To this day, virtually every facet of the United States scientific research community remains underrepresented. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) believes that fostering a diverse workplace is key to the advancement of scientific research. Teams with individuals from diverse backgrounds and life experiences bring different perspectives and creativity which can help address complex scientific problems. For this reason, the NIH actively aims to promote diversity in the scientific research workforce and ensure that educational and research opportunities are available to all.
The Diversity Supplements Program was established in 1989 to provide support for individuals from diverse backgrounds looking to develop their careers in research. The program awards funding or salary support to individuals with disabilities or of underrepresented racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic groups. The grant also provides various training opportunities such as working with mentors on a research project and participating in seminars focused on the candidate’s health-related field of interest. From 2005 to 2020, the NIH has awarded diversity supplements to over 2,000 recipients, including high school students, undergraduates, graduate/clinical students, and postdoctorates.
Recently, the NIH awarded the supplement to NDRI’s logistics/biorepository specialist, TJ Fazio. TJ received his Master’s Degree in Biotechnology from Thomas Jefferson University in 2009. He then completed a research fellowship at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now Rowan University School of Medicine) where he studied upregulating the DNAb helicase of Bacillus anthracis. Following his fellowship, he worked as a Program Coordinator/Associate Professor for the Biotechnology program at Camden County College in New Jersey and as an Engineering Consultant at GlaxoSmithKline before joining NDRI in 2022.
With the supplement funding, TJ participates in career-development opportunities in his research field of interest and is completing a research project at NDRI focused on the biobanking of Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM) tissue samples. LAM is a rare, progressive multisystem disorder that predominantly affects women of childbearing age and is caused by the spread of abnormal muscle-like cells in the lungs. TJ is working to evaluate the integrity of long term stored LAM tissue samples from the NDRI inventory and determining factors contributing to investigator interest in these tissues.
TJ is excited for the opportunity to work on the LAM project. Collaborators on the initiative include Susan Sherman and Dr. Nishant Gupta MD at the LAM Foundation and Dr. Vera Krymskaya, PhD, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dr. Krymskaya, who is one of TJ’s mentors on the project, is also an NDRI board member.
With the Diversity Supplement, TJ is able to pursue his research interests and further his long-term goals. He is currently looking to pursue either an JD/LLM with a focus on bioethics and healthcare at Seton Hall University or an MBE/PhD in Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.