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Dr. Jennifer Tang teaches Emergency Obstetric & Neonatal Care to a nurse midwife at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi

The UNC CFAR Developmental Core provides mentoring support for junior investigators who are interested in pursuing an HIV research career. The Core provides funding to junior investigators and experienced investigators new to the field of HIV research. They work collaboratively with other CFAR Cores to connect investigators with scientific and career mentors. One of the primary aims of the Core is to help support junior investigators in preparing grant applications, executing projects, writing manuscripts, and developing large-scale proposals to the NIH.

Recently, the UNC CFAR was distinguished as the best in “return on investments” (ROI) through the Developmental Core. For each dollar bestowed through Developmental grants, Awardees obtained $16.50 in follow-up grants from the NIH. This return on investment is approximately double the average of the ROI for CFARs around the country.

Cathy Emrick, Developmental Grant Manager, shared that the Core “provides access to mentorship, funding, and research infrastructure at the University to help new investigators with career development”. In fact, this grant program is how many prestigious HIV scholars kick-start their careers. Jennifer Tang, MD, M.S.C.R., is an Assistant Professor at the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases. She was funded by a Developmental Award as a post-doctoral student in 2013 and received a large R01 grant from NIH in 2016 to continue her work. Tang shared, “I’m really grateful to have received the UNC CFAR Developmental Award as it provided me with the additional funding I needed to complete my K01 study. Both the Developmental Award and my K01 then provided me with the research experience I needed to successfully apply for an R01, which is based on my CFAR/K01-funded study.”

Originally pioneered by Dr. Charles van der Horst, Professor Emeritus, the program offers small grants to many individuals to help encourage their professional growth. Emrick shared that, at the onset of the program, they agreed to “cast a wide net” to help as many people as possible. Emrick said, “this new data on ROI shows that our approach is working to engage many newcomers to the HIV research field. Our investment is truly a lot more than just funds. It includes mentorship and a solid foundation in research at the CFAR through the support of other Cores and Scientific Working Groups.”

Dr. Kate MacQueen, Developmental Core Director, helps to bridge the gap between UNC and FHI 360, one of our two partner organizations. She offers the experience and expertise needed to connect new HIV investigators to the resources they need to succeed. The Core provides detailed feedback for proposals, regardless of whether they receive funding. This is part of an ongoing commitment to help provide support to everyone who has an interest in the field of HIV research, particularly those who work at institutions where there is less research infrastructure available to work toward receiving NIH funding.

Emrick shared that “the Developmental Core is often the entry point to the CFAR and what it has to offer. After pursuing funding with us, whether their proposals are funded or not, investigators are connected to regulatory services through Clinical or International core, statistical consultation through the Biostatistics Core, scientific and lab resources through the Virology, Immunology & Microbiology Core and the Clinical Core, and much more. All of these Cores provide discounted or free services that are very essential for new investigators and Developmental Awardees.”

This year, the Developmental Core is implementing a new policy that requires Awardees to give a presentation on their work to the CFAR Core Directors at the halfway point in their funding. The Core is hoping to expand on their program to offer constructive feedback on implementation of funding resources and to help these investigators clarify their long-term visions. The ultimate goal is to provide them with effective guidance toward crafting a successful NIH grant application. The Core is also exploring the idea of more extensive networking among Awardees to create a supportive cohort.