The NIA’s GEMSSTAR – Grants for Early Medical/Surgical Specialists' Transition to Aging Research – program is winning rave reviews for enabling physicians just starting out in their careers to connect their specialty to aging research. The NIA is encouraging applications to this important clinical research program.
“The GEMSSTAR program is an amazing opportunity for physicians from outside the field of geriatrics to delve into aging research that is aligned with their subspecialty,” says Dr. Melissa Simon of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and a 2011 GEMSSTAR grantee. “With the aging of the population and the relative lack of a geriatrics trained workforce, now more than ever, it’s essential that more subspecialists obtain training and consider research in geriatrics and gerontology.” Dr. Simon is examining whether caregivers of older family members are interested and able to pursue careers in health care, based on their experiences as informal caregivers.
“Most older adults don’t receive their health care from a geriatrician; instead, they see their family practitioner, internist, or other specialist,” says Dr. Basil Eldadah, acting chief of the Geriatrics Branch in NIA’s Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology. “We want to develop aging research capacity among physicians who are trained in other clinical specialties. By tackling an important research problem at the intersection of aging and their particular specialty, these clinicians can carve an important niche in their field. Ultimately, we see our GEMSSTAR grantees developing into future leaders in research that bridges their specialty and aging science.”
Investigators apply through the GEMSSTAR RFA for 2 years of NIA support using the small research project (R03) mechanism. After peer review of eligible applications, NIA asks each investigator with a meritorious score to submit a Professional Development Plan (PDP). The activities of the PDP would run concurrently with the R03 award and are supported through non-R03 funds.
“The PDP is a critical element of the GEMSSTAR program,” notes Dr. Eldadah. “It can provide for specific training activities, mentorship, and other career development opportunities. We encourage applicants to seek out sources of support for the PDP as soon as they respond to the RFA.”
Specialty societies, such as the Association of Specialty Professors and the American Geriatrics Society, are providing assistance for PDPs. Other sources of support can include the applicant’s institution or affiliated Veterans Administration hospital, an Older Americans Independence Center Research Career Development Core, a Clinical and Translational Science Award, or other public or private sources.
Dr. Una Makris at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas is another 2001 GEMSSTAR grantee. A rheumatologist, she is studying the social, physical, and psychological impact of back pain in older adults.
“For many conditions, including back pain, much of the literature focuses on younger working populations,” she says. “Largely, older adults have been excluded from randomized controlled trials so we have little data on which to base our clinical decisions. How do we treat an older person with certain comorbid conditions, taking multiple medications, and what are the outcomes that are most important to older persons?
“This is an ideal award for a junior investigator who is committed to studying a subspecialty field—in my case, rheumatology—to pursue a feasible, realistic project and launch a career in aging research,” Dr. Makris continues. “The career development portion of this award is unique; importantly, networking with leaders in this field is critical for junior investigators. As a GEMSSTAR awardee, I’m fortunate to meet and network with colleagues in other subspecialties and surgical fields who share a common interest of aging research.”
There is another potential, major benefit to GEMSSTAR participation, Dr. Eldadah notes. As a unique opportunity to get a foot in the door for early-career physicians interested in bridging their clinical specialty with aging research, it can make a candidate more competitive for subsequent NIH awards. “We hope that eligible applicants will see the value of this program and apply for it this year,” he says.
The deadline for applications for the program is October 1, with letters of intent due on September 1. For more information on GEMSSTAR, go to http://www.nia.nih.gov/research/dgcg/grants-early-medical-surgical-specialists-transition-aging-research-gemsstar. The RFA is available at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-AG-13-006.html.