UF College of Pharmacy receives training grant interfacing chemistry and biology

A predoctoral training grant led by researchers at the University of Florida will help train the next generation of biomedical scientists and interface their interests in chemistry and biology.

Chenglong Li
Chenglong Li, Ph.D., a professor of medicinal chemistry and the Nicholas Bodor Professor in Drug Discovery in the UF College of Pharmacy

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, or NIGMS, awarded a five-year, $800,500 grant to establish the “Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program at the University of Florida.” Chenglong Li, Ph.D., a professor of medicinal chemistry and the Nicholas Bodor Professor in Drug Discovery in the UF College of Pharmacy, and Michael Harris, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry in the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will serve as principal investigators and program directors. The program draws support from 35 tenure-track faculty from 10 departments in four UF colleges, offering a collaborative training environment that draws upon experience in the basic and biomedical sciences as well as engineering.

“Biomedical research is an essential area where we need to train more researchers who can develop scientific knowledge and technology, and contribute to human health and a high-tech economy,” Li said. “This grant will put UF on the frontier of this type of training, as our program becomes the first NIGMS Chemistry-Biology Interface program in Florida.”

The T32 award will fund four predoctoral students each year and build the foundation for a greater understanding of chemistry and biology among young scientists.

Michael Harris
Michael Harris, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry in the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

“This training program will fund second- and third-year Ph.D. students who are at the formative time in their graduate studies, as they are picking a research lab and beginning to explore their scientific career interests,” Harris said. “Many career goals will be reinforced during these training years, while they learn communication skills, professional ethics, how to responsibly conduct research and engage in early career development activities such as presentations at conferences and seminars.”

Graduates students supported by the T32 award will be expected to recognize and address modern research problems that cut across traditional boundaries of chemistry and biology. They will use technological advances in both theoretical and experimental approaches and benefit from an inclusive and supportive training community at UF. Each trainee will be mentored by a tenure-track faculty member.

Li and Harris expect the high-impact training experience will broadly impact all graduate students in UF’s biomedical programs. Interdisciplinary teams will tackle significant scientific questions, with a focus on topics in chemical biology and drug discovery. The first awards are expected to be announced by July 1, 2020.

“We’re excited about the impact this grant will have in training new biomedical scientists and strengthening the collaboration between faculty in the departments interfacing chemistry and biology,” Li said. “UF has made a significant investment in building its chemical biology and drug discovery research programs, and this training grant will help us create a uniquely powerful and synergistic training environment among the departments.”

Establishment of the UF Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program is another positive development following UF’s “preeminent” designation by the Florida State Legislature and state government leaders in 2013. With the designation came an investment in education and resources aimed at achieving national excellence. The Preeminence Initiative helped the university recruit talented scientists, including Li, Harris and several other T32 faculty trainers, to join its accomplished existing faculty and expand its research footprint in critical areas such as chemical biology, medicinal chemistry and drug discovery.

The Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program is the first predoctoral T32 award received by the UF College of Pharmacy. In 2018, The National Human Genome Research Institute awarded a T32 postdoctoral research training grant to Julie Johnson, Ph.D., dean and distinguished professor, to train scientists in genomic medicine.