The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
Twice a year, promising postdoctoral scientists embarkon an odyssey of learning and discovery at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Established in 2000 by M. D. Anderson's Scientific Achievement Funds, the Odyssey Program recognizes "the best and the brightest" postdoctoral fellows in innovative cancer research, says Elizabeth L. Travis, Ph.D., associate vice president for academic affairs. The program is funded by two endowments. The Theodore N. Law Endowment for Scientific Achievement was funded by the late Mrs. Theodore N. Law. The Scientific Achievement Fund, created by gifts from numerous donors, includes significant contributions from H-E-B, Houston Endowment Inc., Kimberly-Clark Foundation and The Cockrell Foundation. These endowments are invested in the Long Term Fund.
The Odyssey Program guides budding scientists toward successful, independent careers while helping maintain the high standards in research-based patient care for which M. D. Anderson is known.
Odyssey Fellows must have completed their doctoral degrees or have no more than one year of postdoctoral training. Odyssey Scholars must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree and have no more than three years of postdoctoral training. Fellows and scholars receive salary support at 20 percent above National Institutes of Health guidelines and an annual research allowance for supplies, equipment and travel to scientific meetings in the continental United States.
Recipients submit yearly progress reports to donors in the form of an essay describing the program's impact on his or her work. "It's a way of stewardship," says Travis. "Donors gave to the program specifically to support and encourage these new scientists in the field who hold tremendous promise for innovative research." The annual Odyssey Mini Symposium reinforces a sense of community as fellows and scholars share research with faculty and peers.
The program strives for a balance of departments and disciplines at M. D. Anderson. Odyssey Fellow Hagit Dafni, Ph.D., for example, in the Department of Experimental Diagnostic Imaging, is focusing on the ways blood vessels develop and feed tumors, as well as improved magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that targets the receptor for a certain protein that promotes tumor growth. Her research could improve detection of several types of prostate cancer and could also help doctors monitor treatment more effectively.
In the Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Odyssey Fellow Brenton Scott, Ph.D., is looking at the role of certain proteins in regulating mucus secretion in the airways. His research could lead to better treatments for illnesses such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and pneumonia, a leading cause of death for cancer patients.
In the Department of Immunology, Odyssey Scholar Yongliang Zhang, Ph.D., is researching specific ways to enhance the immune system's ability to destroy cancer cells. He hopes his findings will ultimately provide new therapeutic targets for cancer treatment and also will contribute to the development of novel immunotherapy.
By helping postdoctoral scientists such as these pursue research goals in the stimulating environment at M. D. Anderson, the Odyssey Program provides a long-term legacy. "We're training the next generation of scientists," says Travis. "We must pass the baton when we step down, and it is incumbent upon us to make sure we have the best to carry on."