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Utrecht Summer School 2017


Eve Smith (PReS), Maya Breitman, Theresa Wampler-Muskardin

With sponsorship from CARRA and the Arthritis Foundation, Maya Breitman and Theresa Wampler-Muskardin attended the Utrecht University Summer School course “Why Translational Medicine Fails-And What to do About it” this past July in the Netherlands. This course was created and is directed by the EUREKA Institute of Translational Medicine (  EUREKA is a not-for-profit organization established in 2008 by leaders in the field of translational medicine (including pediatric rheumatologist Berent Prakken).

“The birth of Eureka arises from the realization that the itinerary from molecular to clinical medicine requires a seamless trajectory to insure that talent, ideas, and potential cures are captured. An important resource and one that is a fundamental unmet need is human capital: a person who is a builder of bridges, who has the knowledge, the skill and the desire to navigate the challenges and components of this complex field. System-wide networks which can inspire, catalyze and sustain Translational Medicine on an international scale simply do not exist. These unmet needs are perceived as the main hurdle to the integration between Molecular and Clinical Medicine into a seamless gradient leading to a patient-centered approach to healing (Precision Medicine).”  (

As part of their education and community building effort, EUREKA (jointly with the Science in Transition team from UMC Utrecht) offers the summer school course, which focuses on translational medicine issues in rare and orphan diseases. Designed with insights gleaned through EUREKA’s experience, the summer school course masterfully tackles the intrinsic difficulties of effective translational medicine in rare and orphan diseases.  Whereas EUREKA’s Certificate course is intended for more established investigators, the Utrecht Summer School course is meant for early stage researchers.  The days are full but high-yield, interactive, and truly engaging.   

During the course they heard from Dr. Frank Miedema, UMC Utrecht dean and initiator of Science in Transition (  Science in Transition is a Dutch initiative in which four distinguished scientists gave a piercing analysis of the current state of Dutch universities.  The “current state” is really the same in the U.S.: “Current incentives combined with hyper competition for limited funds have severe negative effects: many publications of poor quality and limited societal impact; risk aversion and avoiding complex, multidisciplinary problems; systematic under-appreciation of education and other academic duties; very poor career perspectives for young scientists.”  Science in Transition received a lot of attention from public, policy makers and scientists, and started a tide of change in the Netherlands.  As early stage clinician-scientists in the U.S., learning about Science in Transition was inspiring and empowering.  Through the remainder of the course we were able to gain insight into how modern science works and were able to reflect upon their own role, expectations and potential actions we may want to make to achieve our goals as scientists. 

Working with their classmates and experienced translational researchers in rare disease, we got to know the road from bench to bedside guided by a real-life case.  We learned about their personal communication styles and had practice collaborating across disciplines and cultures.  They learned to appreciate and align different interests of different stakeholders.  The course emphasized the importance of collaboration across disciplines and institutes to benefit patients and the importance of patient/parent involvement in all stages of research.  We learned why protecting intellectual property is crucial to successful innovation and translational medicine, and gained insights from others in navigating innovation between academia and industry.  The fact that science is team work was reinforced and we learned about leadership development in translational medicine. 

During the course, we had time directed toward personal reflection.  This allowed us to create our own “personal manifesto” and start our own leadership and innovation toolkit within the context of translational medicine.  We had personal mentoring by experienced senior mentors, and were able to have inspirational speed counseling with several established and successful junior clinical scientists.

The focus on rare diseases was perfect for translational researchers who focus on pediatric inflammatory and rheumatic diseases.  It was an outstanding opportunity to learn from leaders in translational medicine in rare diseases and to connect with others who desire to do the same.  The course exceeded their expectations.  Not only were we able to learn about the latest developments in the field of translational medicine but we were also given excellent opportunity to better understand the interconnection between the basic science to the clinical aspects of translational medicine.  For translational scientists involved mostly in basic research, the course also delivered new insights, tools and competence to navigate the difficult track from the bench to the bedside.  This course is a wonderful opportunity to make new connections with other translational medicine researchers from around the globe and actually build a foundation for future collaboration.  We both highly recommend this course to anyone who has a desire to pursue a career in translational medicine, and are tremendously grateful to CARRA and the Arthritis Foundation for the support to be able to attend! 

Maya Breitman, Ph.D., and Theresa Wampler-Muskardin, M.D.

The 2018 course will take place July 9-13, 2018. Be on the lookout for the call for applications which will be distributed in February 2018. Meeting organizers promise that “you will not only obtain insight in how science really works, but more importantly, you will acquire knowledge on how to be a successful translational researcher yourself. This course is specifically not about learning how to ‘play the game’, but about understanding that there is a game going on, what the rules of the game are and to be able to transcend it.”