Training the Next Generation of Clinician Scientists through the NIH Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP) Q&A with esteemed MRSP Alum Kyle Vining, DDS, Harvard University

October 25, 2016 — This fall, 52 medical and dental students began intensive research training at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP). This one-year program offers students opportunities to engage in research early in their careers, while addressing the critical need for a pipeline of talented scientists capable of turning discovery into improved health.

Following a competitive admissions process, MRSP students embark on comprehensive research training with close mentorship from NIH investigators. Their research projects span a variety of areas including cancer, cardiology and neurology. Students also participate in workshops on leadership, entrepreneurship and drug development and clinical teaching rounds at the NIH Clinical Center, the nation’s premier research hospital.

One of many successful MRSP alums is Harvard University’s Kyle Vining, DDS, Bioengineering Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate, who recently won second prize in materials in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition for creating a synthetic biomaterial that supports stem cells to repair teeth. Dr. Vining called the MRSP “one of the most influential and pivotal experiences in my career.” In the Q&A below, Dr. Vining shares his insight on the MRSP experience.

Support the Next MRSP Class

Each year, the MRSP is made possible through support from the NIH and the private sector. The 2016-2017 MRSP class is supported by the American Association for Dental Research, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Genentech, alumni of student research programs and other individuals.

“The Medical Research Scholars Program provides excellent opportunities for medical students to experience the rich research environment at the NIH campus and interact with its leaders and investigators,” said Betsy Myers, Ph.D., Director of the Medical Research Program, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The FNIH seeks funding partners for the 2017-2018 MRSP class. Learn more about supporting the MRSP here. If you are a student and would like to consider joining the next class, please visit cc.nih.gov/training/mrsp.

Q&A with MRSP Alum Dr. Kyle Vining

In the following Q&A, Dr. Kyle Vining discusses his MRSP experience and how it propelled him into a successful clinical research career.

  1. Why did you apply to the MRSP?I applied to the MRSP during my third year of pre-doctoral training at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. Like most students during that time, I was finishing up life in the classroom and transitioning to clinical studies. I knew I was interested in broadening my biomaterials research background by gaining more experience in basic cell biology while I was still in dental school. With its diverse and exceptional research programs, I knew that the NIH would be a great place to learn.

  2. What was your experience like in the lab of Matthew P. Hoffman, B.D.S., Ph.D., at the National Institutes of Dental and Craniofacial Research?
    The MRSP was an amazing research and personal experience right from the beginning. We didn’t have to start research right away, so I first spent two weeks exploring different interest areas and learning about the work of many different investigators within the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

    When I started in the lab, I was mentored by Dr. Hoffman one-on-one and the highly-trained post-doctoral scientists in his lab, quickly learning about cell biology. They were essential to helping me conduct my one-year research project that focused on studying stem cells that are found in adult salivary gland tissue.

    Saliva is important for overall oral health, protecting against bacteria and lubricating the mouth so we can swallow and speak. Patients with cancer in the head and neck must undergo radiation that is so severe it damages the salivary glands, often causing patients to suffer from dry mouth. Through my research, I investigated how the salivary gland develops and helped define conditions to demonstrate how we can create new gland cells over time. I presented this work at the 2013 International Association of Dental Research (IADR) General Session and received the Unilever Hatton Competition and Award's first place prize.

    My experience learning about stem cells in Dr. Hoffman’s lab helped provide the foundation for much of the work I do today.

  3. Was the MRSP helpful in connecting you with other researchers in your field and beyond?
    During the MRSP, I met fellow professional students interested in biomedical research from around the country with diverse interests and disciplines. By living and working together, we learned from each other through our social life and research presentations. We also had weekly lectures from scientific leaders who inspired me to dream about what would be possible in my own scientific career. I made many close friends whom I remain in touch with to this day.

  4. What was the most beneficial part of the MRSP for you?
    I benefited most from the mentoring and direction of the Hoffman lab. Dr. Vaishali Patel and Dr. Isabelle Lombaert taught me everything I know about my skills in cell biology research, which I use every day. I also had a lot of fun living in Washington, D.C., presenting my research at the IADR meeting in Seattle and taking a year off from the rigors of dental school.

  5. What would you tell students who are thinking about applying to the MRSP and those just starting the program?
    I would tell students to seriously consider applying to this great program. Start by talking to your key mentors in research and the clinic about how this experience might benefit you.

    If you get the opportunity to be a part of the MRSP, keep an open mind and don’t necessarily work in the research area where you have the most background. Give yourself the opportunity to explore other scientific areas, while working hard and still having fun. There is never going to be another year of training like this.

  6. What would you tell organizations and individuals that may consider funding the MRSP?
    The MRSP is absolutely essential for motivating and inspiring the next generation of clinician scientists. No other one-year fellowship provides the same level of exceptional mentoring and guidance, social engagement and hands-on research training than this program. It changes lives and motivates students to commit to biomedical research for the long-term.

  7. Tell us about your latest discovery that uses stem cells to repair teeth.
    As a fellow in the David J. Mooney, Ph.D., group at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, I had the amazing opportunity to meet my colleague Dr. Adam Celiz, a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the British University of Nottingham, who was visiting us for two years. During that time, we collaborated to identify new biomaterial that stimulates stem cells in your dental pulp (the “alive” part of the tooth) to repair teeth.

    In June 2016, we presented our preliminary data to the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition in London. They were impressed and excited by the novelty and promise of our results thus far, and granted us a second place prize. We are extremely honored to have won this prestigious award, and as a result, have our research featured around the world.

    The excitement around our work is a very good sign for dental research in particular, because it shows the public is concerned about their dental health and interested in potential therapies that may improve treatments.

  8. What is next for you?
    I am still a dentist in Brookline, Mass., working part-time to maintain my practice and continue interacting with patients and learning about their needs. I’m also busy with my research and working to finish my Ph.D. One day, I hope to pursue a career in academia.

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