Medical University of South Carolina graduate wins NIH Director’s Early Independence Award
The $1.25 million award will enable Jasper Heinsbroek, Ph.D., a recent graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina, to jumpstart his career as a drug addiction researcher
Credit: Photograph provided by Dr. Heinsbroek
Jasper Heinsbroek, Ph.D., a recent graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), is one of only 12 young investigators in the nation to receive the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Early Independence Award (DP5) for 2018.
The award supports high-achieving investigators who want to pursue independent research directly after completion of their doctoral degree. The five-year, $1.25 million grant will enable Heinsbroek, who completed his doctoral training under the mentorship of Peter W. Kalivas, Ph.D., in the Department of Neuroscience at MUSC, to start his career as an independent addiction researcher.
“The program is meant to fast-track early-career scientists and allow them to bypass the traditional route of doing a postdoc,” says Heinsbroek.
Postdoctoral scholarship can range anywhere from one to eight years, but over time the average postdoc duration has been increasing gradually. Most Ph.D. graduates use postdoctoral training to help prepare them for a career as an independent scientist. However, a select few already possess the necessary skills for independent research, and for them, a postdoctoral fellowship could pose an unnecessary delay to their career. To give these young researchers an opportunity for independence earlier than usual, The Office of the NIH Director commissioned the DP5 award.
Following an internal institutional competition, Heinsbroek was nominated by MUSC’s Office of Research Development to apply for the DP5 award. Over the next four months, he collected preliminary data and completed his DP5 proposal in between experiments for his dissertation. After his application was positively reviewed by an NIH study section, he was invited to travel to Washington, D.C. to present his research proposal to an expert review panel alongside other finalists. As a recipient of the DP5 and with training received at MUSC, he will now be able to establish himself as an independent researcher.
“MUSC’s faculty training programs allowed me to improve my skills in lab management and mentoring of my trainees and have increased my chances for obtaining continued research funding,” explains Heinsbroek.
Heinsbroek recently transitioned from MUSC to the University of Colorado Denver, where he is now an assistant professor. There, he plans to follow up on some of his doctoral research, focusing on changes in the brain reward system that cause drug relapse. This includes a study led by Heinsbroek during his time in the Kalivas laboratory at MUSC, which was published last month in the Journal of Neuroscience.
These findings and the proposal funded by the DP5 have the potential to open up a new area of research into drug addiction, one that could lead to the development of new therapeutics and a better understanding of the disorder.
“Addiction treatment and mental health care in general have not improved much over the last couple of decades, compared to other fields in medicine” says Heinsbroek.
“I want to dedicate my energy and the focus of my research to help improve our understanding of addiction and contribute to advancing treatment options for mental illness.”
The DP5 award will put Dr. Heinsbroek in a unique position to investigate his novel ideas and ultimately realize this goal.
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the oldest medical school in the South, as well as the state’s only integrated, academic health sciences center with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and 700 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. The state’s leader in obtaining biomedical research funds, in fiscal year 2018, MUSC set a new high, bringing in more than $276.5 million. For information on academic programs, visit http://musc.
As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality patient care available, while training generations of competent, compassionate health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Comprising some 1,600 beds, more than 100 outreach sites, the MUSC College of Medicine, the physicians’ practice plan, and nearly 275 telehealth locations, MUSC Health owns and operates eight hospitals situated in Charleston, Chester, Florence, Lancaster and Marion counties. In 2018, for the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the number one hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit http://muschealth.
MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $3 billion. The more than 17,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care.