Summers in the Laboratory

Medical students participating in MCW summer research programs
Michael Boswell, third-year medical student and 2015 Medical Student Summer Research Program participant (plaid tie), discusses his research project with (from left) Amadou Camara, PhD '95; Floyd Rose, third-year medical student; David Stowe, MD '84, GME '87, PhD; and second-year medical students Christopher Navarro and Ariea Davani. The students were mentored by Drs. Stowe and Camara.

The question "What did you do on summer vacation?" could generate some very interesting responses if asked of any of the 147 undergraduate students and first-year medical students who participated in MCW's 2016 Medical Student Summer Research Program or Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR).

For example, Mawusi Kamassah, a second-year medical student at MCW, spent this past summer working with Srividya Kidambi, MD, MS '08, associate professor of medicine (endocrinology), coordinating studies that look at the epigenomics of hypertension in identical twins. Through this two-month position, Mawusi was able to see how clinical and basic science faculty work together on studies, how biopsies are performed, the process for recruiting subjects and obtaining their consent for the study, and how samples are phenotyped.

Kendall Craig, a senior chemistry and biology major at Carthage College in Kenosha, spent two months working at MCW with John D. Imig, PhD, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, testing rat urine samples for different analytes – such as proteins – that would indicate kidney function. Her SPUR internship contributed to a larger test of a drug for type-2 diabetes to see if the drug had an effect on treating kidney injury.

Second-year MCW medical student Mawusi Kamassah working with Srividya Kidambi, MD, MS
Mawusi Kamassah (r), second-year medical student and 2016 Medical Student Summer Research Program participant, observes her program mentor, Srividya Kidambi, MD, MS, position a blood pressure cuff.
2016 SPUR program participant Kendall Craig works with John Imig, PhD
Kendall Craig, 2016 SPUR program participant, discusses protein structures with her program mentor, John Imig, PhD.

These summer-long programs provide student participants an opportunity to gain valuable experience in labs working on cutting-edge biomedical research. They also give students an edge in their future schooling and careers, and can help add clarity to their career paths.

"It has been great to see how basic science and clinical faculty interact, because this is how medicine moves forward," Mawusi says. "It was also helpful to see how my mentor was able to balance everything personally and professionally as a physician scientist."

"The SPUR program allowed me to confirm that I do want a career in research, and it allowed me to explore the areas I want to go into," Kendall remarks. "I was able to learn different techniques that helped prepare me for a career in research and obtain an understanding of what research is like in pharmacology."

The Medical Student Summer Research Program, coordinated by MCW's Medical School, offers first-year students the opportunity to spend the summer working on biomedical, clinical or translational research mentored by MCW faculty. Then, in the fall, each participant creates and presents a poster on the research she/he conducted. The SPUR program, offered through MCW's Graduate School, offers a hands-on summer internship experience for undergraduate students from across the country who are considering health-related careers in the biomedical sciences. Both programs have been in existence for more than 30 years – and each continues to grow.

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Medical Student Summer Research Program statistics

Applications to the SPUR program have averaged about 370 annually since 2012, and this year it hosted a record number of students – 36 – a 25% increase from the previous year. The Medical School Summer Research Program had 111 participants this year, and 126 of the students who participated in the program from 2000-2013 were recognized with Honors in Research at Commencement. Many go on to publish research papers as first or second authors, or present as first authors at national meetings.

Michael Boswell, a third-year medical student who participated in the Medical School Summer Research Program in 2015 under the direction of David Stowe, MD '84, GME '87, PhD, professor of anesthesiology and physiology, presented the data he collected in the program at several national meetings. His presentation, Altering buffer Ca2+ and pH stimulates activation of the mitochondrial Ca2+/H+ exchanger, won the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research International Anesthesia Research Society's overall first prize at the Midwest Anesthesia Residents Conference in April 2016.

Samantha Paddock, a first-year PhD student in physiology, participated in the SPUR program in 2015, and her experience led her back to MCW for graduate studies.

"I have always been interested in research, but it wasn't until the SPUR program that I realized academia was the career route for me," says Samantha, who was mentored by Michael J. Flister, PhD, assistant professor of physiology.

"I was drawn to MCW for graduate work because I already knew how supportive and collaborative the faculty are, and other older graduate students sold me on the interactive PhD programs at MCW."

First-year PhD student Samantha Paddock works with Michael Flister, PhD
Samantha Paddock, first-year PhD student in physiology and 2015 SPUR program participant, reviews a slide with her program mentor, Michael Flister, PhD.

The above are great things to accomplish and figure out…and all because of how they spent their summer vacations.

– Anthony Braza

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