Program Details, Rationale, and Goals
The 12 primary training faculty or mentors will be drawn from the Departments of Pathology (Sections on Lipid Sciences and Tumor Biology) (6), Internal Medicine (Sections on Gastroenterology and Rheumatology) (3), Radiologic Sciences (Section on Cardiothoracic Imaging) (1), Physiology/Pharmacology (1), and Cancer Biology (1). Several of these faculty also have cross appointments in other departments. Research programs of the training faculty are supported by 9 R01 grants, two Program Project grants (HL049373-14 and CA106742-01) and a P50 Center grant (AT0027820-03).
Additional faculty who provide particular expertise in Lipid Sciences serve as Associate Mentors and enhance the training environment of our students. Mentors have a common research interest in the role of lipid metabolism in the pathogenesis of chronic diseases, including atherosclerosis, lupus, asthma and cancer. All mentors are currently collaborating with at least one other mentor and are principal investigators, co-principal investigators, and/or project leaders on NIH-funded research projects, including R01, PPG and Center grants. The training faculty is multidisciplinary with 9 PhD and 3 MD or MD/PhD investigators. PhD students participating in the Training Program come from four departments or programs of the Wake Forest University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and include:
- Molecular Pathology,
- Molecular Medicine (Mol Med),
- Biochemistry, and
- Molecular Genetics (Mol Gen).
Training for students will include traditional didactic course work, seminars, journal clubs, research meetings, ethics and professional development training, participation in cutting-edge research projects, grant writing, and scientific presentations both within the Training Program environment and at regional and national meetings. All trainees are required to write a F31 or equivalent foundation grant application during their training period. Areas of emphasis or focus for students in lipid sciences include:
- Functional genomics of lipid metabolism,
- In vivo imaging of lipid deposition,
- Botanical lipids in the treatment of chronic diseases,
- Macromolecular assembly of lipids,
- Lipid transport biology, and
- Bioactive lipids in the prevention, pathogenesis, and treatment of chronic diseases.
Each of these areas of focus contains at least two faculty members who will participate in the training and supervision of graduate students in a co-mentoring relationship. There is also a translational research track for students who enroll in the Molecular Medicine graduate program.
Rationale of Training Program
The focus of training in lipid sciences is unique among existing graduate schools because of the unique environment of our program, most notably, the assembly of 12 prominent scientists in the field of lipid sciences into a single state-of-the-art research facility and a training plan designed to maximize interaction and collaboration. It is now well recognized that lipid metabolism is central to the pathogenesis of many chronic diseases. Although cholesterol and saturated fatty acid metabolism has long been associated with the development of cardiovascular diseases, there is now mounting evidence that lipid derangements can promote inflammatory responses that contribute to atherogenesis, type 2 diabetes, lupus, cancer, and asthma.
In spite of a growing awareness that alterations in the type and level of dietary fat may hold promise in prevention of colon, breast and prostate cancer, molecular mechanisms underlining these protective effects are poorly understood and thus are a focus of research in our program. Fatty acids, particularly n-3 fatty acids, are thought to be protective in the development of chronic diseases, and there is considerable evidence that some of this protection is mediated through control of gene transcription. Indeed, oxidative products of cholesterol and polyunsaturated fatty acids are ligands for nuclear receptors such as liver X receptor (LXR) and peroxisome proliferator activated receptor (PPAR). These factors regulate programs of genes involved in lipid metabolism and inflammation, and there is strong evidence for reciprocal cross-talk between lipid metabolic and inflammatory pathways. Cholesterol has also been implicated in signaling pathways that control cell growth and cholesterol depletion of transformed cells decreases the proliferative phenotype.
The study of lipid metabolism and chronic diseases requires the integrated approaches of molecular biology, cellular biology and whole animal physiology and the support of sophisticated core technologies, including transgenic/gene targeting biology, genomics/bioinformatics, mass spectrometry (lipidomics and proteomics), and cell-based and whole body imaging.
To meet these needs, we have created a unique environment that combines strong intellectual capital, a history of interdisciplinary and collaborative research, and state-of-the-art technology and research support necessary for the training of young scientists. Graduate students completing our Training Program will have the knowledge and skills to join the national effort in academia, government, and industry to reduce the suffering and death from chronic diseases caused by disturbances in lipid metabolism and inflammation.
Goal of Training Program
The goal of the Integrative Lipid Sciences, Inflammation, and Chronic Diseases Training Program is to provide advanced training in modern biomedical sciences (including biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, genomics/bioinformatics, metabolism, physiology, statistics, and experimental pathology), to promote sophisticated expertise in the area of lipid science and its relationships to inflammation and the pathogenesis of complex, chronic diseases.
Besides the core didactic training specified by each participating graduate program, students in the Training Program establish depth and breadth of knowledge by becoming integral members of the training and research environment, attending departmental or program seminars, weekly Program Project or Center grant meetings, individual weekly lab meetings, journal clubs, tutorials, and forums. The diversity and collaborative nature of our program has led to the establishment of six areas of focus as outlined below.
Students will be encouraged to seek collaborations among faculty as necessitated by the scientific questions that arise during their dissertation research. Our students engage in cutting-edge research projects that range from molecular cell biology to investigating phenotypes in transgenic or knockout mice. Students are encouraged to design experiments, test hypotheses, and take advantage of available expertise to accomplish their goals. If this means collaborating with other faculty within our medical center or elsewhere, we support this with great enthusiasm. As a result each student has access of the broadest array of expertise and resources available to accomplish their project and training goals.