AUGUSTA, Ga. – Nearly half of all students in the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University chose to spend 10 weeks during their only free summer of medical school working side-by-side with scientists.
Students will present the findings of their projects at Medical Scholars Research Day from noon to 2 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23 in the GRU Wellness Center.
A total of 109 students participated in research over the summer, up from 85 students last year, says Dr. Richard Cameron, Associate Professor in the GRU Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics and Director of the Medical Scholars Program.
“Research is an activity that we value very much as a medical school,” says Dr. Paul Wallach, MCG Vice Dean for Academic Affairs. “It is the way we gain better understanding of disease processes, discover new therapeutic approaches, and improve patient outcomes. We hope to encourage the curiosity in our students that underpins scholarly pursuits, so that they want to find answers to important questions.”
Students worked with mentors both on and off the GRU campus and their projects covered a wide range of topics – from investigating a rare, but debilitating, side effect of a drug used to treat bone loss from cancer and osteoporosis, to figuring out why only some premature babies develop respiratory distress syndrome that often leads to asthma in childhood.
However, according to the students, one common thread emerged among them all. Respect.
“I had never worked in a lab,” says Karen Kagha, who worked with Dr. Wendy Bollag, GRU Professor of Cellular Biology and Graduate Studies, on a project to determine how a critical gene is regulated and how that affects how skin functions in diseases like psoriasis and skin cancer. “I did clinical research (in undergrad) at Vanderbilt, but this allowed me to see a new side of research. We study all of these molecular pathways in school, but being able to see them in the lab is different.”
“Medicine applies what research finds,” agrees Santosh Patel, who worked with GRU Sickle Cell Researcher Dr. Betty Pace researching the role of specific proteins in sickle cell disease. “This allowed me to look at different aspects of what we learned in class and develop an appreciation for what goes into all of it.”
Previous research experience – in basic or clinical science – is not a pre-requisite for the summer program, but an appreciation for the thrill discovery provides is helpful, program organizers and participants say.
“I already loved research,” says Jayde Nail, who worked in a neuroimaging lab during her undergraduate career. This summer, Nail worked with Dr. Alvin Terry, GRU Regents Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology, to improve cognitive flexibility in schizophrenics.
“When people have schizophrenia, they don’t do well with rule changes,” Nail explained. “For example if they go the same way to work every day and one day there is construction blocking their way, chances are they’ll try to go the same way the next day instead of remembering the construction and finding another way. It’s harder for them to adapt to the change.”
Nail calls her work with Terry fascinating. “I was so intrigued to see the connection between basic science and clinical treatments,” she says. “I want to work with people with Alzheimer’s and want to do research that will further my field.”
Providing more of opportunities for students to do that type of translational research is a goal of the program and critical to the future of health care, says Dr. Michael Diamond, Associate Dean for Research and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at MCG and GRU Vice President for Clinical and Translational Sciences.
“The students, even if they ultimately go into private practice, they will continue reading about research in journals and going to conferences to stay on top of new knowledge in their field,” he says. “How new discoveries are implemented into care is a critical component every physician, every health care provider for that matter, should be aware of.”