By Walter G. Hubert, Guest Writer
National laboratories have a knack for assembling critical mass … and Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, the newest kid on the block among such recognized research and development (R&D) leaders like Los Alamos, Oakridge, Sandia, and others, is just the place to bring together the brightest minds to take on the toughest challenges in cancer and AIDS research.
In addition to the recent recognition as a national laboratory, the former NCI-Frederick is reinventing itself to more effectively deliver on our noble mission of bridging the gap between discovery and health care delivery. Among many other changes, this evolution includes the creation of a Visiting Scholars Program (VSP), which will add a new intellectual dimension to our operations by inviting scholars from around the world to join our efforts.
The VSP was developed by Debonny Shoaf, Ph.D., senior scientific administrator at Frederick National Lab, and is similar to the Laboratory Directed Research & Development Program, which enhances core competencies at the Department of Energy national laboratories to ensure that they maintain a cutting edge in the ever-changing landscape of technology-driven R&D.
The VSP at Frederick is tailored to the diverse needs of our unique community of government and contractor scientists, and thus will specifically enhance the work we do here, at the only national laboratory of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Up to now, visitors to Frederick came primarily at the invitation of individual scientists, to focus their efforts on collaborative projects within a specific laboratory. In contrast, the VSP will attract and direct visiting scholars to the more fundamental needs of entire programs at Frederick.
This new approach affords a visitor the broadest access to the resources within Frederick National Lab. It is also in line with our training mission of preparing the next generation of translational scientists for a career in cancer and AIDS research.
As such, we anticipate that visiting scholars will not just contribute an influx of new ideas to our programs, but also will catalyze synergy within our highly interdisciplinary environment.
What’s Next for the VSP
In this first year of operation, the VSP seeks primarily to survey the scientific community about coming to Frederick as a visiting scholar. We expect to determine the level of interest in current Frederick National Lab–defined opportunities and also to solicit proposals from applicants who would like to complement ongoing efforts in our programs and laboratories.
Learning the circumstances of prospective visitors and their need for support will help define the VSP’s budgetary future. Currently, the Office of Scientific Operations at Frederick is providing funds for applicants whose approaches and projects are ranked sufficiently high by a panel of resident experts, and whose funding needs can be accommodated. Of special interest are those visiting scholars, who do not require salary support from the Frederick National Lab.
The VSP could also take on a larger role, should other NCI divisions, offices, and centers become sponsoring members. Eventually, the VSP is expected to become the overarching entity at the Frederick National Laboratory, one that reaches out to scientists at all levels, from motivated postdoctoral fellows establishing their careers to Nobel laureates seeking creative outlets or new venues.
Complementing Our R&D Mission
Translational research aims to take discoveries from the basic research laboratory into the real world of clinical trials for new treatments and diagnostics. This process of applied research works best at the confluence of the right scientific expertise, programmatic commitment, and diverse institutional resources.
By motivating new intellectual potential towards the more challenging problems in cancer and AIDS research, the VSP will complement our R&D mission and play a key role in the success of the new Frederick National Laboratory.
Indeed, critical mass is needed for making a difference in patients’ lives.
Walter Hubert, Ph.D., is an assistant project officer, Office of Scientific Operations.