The arrival of Margaret Hostetter, MD, as director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Cincinnati Children’s also brought a national research training program to the medical center.

The Pediatric Scientist Development Program (PSDP) was created in 1986 to encourage physicians to pursue the scientific training needed to exploit the exploding advances in genetics, epigenetics, microbiology, molecular immunology and related fields.

That need still exists, as urgently as ever, says Hostetter, who has served as PSDP program director since 1996 when she ran the program out of the University of Minnesota.

The program accepts only six to eight applicants a year. It has produced 156 graduates who serve at more than 60 pediatric centers in the U.S. and Canada. Graduates have gone on to become deans, chancellors and institute directors. Several chair pediatric departments or lead research divisions.

Connecting physicians and basic science

“We offer two to three years of training in basic, translational or clinical research for pediatric fellows in the laboratory of their choice anywhere in the U.S. and Canada,” Hostetter says. “No previous scientific experience is necessary. The idea is to enlarge the cadre of trained physician-scientists to uncover the basic mechanisms of pediatric disease and at the same time to develop their careers for future success.”

For example, PSDP graduates have a 51 percent success rate in obtaining R01 grants at NIH; compared to a 19 percent average for other physician-scientists.

Hostetter says it was a research mentor who helped her interest in infectious disease evolve into more than a clinical practice. For more than 30 years, she has studied the role played by key host and microbial proteins in infections due to Streptococcus pneumonia and Candida albicans.

Her work has contributed to a larger effort to develop a new pneumococcal vaccine.

“Having no scientific background whatsoever, it was a real trial by fire for me when I first entered the lab. But I found out that I really liked the rigor of the thought process. Understanding the proteins and the biochemistry involved absolutely transformed my way of thinking.”

Power of protected time

Four PSDP graduates work at Cincinnati Children’s, including Prasad Devarajan, MD, division director, Nephrology, and Stephen A. Spooner, MD, MS, FAAP, chief medical information officer, Division of Biomedical Informatics.

Sean Moore, MD, MS, was accepted into the PSDP program in 2007. He works in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, where he is using an NIH award and a large grant from the Gates Foundation to study how alanyl-glutamine-based oral rehydration therapy repairs intestinal damage.

Benjamin Mizukawa, MD, was accepted into the PSDP program in 2008. He works in the lab of Jim Mulloy, PhD, studying the role of Rho GTPases in the development and progression of acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

“The strength of the PSDP program is mentorship and protected time,” Mizukawa says. “The PSDP program stipulates that the trainee’s full effort be given to research, and supports this by funding salary and research expenditures. Especially in the early stages of training, this protected time has been critical.”