University of Illinois graduate students can now apply for fellowships in a new cancer research program, launching in fall 2015, featuring unique clinical experiences.
Carle Health System, through its Cancer Center, and the University of Illinois, through the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Initiative (IHSI), are debuting the Cancer Scholars for Translational and Applied Research (C*STAR) Program, thanks to cross-campus funding and matching support from Carle. IHSI, the uniting initiative for health sciences and technology on the Illinois campus, supports faculty driven research around health challenges, team building, coordinating projects, and managing grant efforts.
C*STAR is a graduate education program that will support translational research. It is a complement to the Cancer Scholars Program, which began during fall 2014. Together with the Beckman-Carle Postdoctoral Fellows program, the University and Carle are now providing opportunities to Illinois students at all levels.
“Illinois researchers and Carle physicians have been engaged in projects together for some time now. What was missing is student engagement. The C*STAR program provides the student access to physicians and resources to conduct innovative studies that eventually benefit patients,” explains Rohit Bhargava, professor in bioengineering and Cancer Community @ Illinois Coordinator.
This campus-wide, interdisciplinary program is sponsored by the colleges of ACES, AHS, Engineering, LAS, and Social Work, as well as the Beckman Institute and Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. C*STAR was developed to encourage near-term benefits to patients served by Carle and in the greater Champaign-Urbana community, and it specifically:
- Funds up to six (6) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate students per year;
- Provides up to three (3) years of funding per student, subject to an annual review of progress;
- Focuses research on clinically-relevant projects related to cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, gastrointestinal, and gynecology;
- Matches students with a UI faculty mentor and a Carle physician mentor for the duration of the research project;
- Allows students and faculty to participate in grand rounds at Carle, site-alternating workshops, and joint seminars.
“The C*STAR Program represents our desire to communicate and share ideas. It allows projects to grow across both institutions. As I consider C*STAR, and the potential of the new medical school, the impact that is possible over the next few decades is extraordinary,” said James C. Leonard, MD, president and chief executive officer, The Carle Foundation.
Magesh Sundaram, MD, division head of oncology services at the Carle Cancer Center, believes even with Carle’s status as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Community Clinical Oncology Research Program, the local cancer research enterprise can go to the next level.
“All of these graduate research projects will be a piece of the puzzle that builds the foundation toward an NIH T32 training grant. We want to grow minds here, and build both organizations so these great minds choose to stay to live here and continue their work in Champaign-Urbana,” Sundaram says.
Lab space exists for new C*STAR research projects on the third floor of Carle’s Cancer Center, which houses the Biomedical Research Center. This area is already home to a few UI cancer research groups and is a nationally-recognized facility delivering comprehensive care through leading-edge technology and advanced research, as well as education and support.
“Cancer has led the way in the Carle-UI partnership, with Illinois researchers and Carle physicians collaborating on cancer-based projects for many years now. Ultimately, we’d like to see 100 percent occupancy rates of the Biomedical Research Center lab facilities on the third floor of the Cancer Center. Partnered programs like C*STAR will help achieve this,” says Neal Cohen, Director of IHSI at Illinois, who oversees the lab space.
Sixian You, graduate student in bioengineering, plans to apply for the program. She says direct interaction with physicians is a critical component of C*STAR.
“What’s important to me is to know my scientific research is feasible,” she says. “Research can become very silo-ed, but if I have more and better interactions with physicians I can learn how my research may be applied to clinical situations. Talking with an oncologist gives me a big picture view of how my science can actually help people.”
The one-page C*STAR application requires a brief description of the student’s proposed research project, and is available at cancer.illinois.edu/education/graduate. Applications are due June 1, 2015.