About the Tri-Institutional MMPTP
Advances in medicine have created a burgeoning population of patients with severely compromised immune systems, among whom the cause of death is clearly shifting toward infectious etiologies. This growing community of patients is further compounded by the treatment of more common diseases with newer immunosuppressive agents, including asthma, gastrointestinal diseases, and rheumatic diseases. This increased use of immunosuppression has now elevated invasive fungal infection to a leading cause of death in cancer patients and transplant recipients. In parallel to this increasing incidence of invasive fungal infections, the concomitant use of new antifungals has also fostered the emergence of new and more resistant pathogenic fungi. Blocking this seemingly inexorable process will require escalated fungal research. It is therefore essential to recruit and train young scientists to develop rigorous, independent careers focused on mycological research. The same situation pertains to fungal plant pathogens, which persist in causing global devastation of crops, reducing the food supply of most of the population. During this same period, there have been profound discoveries and progress in the biomedical sciences and biotechnology. Many of these advances were facilitated by the use of fungi as models for eukaryotic processes. The advent of genomics and bioinformatics have enhanced the import of fungal systems and increased the demand for scientists who are adept at exploiting fungi. The need to train scientists to conduct fungal research is greater than ever.
The Tri-Institutional Molecular Mycology and Pathogenesis Training Program (Tri-I MMPTP) is a multidisciplinary program spanning three major research universities that was created to recruit, support, and train promising postdoctoral scientists and physicians to develop productive research careers in molecular mycology and pathogenesis. These trainees will become the future experts and leaders in all areas of fungal research in academia, industry, and government. Applicants for training may be recent recipients of doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences, physicians who have completed residency training, and interested candidates with doctoral degrees in other fields (e.g., Plant Pathology, Population Genetics, Bioinformatics, Pharmacology). Participating faculty are unified in their focus on fungi, and the three institutions — Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), and North Carolina State University (NCSU) — represent perhaps the highest concentration of researchers who study fungi. These faculty have developed a rich community that shares resources, interacts regularly, and collaborates frequently. This Tri-Institutional MMPTP training program is unique as the only NIH-funded program dedicated to molecular mycology.
The Tri-Institutional MMPTP aims to select committed trainees with outstanding potential, regardless of their prior area of research, and provide rigorous research training that involves clinical or basic mycology. Trainees will be nurtured to develop independent research programs utilizing pathogenic fungi or non-pathogenic fungi as model systems. To tap the regional talent in mycology, we have enlisted mentoring scientists from three proximal institutions — Duke University,the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), and North Carolina State University (NCSU). Trainees may elect to use well-characterized fungal model species or medically/agriculturally-relevant pathogens to investigate questions of eukaryotic biology, and/or to explore the host-fungus dynamics of human or plant diseases. In addition, we have expertise in fungal systematics, phylogeny, evolution, and genomics. Many research projects will bridge one or more of these areas. Furthermore, it is relatively common (and often encouraged) for trainees to move from one laboratory to another, combining these conceptual domains.
At many institutions, faculty who investigate medical fungi have little contact with molecular biologists or geneticists who work on non-medical fungi. Similarly, those who study non-medical fungi and phytopathogens are intellectually, and often physically, removed from biomedical researchers. We have discovered the synergy of ideas that results from frequently meeting together to discuss research progress, share perspectives and methods, and cross-train students and fellows. A major concept underlying our philosophy of multidisciplinary interaction is that clinical and basic researchers, plant and animal mycologists, will discover new approaches that are mutually beneficial in broadening the scope of their research efforts.
As eukaryotes, pathogenic fungi are considerably more genetically complex than viruses or bacteria, more similar to their hosts and more difficult to treat without affecting collateral human targets. Furthermore, the list of human parasites, also eukaryotes, is eclipsed by the large number and global distribution of opportunistic fungal species. To prevent an inexorable rise in the morbidity and mortality of mycoses, it is essential to recruit and train young scientists to develop rigorous independent careers focused on mycological research. A similar crisis pertains to phytopathogenic fungi, which persist in causing devastation of crops and reducing the annual food supply. Fortunately, the last decade has brought exciting discoveries (e.g. RNAi biology) and advances in biomedical biotechnology (e.g., next-generation sequencing). The elucidation and application of many of these advances in eukaryotes were evaluated first in model fungi. The Tri-Institutional MMPTP faculty and participating institutions are ideally equipped to train researchers in the use of the latest techniques.
Beginning in 2003, the NIH funded the Molecular Mycology and Pathogenesis Training Program (MMPTP) – a tri-Institutional program that was created to recruit, support, and train promising postdoctoral scientists and physicians to develop productive research careers in molecular mycology and pathogenesis. Since its inception, the goal of the Tri-Institutional MMPTP has remained constant, namely, to select and develop trainees who will become the future experts and leaders in all areas of fungal research in academia, industry, and government. The Tri-Institutional MMPTP has been highly successful in meeting these objectives. In addition, corollary benefits have accrued with synergistic results. After over a decade of experience, our alumni are widely dispersed, engaged in outstanding research and developing a new generation of scientists, allowing an instant connection throughout the entire mycology community for our alumni. Locally, the Tri-Institutional MMPTP has enhanced communication, collaborative projects and shared resources among the participating faculty members and their colleagues.