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A crash course for clinical specialists

Sue Zieman
Medical Officer,
Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology (DGCG)

On September 21–23, 2016 almost 100 physicians and researchers attended the second biennial GEMSSTAR Scholars Conference, “Models and Studies of Aging,” here in Bethesda. The meeting was sponsored by a U13 conference grant from the NIA to the American Geriatrics Society (AGS), with additional support from the John A. Hartford Foundation. It was the second of three meetings supported by the U13 conference grant to AGS.

The conference series was created to provide an opportunity for all current and former GEMSSTAR scholars to come together for in-depth expert lectures and discussion of a specific aging-related topic pertinent to their specialty interest. GEMSSTAR (Grants for Early Medical/Surgical Specialists' Transition to Aging Research) is a unique grant mechanism that enables young physicians to transition into a career in clinical research on aging.

The conference agenda was ambitious. Participants included scholars from strikingly different specialties, many of whom initially shared little beyond a common interest in aging. Yet small-group sessions identified areas of common interest and commitments to collaborate. Senior mentors, NIA program staff, and staff from other NIH Institutes, all provided advice and mentoring on career development and managing complex research.

The final product was a crash course in the finer points of aging research, covering topics ranging from the ‘pillars of aging’ explored in geroscience, to clinical issues of older patients such as multiple chronic conditions, to emerging research topics in Alzheimer’s disease. GEMSSTAR participants also heard presentations on designing clinical trials and accessing and working with data from large longitudinal studies and databases.

Building the aging research work force within the medical specialties

NIA has been supporting career development for physician-researchers for many years. The GEMSSTAR program provides two years of research training in aging to medical, dental, and surgical specialists to help launch a research career focusing on aging/geriatrics aspect of their specialty.

The award provides funding for an R03 grant for up to $75,000 in direct costs each year for two years. In addition to the support from NIA, GEMSSTAR scholars are strongly encouraged to submit an individualized Professional Development Plan, for which they need to obtain funding from a different source, to work with a mentor with the expertise to augment their research and clinical skills in aging/geriatrics concurrently with their two-year research project.

The applications for this year’s GEMSSTAR were due in early October and we expect to announce the awards in the summer of 2017. Complete information about the GEMSSTAR program is available on the NIA website. We strongly encourage anyone who is considering an application to this program to start thinking and planning it now.

It was wonderful to see the many talented young physician-researchers at the September meeting. It was also wonderful to see the range of research topics that they addressed and the transdisciplinary collaborations that were being forged to focus new research projects on common problems associated with aging. We hope to see many applications to the GEMSSTAR program in the spring.

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