Dr. Michael Ryan listens to Kristen Smith, SURE student in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, during the 2019 Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium.
Kristen Smith, a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience student, explains her project to Dr. Michael Ryan during the SURE Symposium in summer 2019. SURE is a pipeline training program that is part of the Mississippi Diversity in Hypertension and Cardiorenal Research Program, which was recently awarded a “Perfect 10” score by a National Institutes of Health review committee.
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Doubly perfect: NIH bestows highest marks to UMMC Research

Published on Monday, December 28, 2020

By: Bruce Coleman

In gymnastics, it was once thought impossible. In surfing, it’s considered rarely attainable.

No matter the discipline, achieving a “Perfect 10” is a notable triumph. To repeat the feat is remarkable.

Yet that’s just what scientists at the University of Mississippi Medical Center accomplished earlier this year when a National Institutes of Health review committee crowned a pair of its training programs with a Perfect 10 score.

Portrait of Dr. Joey Granger

“It is highly unusual to receive a score of 10, especially during first submission,” said Dr. Joey Granger, dean of the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor and professor of physiology and medicine at UMMC. “I think such an achievement speaks highly of the quality of mentors and research training at UMMC for our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and summer experience for our undergraduate students.”

Granger received a $2 million NIH award - and perfect score - for the “Cardiovascular-Renal Research Center’s Hypertension and Cardiorenal Diseases Research (HCDR) Training Program, while Dr. Michael Ryan, UMMC professor of physiology and biophysics and director of graduate studies, obtained a $414,000 NIH grant - and immaculate tally - for the “Mississippi Diversity in Hypertension and Cardiorenal Research Program.”

No less an authority than Dr. David D. Gutterman, Northwestern Mutual Professor of Medicine and senior associate director of the Cardiovascular Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin, described the Medical Center’s two “Perfect 10” NIH research grant scores as “an extraordinarily unusual achievement.”

Portrait of David Gutterman

“It signifies incredibly impactful, innovative and well-written grants with no weaknesses,” Gutterman said. “The best of the best rarely achieve this score, since each of the dozen or more members of the NIH review panel must be in agreement to allow for such an outcome.

“Receiving a score of 10 is comparable to pitching a perfect game in Major League Baseball, an amateur bowler scoring 300 or an NFL running back rushing for 200 yards in a single game. Having two grants from the same school simultaneously receive such a score is unprecedented, as far as I can tell.

In its tenth year, the HCDR’s main objective, according to Granger, is to “recruit, train and mentor pre-doctoral and postdoctoral students in hypertension and cardiovascular renal research so that they become the next generation of researchers in this field.”

“To achieve this goal, the CRRC continues to provide a stimulating and productive mentoring environment for pre-doctoral and postdoctoral students,” he said. “The HCDR Training Program not only capitalizes on the expertise of a strong group of basic science and clinical investigators in the field of cardiovascular and renal research at UMMC, but also the resources provided by these established laboratories and the CRRC core facilities.”

“Receiving a perfect 10 is professional recognition of the incredible legacy of this program,” Gutterman said, “as well as its future potential for training effectiveness, recruitment, mentorship and development of the next generation of cardiovascular and renal scientists.

“As a member of the program’s External Advisory Committee, I am especially impressed, actually blown away, by the unparalleled success in recruiting outstanding trainees, including a high percentage of minority applicants. I know of no other program in the country that comes close to having such a rich pipeline of competitive candidates, especially minority candidates.”

The other “Perfect 10” awardee, the Mississippi Diversity in Hypertension and Cardiorenal Research Program, functions as a pipeline training grant for undergraduate students.

“The goal of the program was to provide resources that would increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in biomedical research and improve the pipeline for biomedical research careers,” Ryan said. “The objective, more specifically, is to annually provide financial support for 12 undergraduate students who are underrepresented minorities to participate in summer research at UMMC.”

The competitive renewal of the proposal was awarded for April 2020 through March 2025, which represent years 7 through 11 in the successful funding of the program.

Ryan credited the program’s strong outcomes during its early years for the top score on its competitive renewal application.

“Nearly all of the students funded by this grant ended up in biomedical research or health-related career paths,” he said. “Therefore, the grant achieved its overall goal, which increased the likelihood of earning more funding.

“Naturally the success of the program also hinges on the outstanding undergraduate students that I have been fortunate to fund, along with the mentors, graduate students, fellows and staff from each lab who spend time to make sure that these undergraduates have a good experience.”