Medical Students Awarded Year-Long Research Fellowships

By Lee Hogan

Thomas “Chad” Binns and Christopher Moutos, juniors in the UAMS College of Medicine, will take leave from their medical studies next year to conduct mentored research that they proposed when applying for the HHMI Medical Research Fellows Program.

Binns, who plans to train in pathology after medical school, will work at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus near Ashburn, Virginia, with HHMI researchers Luke Lavis, Ph.D., and Zhe Liu, Ph.D. The team is developing a palette of new fluorescent chemical compounds, called fluorophores, that will help clinicians and scientists better visualize molecular processes in living cells.

Moutos, who plans to train in obstetrics and gynecology, will work at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, with HHMI investigator Ronald Evans, Ph.D. Moutos will study proteins called recombinant fibroblast growth factors to explore their potential as new, safe and more effective therapies for regulating metabolic control and diabetes.

“Throughout medical school, I became interested not only in how we do things as physicians, but also in how we can do them better,” said Moutos, who is from Little Rock and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

“When it comes to being a physician, the reality is that I will only have a finite amount of time to spend one-on-one with each patient,” Moutos said. “However, as a scientist, there will be many more patients I may never come in contact with, but whom I can still help through research.”

Binns, who is from Star City, and received his undergraduate degree from Hendrix College in Conway, said he has been “driven by a sense of discovery” since childhood.

“I view biomedical research as a sort of intellectual exploration,” Binns said. “Becoming a physician-scientist will enable me to satisfy my desire for discovery while also directly impacting the lives of others through patient care.”

Binns and Moutos both said they hope to eventually practice and conduct research at an academic medical center.

The ranks of physician-scientists, also known as clinician-scientists, have been declining nationwide. The need for more physician-scientists in the years ahead has been recognized by biomedical research-supporting agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, and by UAMS and other academic medical centers around the country.

“As biomedical knowledge and medical practice become more complex, we need physician-scientists to help effectively and efficiently translate research findings into better treatments and improved health,” said UAMS College of Medicine Dean Pope L. Moseley, M.D., a physician-scientist who is highly regarded for his research in exercise physiology and disease systems biology.

“It is a long, difficult process to move discoveries from the laboratory into clinical practice and to then evaluate and improve on those new therapies,” Moseley said. “Physician-scientists see and understand the needs of their patients in the clinic, and they have the scientific training that is crucial for conducting translational research that results in better care.”

“Chad and Christopher are outstanding students with very bright futures as physician-scientists, and we are very pleased that they have been awarded the Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowships,” Moseley said.

Binns and Moutos have been active in research as students.

Binns’ activities included working with a team at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, to identify and characterize various subsets of renal cells that produce erythropoietin, a hormone that controls red blood cell production. Most recently he has been working on a case report for a presentation at a national scientific conference with Eric Rosenbaum, M.D., an assistant professor of pathology at UAMS.

Moutos has participated in research at the University of Arkansas and the USDA-supported Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center. He also worked on epidemiological research into trends in obesity and diabetes with researchers at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Moutos and Binns are among 66 medical and veterinary students selected as HHMI Medical Research Fellows for the 2016-2017 academic year. The $3 million annual, privately funded non-profit initiative allows students to conduct in-depth basic, translational or applied biomedical research at academic or non-profit research institutions throughout the United States. Students applied to work with mentors of their choice and submitted a research proposal.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for these students to build their careers as clinician-scientists,” said Charlotte Hobbs, M.D., Ph.D., who is a pediatrician and national leader in birth defects research as well as executive associate dean for research in the College of Medicine. “I am just thrilled that Chad and Christopher are so highly motivated to improve medical care and patients’ lives through transformative research.”