoman of the Department of Biological Sciences, is a MBRS-RISE Program alumnus. She earned a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from FIU in 1984. After serving in a variety of teaching and nutritionist roles, Lowenstein returned in 2004 as a Ph.D. student where she also worked in the lab of Kos.

“I came back to FIU as a non-traditional student with a husband and children. I had other responsibilities outside of school,” Lowenstein said. “The program gave me the chance to focus on my research by giving me the financial support I needed. It was such a gift. Graduate students can benefit from this and really think about science. That’s what you’re supposed to do at that level: think about science, spend time in the lab and develop your experiments.”

Since its establishment in 2000, the MBRS-RISE program has helped 30 undergraduate students graduate and enroll in Ph.D. programs across the country. Eleven alumni of the program have successfully completed their doctoral programs and are currently conducting postdoctoral research. Sixteen former MBRS-RISE fellows have also earned faculty status in universities.

“There’s been a national call to action to train 100,000 STEM professionals in the next 10 years. That’s a big number to reach,” Bigger said. “Diversity brings different ideas and different approaches to solving problems. If we don’t facilitate the successful completion of Ph.D. programs for underrepresented groups, that’s an entire segment of the population that’s an untapped resource. It’s programs like this that will provide the pipeline to training competent and competitive individuals in these fields.”