A New Perspective in Team Science
The Cardiovascular Surgery Research Laboratory uses an integrative bedside- to-bench-to-bedside approach to translational research, exploring many aspects of cardiothoracic and vascular diseases but perhaps none more so than research in aortic aneurysm disease.
Jeff Jones, Ph.D. and Jean Ruddy, M.D. work collaboratively to study mechanisms underlying several key cardiovascular diseases. These collaborative investigations into initiation and propagation of thoracic and abdominal aortic aneurysms are able to occur in a single laboratory since many experimental techniques overlap, both at the benchtop and in small animal modeling.
Ruddy’s interest in aortic pathology during residency led her to step away from clinical training to pursue two years of dedicated research training in the cardiovascular research lab under the mentorship of Drs. John Ikonomidis and Jeff Jones.
With the support from an NIH institutional T-32 training grant (Training to Improve Cardiovascular Therapies; T32 HL007260-42), she explored tension related protease production in the thoracic aorta and benefited from Jones’ insights on experimental design and data analysis on a daily basis.Jones’ experience in preparing graduate students for careers built on scientific inquiry, combined with Ruddy’s hard work and unrelenting desire to do research, resulted in the publication of three high-impact journal articles and Ruddy winning the prestigious American Heart Association’s Vivien Thomas Young Investigator Award during her research training.
Given the opportunity to revisit this mentor-mentee relationship when Ruddy joined the Department of Surgery faculty in 2014, it was an easy decision on both sides.
A faculty position carries additional responsibilities and new challenges, however; so the team immediately began to focus on resource management, protected time, and steps toward independence.
Ultimately, the purpose of the research collaborations is to enhance the quality and the creativity of the science, as well as to provide assistance in navigating the early years of a research career. The most beneficial collaborations take place naturally because of the nature of the work, but mentorship shouldn’t be restricted to one phase of a long-term career. In fact, Jones encouraged Ruddy to establish multiple mentors that can provide guidance for all aspects of her life (e.g. research, clinical, work-life balance, etc.).
As the cardiovascular research lab’s pathologic interests expanded, Jones provided valuable insights to account for confounding variables and maintain scientific rigor, while Ruddy’s medical background enabled her to see opportunities to optimize clinical relevance.
Through the ability to bring together their independent areas of expertise to bear, the team is able to have a greater impact together than either could achieve working independently; a critical goal of translational research in order to investigate topics from the bedside to the bench and back.
“Collaborating with someone who has complementary expertise provides access to different perspectives and helps avoid tunnel vision,” said Ruddy. “Jeff’s friendship and mentorship is a bonus.”In addition, the two collaborate closely with basic and clinical science investigators outside of their respective divisions in the Department of Surgery, including faculty and trainees from Adult and Pediatric Cardiology, Pathology, and Cell and Regenerative Medicine.
These collaborations bring unique viewpoints to common problems and add a layer of complexity to their training efforts.While team science is essential to achieve funding in the modern medical research community, it also allows for effective mentorship of trainees from multiple backgrounds. In just the past few years, the Cardiovascular Surgery Research Laboratory has provided research training to high school, undergraduate, medical, and graduate students, as well as post-docs and surgical residents.
“Our goal is to conduct world-class research in cardiothoracic and vascular disease, educate our next-generation of surgical investigators, and build a model laboratory that focuses on cultivating a long-lasting interest in aortic research in order to provide a foundation for careers in scientific investigation,” said Jones.“By refining and focusing the interests of our trainees, it helps them to build confidence in their own abilities and integrate into the team.”