Wayne State University

NIH funds WSU reproductive health research career development program

The Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology will maintain its Women’s Reproductive Health Research (WRHR) Career Development Center designation through 2020, thanks to a five-year, $1,020,601 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health.

“The intent of this program is to make a positive and lasting change in the specialty of obstetrics and gynecology by training physicians to become successful researchers who can sustain independent careers upon graduating,” said D. Randall Armant, Ph.D., WRHR research director and professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The grant (K12HD001254) will allow for two fellows for two to three years at a time to train under the guidance of a senior investigator.

The funding is vital for an academic field facing a shortage of women’s health researchers, said Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Elizabeth Puscheck, M.D., the grant’s principal investigator at its inception.

“Our program at Wayne State has received consistent funding since 1998, when the National Institutes of Health first saw a need for young investigators working in obstetrical and gynecological research. That need continues today,” Dr. Puscheck said.

Specifically, there is a shortage of clinician-scientists in the perinatal and women’s health area. “That’s where improved outcomes are going to come from,” said program recruiting officer Robert Sokol, M.D., the John M. Malone Jr., M.D., Endowed Chair and director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development. “This grant is aimed at improving the situation by training young academicians to be successful clinician-scientists. In addition, we are committed to helping relieve an even greater shortage of minority clinician-scientists in our area.”

The WSU department has held a national leadership role in research for more than 40 years, Dr. Sokol said, boasting a cadre of doctoral degree researchers and funded clinician-scientists. “We have always being in the top 10, and usually in the top three. This is in part due to our department having one of only three research centers on the continent – the Mott Center – devoted to perinatal and maternal health research,” he said. “We have an excellent environment for this program, as recognized by the review committee. In addition, we have a Ph.D. concentration in reproductive sciences with Physiology, making obtaining a Ph.D. during the scholars program possible.”

The most recent round of grant funding was highly competitive, with fewer sites selected for the new period, and only two candidates allowed per program. In previous years, each site was allowed three candidates.

“I think that previous performance and ongoing commitment to clinical research played a part, but most importantly, this was not just a continuation but a request for a modern, updated training program with more focus and 20 percent less positions,” Dr. Sokol said. “Our application was very responsive to that request.”

Program graduates include some of the nation’s most prolific and heralded women’s health researchers, including WSU Associate Dean for Maternal, Perinatal and Child Health Sonia Hassan, M.D.; University of Texas Assistant Dean of Health Care Quality in Perinatal Medicine and Women’s Health Sean Blackwell, M.D.; Michigan State University Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology Professor and Chair Richard Leach, M.D.; and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Section of Reproductive Medicine Director Terri Woodard, M.D.

“We are honored that the National Institutes of Health has chosen Wayne State University to uphold the center’s status so that we may continue developing a new generation of obstetricians-gynecologists who perform independent research relevant to women’s reproductive health,” said Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Jay Berman, M.D., the department’s interim chair, WRHR principal investigator and program director.