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New degree puts emphasis on turning research breakthroughs into treatment for patients

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Story - New Degree The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences graduated its first master’s in clinical investigations class this year.

Initiated three years ago as part of the UMass Medical  School’s effort to translate research breakthroughs in the laboratory to viable treatments for patients in the clinic, the Master of Science in Clinical Investigation (MSCI) program, offered by the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, graduated its inaugural class at the 37th Commencement exercises this year.

Open to MD and PhD scientists at UMass Medical School and its clinical partner UMass Memorial Medical Health Care, the program was created to give researchers the tools to fill in knowledge gaps so they can start designing and implementing their own clinical studies. “We’re training both physicians and basic scientists to be leaders in clinical and translational research,” said MSCI Program Director Robert Goldberg, PhD. “This program gives them the tools to be able to design and pursue their own studies.”

Physicians and basic scientists complete the two-year program with a strong foundation in clinical investigation skills, incorporating study design, conduct of observational studies and randomized trials, clinical epidemiology and biostatistics. “Physicians interested in pursuing clinical questions or trends they might see in their patients learn how to identify gaps in the current literature and design a study with the intention of improving a prognosis or functional status,” said Dr. Goldberg.

For basic scientists, the MS in clinical investigation offers a chance to realize a clinical application as a result of basic research. One of six graduates from the inaugural class, Christine Clemson, PhD, has spent 15 years at UMMS, first as a doctoral student, then as a researcher in the lab of Jeanne B. Lawrence, PhD, professor of cell biology, working on non-coding RNA. “I was at a point in my career where I wanted to be part of the clinical application of research,” said Dr. Clemson. “I wanted to see that knowledge and understanding applied to the greater good. It happened that as I was looking to make this change, the National Institutes of Health was putting a greater emphasis on translational research.”

As part of her master’s thesis, Clemson designed a clinical study for Shalesh Kaushal, MD, PhD, chair of ophthalmology and associate professor of ophthalmology and cell biology. “It was an incredible learning experience,” said Clemson. “I immersed myself in learning the process of putting together a clinical trial, understanding what patients we’d have to recruit and how many and making sure we had approval from our Institutional Review Board and the Food and Drug Administration.”