Careers in Translational Research

Two scientists working in a lab wearing lab coats and purple latex gloves.
October 14, 2016

ORIP grant programs enable veterinarians to participate in biomedical research.

Translational research applies findings from the study of animal models to improve human health. Veterinarians are uniquely qualified to contribute to this field because of their knowledge of animal systems and clinical training. Yet, they are significantly underrepresented in biomedical research.

A 2014 report from a Physician–Scientist Workforce Working Group, organized by NIH, identified the many barriers that discourage veterinarians from pursuing research careers. These include a veterinary school curriculum that does not promote the role of the veterinarian–scientist, the heavy load of student debt carried by many graduates of veterinary school, and the lower pay for research work compared with clinical practice. The report also noted the dearth of research mentors in the veterinary field and the fact that veterinarians are often overlooked when biomedical research teams are being formed. The report estimated that veterinarians comprise just 3 percent of the physician–scientist workforce funded by NIH.

To boost the participation of veterinarians in translational research, ORIP offers several grant programs specifically targeted to their profession. The Mentored Career Development (K Series) Awards support postdoctoral or early career research scientists in need of advanced training and additional experience. Special Emphasis Research Career Awards (SERCA) bridge the funding gap for veterinarian–scientists who have advanced beyond the K Series awards but may not yet qualify for ORIP’s Research (R Series) Grants, which typically are obtained by more established scientists. Following a recommendation from the Working Group, SERCA awards now offer five years of support.

Stories of past and current recipients of grants administered by ORIP show how these grant programs help veterinarians transition into research.

  • Joe Mankowski, DVM, Ph.D., DACVP, utilized grant dollars to transition from his veterinary practice to the laboratory. A principal investigator and professor at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Mankowski and his research team study the pathogenesis of nervous system damage induced by simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in pigtailed macaques. His research group is working to develop novel diagnostic tools to understand the mechanisms underlying peripheral nervous system damage arising from HIV infection in humans.
  • Cheryl London, DVM, Ph.D., relied on grant dollars to complete her doctorate program in immunology at Harvard University and launch her research career. Today Dr. London’s studies of spontaneous models of cancer in dogs are yielding important findings for anti-cancer therapies in humans. Nearly two decades after receiving ORIP funding, Dr. London mentors several graduate students who themselves are K Series award recipients.
  • Current grant support allows Carrie Finno, DVM, Ph.D., DACVIM, to investigate the role of vitamin E in neurodegenerative diseases, using mouse and horse animal models.

“Grant support is extremely important to biomedical progress,” says Dr. London. “Veterinarian-scientists offer a unique 360-degree focus, especially when you think about pandemics and the potential for animal connections.”

Adds Dr. Finno, “Knowledge of anatomy and disease pathophysiology across species is essential in translational medicine. I would strongly encourage veterinarians to seriously consider a rewarding career in research.”

Related reading:

National Institutes of Health Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group. (2014). Physician-Workforce Working Group Report. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health.

National Research Council (US) Committee on the National Needs for Research in Veterinary Science. (2005). Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Science (Summary). Washington (DC): National Academies Press.