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Successful clinical and translational research requires focused support for the professional development of investigators and teams. In the initial phase of the ACCEL Program, we implemented substantive programs and infrastructure to support junior investigators. Mentored Research Development Awards (MRDA) allow clinicians to develop competitive grant submissions; our mentoring program provides substantial tools and resources; a Junior Investigators’ Network offers training and networking opportunities. Through these successful programs, we have identified critical challenges facing junior faculty across ACCEL institutions: (i) building research teams and networks, (ii) developing grants and strengthening research partnerships, (iii) translating scientific knowledge to clinical utility, and (iv) communicating results and their impact to colleagues, patients and their families, and the community. In this renewal application, we build on the successful foundation established in our current ACCEL Program to implement a focused Professional Development (PD) Core to address these areas of need. The core will be directed by an accomplished Leadership Team of senior faculty to assure the effectiveness of new and ongoing programs. Faculty from MUSC’s CTSA-supported, Translational Research Institute will serve as advisors to the PD Core PI and Leadership Team.

Specific Aims

  1. Enhance collaboration and team building among junior investigators. A large number of junior investigators at ACCEL institutions and across Delaware wish to pursue collaborative clinical and translational research, but the formation of effective networks and multidisciplinary teams is challenging. Investigators must navigate disparate institutions, and the lack of a medical school in Delaware means there is no single campus at which to centralize activities. To overcome these challenges, ACCEL seeks to provide a nexus for research. The establishment of a robust Junior Investigators Network (JIN) in our current ACCEL program accomplished an initial step toward realizing this goal. Here, we provide networking, mentoring, workshops, and centralized access to tools & support for collaborative project development across institutions and across disciplines.
  2. Increase the extramural funding rate for junior investigators. During our current ACCEL program, we deployed useful tools and programs to mentor investigators in grant preparation. MRDAs provided grant-writing support to clinicians with over 40% of MRDA scholars acquiring funding. Going forward, we will implement a broader Grant Development Program (GDP) to include MRDAs for scientists, engineers, and clinicians; enhanced grant writing work- shops; short-term courses; mentoring and advisory opportunities; venues for scientific presentation and feedback; and access to online searches for funding opportunities.
  3. Bridge the translational divide between the early development of materials, devices, and medicines and successful preclinical testing. Translating scientific advances to clinical utility can be challenging. Critical barriers facing investigators include difficulties in assessing potential clinical utility, lack of experience with appropriate animal models, lack of experience with preclinical and clinical study design, unclear pathways to commercial partnerships, and complex regulatory landscapes. We will provide mentoring, resources, and developmental workshops to allow investigators to overcome these barriers.
  4. Improve the ability of junior investigators to communicate effectively with members of their research teams and the community. Clinical and translational researchers benefit greatly from fruitful inter- actions with their research teams, colleagues, patient groups, advocacy groups, the media, and members of the public. Developing effective communication skills to work with these disparate groups can be challenging. Here, we implement programs to overcome these challenges. Researchers are connected with Community Advisory Council (CAC) members with goals to both provide advice from the CAC on how to communicate with non-scientist target audiences and to inform the CAC of ongoing research. In partnership with the ACCEL CEO team, we also provide a joint Skills Groups for Community Engagement Program based on the Are We Ready toolkit pioneered at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to develop communications skills.

Successful execution of these aims will establish four pillars of support for the professional development of ACCEL investigators. In this way, we enhance the professional development of clinical and translational researchers across the state, provide resources that are associated with improved faculty retention, and support a fundamental culture shift toward effective clinical and translational research across ACCEL institutions.