Dr. John Hartman, assistant professor of medicine in the UAB Department of Genetics, is one of 13 winners of the inaugural Physician-Scientist Early Career Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The award provides $150,000 over three years to promising physician-scientists in their early years as tenure-track faculty at academic medical centers.

HHMI believes the first few years as a junior faculty member are the most critical in a physician-scientist’s career. Research has indicated that the reasons new faculty physicians abandon plans for research careers are lack of flexible funding to accommodate needs of new labs and lack of time to actually do research.

“The Early Career Awards program is one of the best investments we could make in the future of biomedical research,” said William Galey, director of HHMI’s graduate science education and medical research training programs. “There is a pressing need to recruit talented physicians to careers in medical research, to help translate basic science discoveries into new medical therapies for patients.”

Hartman, who earned his medical degree from UAB in 1995, joined the faculty in 2005 following residency and fellowship training at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, both in Seattle.

Hartman’s research focuses on genetic pathways that are involved in human disease but also have an evolutionarily basis in yeast. Yeast is a powerful biological system for genetic analysis, sharing all of the fundamental characteristics of most human cells.

Hartman’s laboratory capitalizes on the power of yeast genetics to go beyond studying effects of single genes to understand complex interactions across gene networks, necessary to develop novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to treat diseases such as cancer. Complex genetic analysis that is not possible in human cells can be performed in yeast and the information used to formulate and test new theories about human disease.

HHMI received nearly 50 applications for the first awards. A panel of leading physician-scientists reviewed the applications, evaluating the applicant’s ability and promise for a research career as a physician-scientist. They considered the quality and quantity of formal research training, the commitment of the applicant’s research institution, the quality of the research environment, the applicant’s commitment to pursuing a biomedical research career and the quality of the proposed research plan.