Volume 43 | Number 2 | Spring 2013

ISU assistant professor Michel Brumley, left, warks with INBRE student Tiffany Doherty.

ISU Photographic Services/Susan Duncan

INBRE: A Pipeline for Biomedical Research Scientists

Spring 2013 Issue | By Andrew Taylor

For Tiffany Doherty, her seminal moment occurred when she was collecting data giving treadmill training to infant rats for an Idaho State University psychology department study that shows how sensory feedback shapes locomotion behavior.

For Michael Vincen-Brown, his decision to pursue scientific research as a career occurred while working in an ISU biological sciences neuroscience laboratory, contemplating how the research he was assisting with explained the processes going on inside his own brain.

These two ISU students were among the 13 undergraduate students who participated at the INBRE Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program at ISU last summer. For both participants, the intense, 10-week program was transformative, cementing their desires to become research scientists.

"It was just exciting every day to go to lab," said Doherty, a senior ISU psychology major from Idaho Falls, who worked last summer in ISU psychology Assistant Professor Michele Brumley's developmental behavioral neurosciences laboratory.

"The first time I got results out of the project, the first graphs I saw were amazing," she continued, "I knew all the work I was doing was going to be applied to a new body of knowledge that I had a part in. My experiences in Michele's lab solidified my decision to go to grad school to do research. I know what to expect and feel accomplished in the lab."

Vincen-Brown said that working in biological science Associate Professor Jason Pilarski's neuroscience laboratory changed his career aspirations.

"Before the INBRE Fellowship I was on the fence between research and pharmacy," said Vincen-Brown, a junior biochemistry major from Boise. "But my exposure to neuroscience piqued my interest and appealed to my curious nature and I decided that research is just a better fit. Neuroscience is about what goes on inside your own head. It's just amazing to me that something so complex as our brains is based off the activity of a few cells. My experiences with INBRE have persuaded me to pursue a Ph.D. research program."

One of the major goals of Idaho's INBRE program is to be a pipeline for attracting biomedical researchers to enter the big leagues of university-level research. The program has been successful at universities throughout Idaho.

There cannot be up-to-date, effective medical treatment if there isn't the research to back it up, guide it and take it to new levels, but many Idaho biological sciences and health professions students overlook medical research as a career option. The stories of these two Idaho State University students demonstrate how the program is succeeding in attracting new students to this demanding field.

In a sense, the INBRE program is a minor league for developing scientists who will be asking important questions and pursuing tangible results, all for the sake of advancing humankind's quest for knowledge and contributing to our understanding of human diseases and disorders.

"INBRE is a research program," said Michael Thomas, ISU INBRE director and associate professor of biological sciences. "These students are not here playing kickball. They're playing hardball, doing real science, with the expectation that the research they are doing at Idaho State University will be published in scientific journals."

"I was sometimes putting in 60-hour weeks. It was exhausting, but worth it. I learned a lot of procedures and got to really know how labs work and what it takes to run them."

— Tiffany Doherty

One thing the summer researchers do is work.

"I was sometimes putting in 60-hour weeks," Doherty said. "It was exhausting, but worth it. I learned a lot of procedures and got to really know how labs work and what it takes to run them."

Doherty's mentor, Assistant Professor Brumley, emphasized that Doherty was more than just a lab technician. She had to figure out the protocol and design for her experiment.

"She had to be an independent thinker, to take initiative and problem-solve because other people weren't going to tell her how to do it," Brumley said.

Vincen-Brown found his fellowship equally demanding. He said the first four or five weeks he encountered an especially steep learning curve, being introduced to his laboratory, the project he was working on and having to learn the background about his subject in his spare time. Each of the ISU students also met twice a week for professional development to learn the fundamentals of being a scientist with ISU INBRE co-directors James Groome, a biological sciences associate professor, and Erin Rasmussen, a psychology assistant professor.

"It was definitely total immersion," Vincen-Brown said. "You learn a lot. The first four or five weeks are really intense learning, but the last four or five weeks are even more intense because you're doing what you've learned and then you have to present on the research you've been working on at the end of the summer."

Vincen-Brown did an exceptional job during his fellowship, winning the top prize among the 136 INBRE Fellowship Scholars statewide who presented on their research findings at Idaho INBRE Conference in Moscow in August at the conclusion of the summer program.

Besides the 13 students at ISU, there were students completing fellowships at the University of Idaho and Boise State University. Vincen-Brown won $300 for his efforts, judged on by faculty members involved with INBRE, and the respect of his peers.

"We're really proud of him," said Thomas. "He worked really hard."

Both students have continued to work on university-level research projects at ISU as undergraduates in their respective departments this academic year. Both are trying to become co-authors on ISU studies published in peer-reviewed journals, something that could boost their chances of getting into the graduate program of their choice.

The INBRE program gives solid training and offers its participants to gain their own insights into science.

"I found out, in a good way, that scientific discovery is tedious," Doherty said. "Science is not made up of a lot of 'eureka' moments; that just isn't true. Research is a long process taken up by a lot of people over a long period of time that leads up to those 'eureka' moments."

Biomedical researchers in Idaho may have more of those 'eureka' moments that benefit many due to the INBRE program.

From left, ISU INBRE director Mike Thomas, ISU assistant professor Jason Pilasrski and undergraduate researcher Michael Vincent-Brown in Pilarski's lab.

What is INBRE?

INBRE (Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) program is a statewide program funded by the National Institutes of Health to the tune of $16.5 million over a five-year period. Its mission is to increase Idaho's competitiveness for federal biomedical research funding. Part of reaching that vision is developing new scientists.

INBRE, which is administrated through the University of Idaho, sponsors undergraduate students from Idaho's universities for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. These students serve researchers at Idaho State University, University of Idaho, Boise State University and Boise Veterans Administration Medical Center.

INBRE's five major goals are: 1) To strengthen Idaho's biomedical research infrastructure and expertise by building on the established INBRE Network; 2) To provide support to Idaho faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students to increase the research base and capacity; 3) To provide research opportunities to Idaho undergraduate students and serve as a pipeline for these students to continue in health research careers; 4) To enhance the science and technology knowledge of Idaho's workforce; and, 5) To expand Idaho research opportunities across the Western IDeA Region, consisting of the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming.

2013 INBRE Summer Fellowship participants have already been selected. However, students interested in summer 2014 fellowships or other INBRE opportunities should contact Michael Thomas at mthomas@isu.edu.

In light of the success of the INBRE Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, ISU has decided to build on this program by folding it into the larger ISU Career Path Internship program. The CPI program is designed to provide students with substantive, career building opportunities, and hundreds of students have benefited. The CPI program has formed a partnership with INBRE, and intends to use INBRE's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program as a model for future programs in other disciplines, including ecology and conservation biology, history, geosciences, psychology, and dozens of other fields, according to Thomas.

"The CPI-INBRE partnership represents an intersection of research, education, and career development that creates outstanding opportunities for our students," Thomas said. "The partnership is unique in the state of Idaho and reflects ISU's commitment to ensure our programs reflect the changing needs of our students, preparing them for exciting and productive careers."

More information on Idaho INBRE is available at inbre.uidaho.edu and inbre.isu.edu.