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Medical students spend break in research labs

 After a grueling first year of medical school, students at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University could be expected to kick back and relax a bit, but not Shikha Kapil, Chelsea Chandler or 79 of their classmates who presented their work Monday.
The students instead launched into the 10-week Medical Scholars Program, which paired them with research labs and programs where they could pursue a scientific interest. The program had previously run solely through the dean’s office but now includes the university’s Discovery Institutes, which seek to bring together lab and clinical researchers, said Dr. Ruth Marie Fincher, the vice dean for academic affairs.
“We had both added interest (from students) and added interest among mentors as well as added funding streams through the Discovery Institutes, resulting in a much larger number of students this summer,” she said.
In Kapil’s case, a grant from the Amer­ican Pediatric Research Society allowed her to spend the summer conducting research at the National Institutes of Health. She studied the common pain reliever celecoxib, sold under the brand name Celebrex, and whether it could help with a rare disease called Carney complex, which causes bone tumors. The lab where Kapil worked wondered whether a genetic mutation common to the disorder could be the cause, and whether celecoxib could block the action of the mutation.
At least in mice, “we have a strong trend” that it could help, Kapil said. She hopes the research will be published by the end of the year.
In Chandler’s case, it meant working in the lab of Dr. Bernard Maria, the chairman of GHSU’s Department of Pediatrics. She focused on a nasty and fatal brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme. The tumor is difficult to treat with radiation and chemotherapy, and Maria’s lab is looking at a molecule called hyaluronan that appears to help fuel the resistance. Chandler’s research focused on whether making a molecule similar to hyaluronan but shorter would have the opposite effect by tying up key receptors on the tumor cell.
At least in mice and in the lab, the molcule appears to make the tumor cells more vulnerable to radiation, Chandler said.
“So the hope is, in the future, perhaps you could give a patient chemotherapy or radiation therapy as well as (the shortened molecule) and it would sensitize the tumor to treatments that are already in the clinic,” Chandler said.
The research programs also helped the students answer career questions. Chandler did a lot of research in her undergraduate work and considered going down the Ph.D. path.
“There was always a thought in the back of my mind – I love medicine, but there’s always the ‘what if I had gone a different path?’ ” she said. Being exposed to all the different areas in pediatrics helped strengthen her preference for it, she said.
Working at the NIH helped Kapil experience some clinical areas she might not see until her third year.
“It’s a good opportunity to look at a number of different fields,” she said. “Right now, I think I am interested in surgery but I did something that was medicine-based over the summer.”

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