Molecular medicine degree to be offered

The Health Science Center has taken the lead in speeding molecular genetic therapies to patients by introducing the world's first doctoral program in molecular medicine.

Candidates in the program, approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in October 1993, will be trained in the use of molecular biological approaches for the investigation of fundamental biomedical questions associated with the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases.

"Our goal is to shorten the time between discovery in the laboratory and conversion for its use in the clinic," said Sanford A. Miller, PhD, dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. "This program is designed so one person understands both elements in the process." Graduates will receive a doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree.

"We could not have put this together without our world-class group of departments to offer it. This truly was a group affair," Dr. Miller said. Several major universities are creating similar programs, but have yet to offer them, he said.

The molecular medicine degree is the first of its kind in the world, according to Dr. Miller. Paul D. Gardner, PhD, graduate adviser for the program, reported that the university received more than 1,000 inquiries from prospective students when details of the program were published earlier this year.

Faculty for the new program is comprised of both basic and clinical scientists drawn from the departments of cellular and structural biology, medicine, microbiology and pathology. The first degrees are expected to be conferred in 1995. Twenty students enrolled during the past year in the required course of study, anticipating that the program would be approved. According to Dr. Gardner, that number is expected to increase significantly next year now that the program is underway and faculty have a full season to recruit.

First-year students attend core courses in molecular biology, molecular medicine and laboratory techniques. They also perform 10- week stints in the laboratories of individual faculty members. Dr. Gardner said courses will be taught both at the main Health Science Center campus and at the UT Institute of Biotechnology in the Texas Research Park. During their second year, students begin doctoral research and must pass a qualifying examination that includes writing a thesis proposal and defending it in an oral examination.

Dr. Gardner said the Coordinating Board's approval came quickly - about two years after the program was proposed. "The program moved rapidly through the system, but that's not to say it didn't receive a very tough review," Dr. Miller said. Adds Gardner, "The quick approval is a reflection of the need and importance of such a program."