IUSM Student Research Program in Academic Medicine caps successful season with poster session

September 11, 2014

The life of a medical student doesn't always involve a lot of "rest and relaxation." But the time between the first and second year does include a bit of a break for exploration and experimentation.

Second-year medical students, from left, Daniel Murphy, Colin Ip, Romina Deldar and Erica Ting, participated in the IUSM Student Research Program in Academic Medicine. | Photo By Kevin Fryling

For those who participate in the IUSM Student Research Program in Academic Medicine -- a 12-week lab research program for rising second-year medical students -- that experimentation is literal. Program participants spend their summer with a faculty mentor conducting lab work in academic medical research. These students wrapped up the final phase of this year's program Sept. 4 with a poster presentation in the atrium of the VanNuys Medical Science Building. 

"The summer between your first and second year is one of the best times to do research if you're going to do any research at all," said Erica Ting, a second-year medical student who spent her summer conducting research with applications to pain management in the lab of Matthew Bair, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the IU School of Medicine. "It's the only time that I felt I would be able to really immerse myself in a project and, as someone who hopes to pursue a future in primary care, pain seemed like a very relevant topic to study."

The director of the IU School of Medicine Student Research Program in Academic Medicine is Nadia Carlesso, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics and medical and molecular genetics, who revived the program in 2008.

"The mission of this program is to expose medical students to biomedical research -- to really give them an opportunity to experience three months of laboratory or clinical research," said Dr. Carlesso, who is also a member of the IU Simon Cancer Center and Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research. "We want to spark their enthusiasm for research so they contemplate careers in academic medicine. The long-term goal of the program is to generate more physician-scientists by starting at the roots."

She said a number of past participants have been inspired to apply to Ph.D. programs, including several who successfully entered the M.D./Ph.D. program at the IU School of Medicine. Others have earned scholarships to spend a year working in labs, including students accepted into the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and MS in Translational Medicine programs at the IU School of Medicine. Another past participant in the program, Richa Sharma, now a fourth-year medical student, earned an elective internship in pediatrics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital through the Harvard Medical School.

Nadia Carlesso, M.D., Ph.D., director of the IUSM Student Research Program in Academic Medicine, announced the poster session winners. | Photo By Kevin Fryling

"Some students also keep in touch with their mentors and take research electives, or simply try to incorporate their research into their clinical interests," Carlesso said. "We've really gotten a lot of students excited about research over the past six years."

One of this year's participants who plans to stay engaged in academic research is second-year medical student Vanessa Gallien. She has been invited to return to the lab of her mentor, Gustavo A. Arrizabalaga, M.D., associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology and microbiology and immunology, each summer for the rest of her time at IU.

"I just had such a great experience this summer… this program made me want to continue to pursue a career in research," said Gallien, whose summer work contributed to basic research on potential drug targets for toxoplasmosis, a common parasite that endangers infants and people with poor immune systems. "I worked very closely with Ph.D. students and postdocs, and Dr. Arrizabalaga was such a great mentor. We met weekly to go over results and discuss the research."

Other student participants in the program pointed out that lab research helped them develop a more personal appreciation for the effort that goes into the development of new treatments and therapies.

"I think it's very valuable seeing a bit of the process that goes into making those discoveries," said Colin Ip, a second-year medical student who performed research with applications to chronic kidney disease in the lab of Kenneth White, Ph.D., David D. Weaver Professor of Genetics and medical and molecular genetics at the IU School of Medicine. "As future physicians, we're going to be prescribing medicines that were once developed in a lab."

The program is also a welcome opportunity to step outside the day-to-day rush of studying for the next medical exam, said Daniel Murphy, a second year medical student who contributed to research related to pediatric leukemia in the lab of Dr. Carlesso.

Vanessa Gallien, a second-year medical student who conducted research this summer in the lab of Gustavo A. Arrizabalaga, M.D. 

"One thing that research does is it changes the way you approach problems," he said. "The first few years of medical school involve a lot of memorization. But in the lab you really need to think critically about problems and put together a plan of how to solve it. A few years from now, when we're diagnosing patients, I think it's going to involve some similar mental skills. The ability to think critically about problems early in your medical education is really valuable."

"Of all the things I learned this summer, I'm going to remember most how the lab requires you to learn fast and think on your feet," Gallien added. "Even if I don't get to do research again after medical school, I'll carry that experience and those skills with me for the rest of my life."

The poster session Sept. 4 also featured prizes for the top nine poster presentations. The winners, who each received $200, were:

  • Madison Conces, "Whole genome sequencing to identify the genetic etiology of the TIM-1 thymoma mouse model." Mentors: Milan Radovich, Ph.D., and Patrick Loehrer, M.D.
  • Mickey Eagleson, "Cardioprotective effects of glucagon-like Peptide 1 in obese swine with ischemic heart disease." Mentor: Johnathan Tune, Ph.D.
  • Michael Johnston, "The dark side of radiation therapy: Platelet-activating factor agonists generated as a by-product of radiation therapy augment melanoma tumor growth." Mentor: Jeffrey Travers, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Jogesh Jonna, "Enriched cd146+ adipose stromal cells display increased migration and adhesion." Mentor: Rajashekhar Gangaraju, Ph.D.
  • Nicholas Kamp, "Measuring cardiac sympathetic tone via subcutaneous and cutaneous nerve activity." Mentor: Peng-Sheng Chen, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Aava Khatiwada, "HSP90 secretion by cytokine stressed pancreatic β-cells." Mentor: Janice Blum, Ph.D.
  • Dakota Thompson, "Effect of the Cardiac Sympathetic Nervous System on Cardiomyocyte DNA Synthesis in Postnatal Mice." Mentor: Loren Field, Ph.D.
  • Trevor Crafts, "Human mesenchymal stem cells improve survival following intestinal ischemic injury." Mentor: Troy A. Markel, M.D.
  • Amanda Ngouajio, "Anaerobic nitrate effects on pseudomonas aeruginosa." Mentor: Michael J. Schurr, M.D., of the University of Colorado

The oral presentation winners, who delivered their presentation on July 31 and Aug. 1, were previously announced.