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Vol. LXI, No. 4
February 20, 2009
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NINR Celebrates First Graduates of Graduate Partnerships Program

Dr. Anne Ersig (r), receives her GPP certificate from NINR deputy director Dr. Mary Kerr
Dr. Anne Ersig (r), receives her GPP certificate from NINR deputy director Dr. Mary Kerr.

NINR recently celebrated the first two graduates from its Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP) in Biobehavioral Research, Drs. Anne Letocha Ersig and Katherine Balk Meilleur. The program allows outstanding nursing graduate students from universities across the country to conduct part of their doctoral research on the NIH campus.

Ersig, a board-certified pediatric nurse practitioner, obtained her doctoral degree from the University of Iowa. Before starting her research career, she worked as a clinician in pediatric intensive care. In 2001, she completed the NINR Summer Genetics Institute, a 2-month doctoral-level program in genetics research, practice and policy. Afterward, she became a research coordinator at NICHD. “Within about a year, I realized that I wanted to be conducting my own independent research,” she said.

What she remembered most about the GPP was “coming to campus and finding out about all of the opportunities available. For example, I was able to take courses in writing, teaching and making scientific presentations.”

While at NIH, Ersig’s research focused on families at risk for or affected by hereditary health conditions. Upon graduation, she accepted a position as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iowa. “The NINR GPP opened many professional and educational doors for me.”

Dr. Katy Meilleur (r) with Dr. Charles Rotimi, director of the Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health at NHGRI
Dr. Katy Meilleur (r) with Dr. Charles Rotimi, director of the Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health at NHGRI

Meilleur started her career in a genetics lab after receiving a B.S. in biology. Later, she entered nursing and worked in neonatal intensive care while pursuing her master’s degree as a pediatric nurse practitioner. Like Ersig, she also participated in the SGI, which helped spur her interest in research. “I wanted to combine genetics with nursing because I saw the future importance and impact of this combination,” said Meilleur. She completed her doctoral studies through Johns Hopkins University.

Her research project focused on searching for novel genes for neurogenetic diseases and describing patients’ knowledge and attitudes about genetic testing in Mali, Africa. “My most memorable experience was my time in Africa, seeing patients in their homes and collecting data with an amazing team of genetics counselors, nurses and physicians from the U.S., Mali and France,” she said. “The GPP gave me an opportunity to work with expert researchers at NIH who believed in me and in the importance of international health disparities.”

Meilleur is currently working as a research fellow with the new Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health at NHGRI.

Following in these footsteps, nurse Taura Barr, a GPP scholar from the University of Pittsburgh, will soon be completing her doctoral research on DNA damage sensor/signaling proteins and outcomes following traumatic brain injury. She expects to defend her dissertation this spring. In addition, there are currently seven other scholars in the program.

NINR director Dr. Patricia Grady said, “These young scientists exemplify how the NIH Intramural Program is preparing the scientists of the future.” NIHRecord Icon

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