Originally created 07/17/04

Program crosses lines of research



Pursuing a doctoral degree while also becoming a doctor means Jason Burnette is used to dealing with two disciplines. A new grant is making it easier to take an interdisciplinary approach with his research.

Mr. Burnette, a fifth-year student in the MD/PhD program at the Medical College of Georgia, is one of the first to receive part of a $560,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health intended to promote interdisciplinary research by doctoral students.

Mr. Burnette is studying the electrical activity in channels in the cell membrane, which would give a more accurate picture of whether a drug is causing a cell to relax.

"It's real-time," he said.

He is looking at cells that contract and relax on the blood vessels that feed the retina. They disappear in diabetic retinopathy, which can cause blindness.

"So that kind of tweaked our interest in it," he said.

The work incorporating vascular biology and pharmacology disciplines is not the way doctoral students used to be trained, said Richard White, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology, under whom Mr. Burnette is studying.

"I learned how to do one thing in one department, and that was it," Dr. White said. "Science nowadays is extremely interdisciplinary The nature of research and our understanding of the human body has just gotten so much more complicated. The more we find, the more complicated it gets."

The combination of fields seems natural to Mr. Burnette.

"I think they kind of go hand in hand," he said. "Pharmacology is a tool in which we can alter vascular biology."

That's the perspective new scientists will need, Dr. White said.

"We're starting them out right," he said. "We're giving them a broad interdisciplinary foundation. Whatever they want to do I think they'll be prepared to do."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com