October 11, 2010

Wanted: Minorities to study reproductive health

Scientists from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and Morgan State University have received a $3.2 million National Institutes of Health grant designed to promote racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in reproductive science research.

The grant to five investigators—Sally Radovick and Andrew Wolfe of Johns Hopkins, and Gloria Hoffman, Michael Koban and Wei Wei Le of Morgan State—will support and foster research collaboration among the five, and fund the recruitment and training of minority students with a serious interest in reproductive science research.

The Johns Hopkins–Morgan State pair is one of only two such grant couplings in the country that involve a historically black institution. Emory University and Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta are the other institutions partnering under the grant.

“Investing in young scientists from diverse ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds will not only help us recruit top talent but will also improve the way we design studies and conduct research,” said program director Radovick, who is also the director of Pediatric Endocrinology at Hopkins Children’s.

“There are many brilliant young students who have both intellectual curiosity and a love of science but don’t necessarily have the basic skills and training so critical for future scientists, such as familiarity with lab work or a knowledge of research methods and design,” said Hoffman of Morgan State. “The funding will provide these opportunities through intense one-on-one teaching and mentoring.”

“Diversity in science is critical on all levels, and scientists who have insight into the problems faced by minorities can improve science by identifying the right problems, by asking the right questions and by recruiting the right participants for clinical trials,” said George Dover, director of Hopkins Children’s.

And because race and ethnicity can play an important role in how people develop disease or respond to treatment and medication, having a diverse body of study participants will make the results of clinical trials that much stronger scientifically, the investigators said.

“Ultimately, diversity in research talent will help eliminate health disparities, whether they stem from socioeconomic gaps, from differences in access to health care or from purely biologic factors,” said Wolfe, who is director of Research Training in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at Hopkins Children’s.

Eligible participants include not only those from racial or ethnic minority groups but also students with disabilities and those from disadvantaged or poverty-stricken backgrounds.

Under the terms of the grant, undergraduate trainees will work alongside graduate and medical students and with postdoctoral trainees in endocrinology. The arrangement is made possible by an NIH training program in molecular and cellular endocrinology for advanced pre- and postdoctoral fellows and supports novel training activities, such as the new diversity training program. Radovick is the principal investigator of this program.

Johns Hopkins has already begun recruiting minority freshmen and sophomores interested in careers in reproductive sciences.

Interested students can obtain an application by e-mailing Michael Summa at msumma1@jhmi.edu or Gloria Hoffman at gloria.hoffman@morgan.edu.

Johns Hopkins has a long-standing tradition in training endocrinologists and established the first pediatric endocrinology program in the United States.