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2011 Student Research Fellowships: The recipients' experiences

The AΩA Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship was much more than simply an opportunity to build my academic foundation in tissue engineering—the AΩA Research Fellowship was my opportunity to initiate a novel effort in the treatment of kidney failure.

After my first year of medical school, I was given the opportunity to undertake a summer fellowship in Cardiothoracic Surgery and thus explore my interest in academic surgery. Amidst the elegant human anatomy and dazzling procedures to correct pathology, I met Betty, a patient living in the intensive care unit with renal failure despite having had successful cardiac surgery. As a result of spending months in the ICU, Betty developed a hospital-acquired infection that further stressed her already frail body. Betty’s kidneys no longer worked; she required a transplant, but because of organ shortages, the strict regulations on transplant qualifications and her multiple comorbidities, infections, and general instability made her ineligible for one. If only there were limitless kidneys for transplantation, Betty would be already playing with her grandchildren, and not suffering from her nosocomial infection. As Betty told me how much I reminded her of her grandson, I could not sit idly knowing there could be—no, there will be a better solution!

Trypan blue dye highlights the intact 3-dimensional microarchitecture of a perfusion decellularized kidney. Bioengineered kidneys regenerated based upon this platform produced rudimentary urine suggesting basic filtration, reabsorption, and secretory capabilities.

The AΩA Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship allowed me the opportunity to further develop into an aspiring surgeon-scientist. Through my research fellowship, I developed abilities to question current limitations in biomedical science and problem-solve to address those limitations. Also, the fellowship allotted an opportunity to lead a team of researchers in the pursuit of a common goal. As a result, I was able to mature my organizational, interpersonal, and confidence-inspiring skills, while learning the limitless potential of collective efforts. Most importantly, the AΩA Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship brought me one step closer to my lifelong academic dream of developing, on demand, a bioartificial kidney as a fully implantable treatment option for kidney failure.

Abstract in Nature Medicine
Article in Nature News

Jeremy Song
Class of 2014
University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine

Thank you so much for the support that the AΩA Student Research Fellowship provided me during my fourth year of medical school. This fellowship allowed me to continue a research project in Dr. Karen Pollok's laboratory that we started during my third year. Having four months during my clinical years to work on basic and translational research projects that I'm passionate about is a privilege. Engaging in this type of work is beneficial to medical students; it gives us the opportunity to use the knowledge we've acquired and problem solving ability we've developed to answer questions that require critical thinking and creativity. The research environment can be incredibly stimulating and help students grow, especially in a setting that truly fosters a multidisciplinary approach to solving important clinical problems. The AΩA student fellowship allowed me to be in such an environment. Dr. Karen Pollok's leadership abilities and dedication to research in glioblastoma multiforme attracted a unique group of investigators from a variety of backgrounds: retired senior investigators from the pharmaceutical industry that were leaders in the development of important medications in neuroscience and oncology, neurosurgeons, medical oncologists, and incredible trainees and staff. Spending time with these leaders and learning from them was a unique experience that was incredibly valuable.

Jacob Eitel
Class of 2013
Indiana University School of Medicine

I spent a lot of time doing research while I was in college, so my first year of medical school was the first time I was out of the lab in several years. I was excited to be back in the lab for the summer and was awarded for my work at the medical student research day at UTHSCSA! I think this is a wonderful fellowship for medical students who are interested in doing research in the future and a great way to spend the summer!! I am very grateful to have had the chance to be a part of this honorable opportunity!

Sarah McCurdy
Class of 2014
University of Texas School of Medicine at San Antonio

The AΩA Student Research Fellowship provided me with a great opportunity to further explore my interests in clinical research and also carry out an independent project. I found the feedback from the the individuals who reviewed my proposal to be very helpful. They addressed important points in my proposal and provided helpful suggestions to fine tune aspects of my protocol. Additionally, since the Fellowship also funded a travel grant, it provided a great opportunity for me to present my research work and meet like-minded individuals in my field of interest. Overall, the AΩA Student Research Fellowship and the research opportunity that it funded has encouraged me to maintain a research-minded perspective throughout medical school and continue a desire for a medical career that involves research.

Edmund Tsui
Class of 2014
Dartmouth Medical School

This fellowship provided me with an incredible opportunity to delve deeper into topics in which I have great interest. Additionally, by spending a dedicated year in the laboratory, I was able to learn skills that I believe will be beneficial for the rest of my career. I am very thankful to have received the fellowship because it facilitated my understanding of one of the main tenants of medicine: biomedical research.

Chad Teven, MD
Class of 2012
University of Chicago Division of the Biological Sciences The Pritzker School of Medicine

As a first year medical student at the time, it was empowering to be awarded the one AΩA Student Research Fellowship that would be granted to an Ohio State College of Medicine student.

There are many scholarships available to medical students who want to carry out research projects that are already established by a mentor, it is difficult to find such funding for a completely student-designed and initiated project. This is what made the AΩA Student Research Fellowship so special to me. It is the only way I had the opportunity to travel across the world to Austria in order to pursue a self-directed project with the world leader in my field of lipolytic enzyme pathways.

Barbara Reichert
Class of 2014
Ohio State University College of Medicine
Research abstract: "Estrogen and Retinoic Acid Interactions in the Regulation of Adipose Triglyceride Lipase"

The AΩA fellowship is a great motivation for students that would like to get involved in research. As medical students, most of us are very involved in are course work and this fellowship gives students a great opportunity to participate in research in fields that they are interested in. The structure of the program is well organized but it would be interesting to have a conference with all the participants and their presentations.

Anish Shah
Class of 2013
University of Illinois College of Medicine

The AΩA Student Research Fellowship was the major source of funding that allowed me to spend one year working on a maternal influenza vaccine trial in Bamako, Mali. Having this opportunity to work alongside world class Malian and American investigators this early in my career helped me embark on the lifelong process of learning firsthand about the many scientific, logistic, and ethical considerations of conducting clinical trials in low and middle income countries.

This experience has substantiated my passion for global health, sparked my desire to pursue a career in academic medicine, and presented many new challenges and life experiences that will forever impact the person and doctor that I become.

Lauren Orenstein
Class of 2013
Emory University School of Medicine

Receiving the AΩA Student Research Fellowship has played a pivotal role in my medical school experience. Receiving the award allowed me to conduct research on at risk alcohol drinking in our population and ways to address the issue. Through conducting this research, I learned how important it is to identify at risk drinkers and how important it is to talk to them about their drinking. This category of patients makes up a large percentage of patients in any scope of practice. By taking a few minutes to council patients who are at risk drinkers, physicians can actually decrease the number of days and the amount that these patients drink. I've been able to take what I've learned through this research and apply it to the patients that I've seen through my years in medical school, and I plan to continue using this information into my practice. I've also been able to discuss the importance of this information with my classmates who also can use this information in their practices. Through the grant, I was able to present my research at the Research Society on Alcoholism conference in San Francisco. I was able gain a more in depth knowledge of how alcoholism effects my patients and my community at this conference, and I was able to discover new ideas about future research projects. The AΩA Student Research Fellowship has been both a blessing to me and to my current and future patients.

Justin Peterson
Class of 2014
Mercer University School of Medicine

I was very grateful to receive the AΩA Student Research Fellowship. I worked very hard with my mentors to design, redesign, and revise my research proposal and was very thankful to have that work pay off when I received word that I had received the fellowship. I was really only interested in patient care prior to entering medical school, but my research experiences during medical school have really sparked my interest in making sure research is part of my medical career. I am now interested in pursuing an academic career that includes patient care, education, and research, as I have learned how these three components complement each other and by engaging in one, one becomes better at the other two. The Carolyn L. Kuckein fellowship allowed me to expand upon a research project I had worked on in the summer between my first and second years of medical school. As a fourth year student with more medical knowledge and patient care experiences, I could really think about how the work done in the research lab could translate into better care for patients. Specifically, this concept of translation is very important with my research project, as acute stressor states affect many patients, and if we can develop medicines to prevent and/or reverse these states, we can offer these patients better outcomes. I was able to present my work at the 2012 American Heart Association Basic Cardiovascular Sciences annual meeting and have encouraged other students at my medical school to apply for this fellowship.

Sumeet Vaikunth, MD
Class of 2012
University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine

The Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship was an amazing opportunity that provided me with the financial support to design, implement, and analyze a basic science research project with significant implications in otolaryngology and facial plastic surgery. It was an experience that immersed me in scientific discovery and was a major cornerstone in the beginnings of a serious interest in academic surgery. I am honored to have had the support of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society.

Ed Wu, MD
Class of 2012
University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine

Receiving the AΩA Student Research Fellowship as a first year med student was a great honor and gave me the opportunity to pursue my research endeavors. This award allowed me to pursue a research project at UCLA in much more depth and dedication than ever before. The experience made me want to continue to do research in the near future. After 2 years of med school I still consider receiving the AΩA Student Research Fellowship my greatest accomplishment.

Robert Lopez
Class of 2014
State University of New York Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine

The AΩA Student Research Fellowship provided an opportunity to explore my interest in oncology outside of a clinical context. Working in the Department of Pharmacology under Chris Dealwis, PhD, I developed an interest in the development of small molecule modulators of ribonucleotide reductase. I hope that in the future, I can combine my interest in clinical oncology and researching novel anti-cancer medications to the benefit of my patients.

Andrew Zhang
Class of 2014
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Research abstract: "Developing a new class of cancer chemotherapeutics"

Whitney Ross receiving the Scholander Award from Jim Hicks at Experimental Biology 2012

I am extremely grateful to AΩA for giving me the opportunity to pursue my research goals by awarding me the Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship. It is because of this fellowship that I was able to dedicate undivided attention to my project as well as have the opportunity to present my results at the largest national meeting of the biomedical sciences. As a rising physician, the experiences that AΩA made possible over this past year have confirmed to me that my life will continually be that of a physician-scientist, ever engaging in the field of research. I will always be grateful to AΩA for giving me the opportunity to begin this journey so early in my medical career!

Whitney Ross
Class of 2014
East Tennessee State University James H. Quillen College of Medicine

The research fellowship allowed me to pursue a creative, basic science project that I was able to work on independently. This has been particularly helpful for students to jumpstart a scientific career especially since it is difficulty nowadays to obtain NIH funding without an experienced background. It also makes it easier for aspiring scientists to get in touch and join existing labs and for current investigators to focus on mentorship.

Andrew Lin
Class of 2013
University of Michigan Medical School
Research abstract: "Sulfasalazine and thalidomide inhibit extracellular trap formation by human neutrophils and mast cells"

The AΩA student research fellowship allowed me to pursue basic science research with outstanding faculty who truly cared about my development as both a physician and a scientist. I am truly grateful for the experience of working with my mentors to expand my critical thinking skills as well as laboratory techniques that I have no doubt will help me in my future career.

Jake Ruzevick
Class of 2013
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

I was very fortunate to be awarded the 2011 AΩA Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship. The fellowship greatly facilitated the execution of my project to establish deep brain stimulation of certain brain regions as a safe treatment modality for intractable post-traumatic tremor. The funding was key to my academic development, as it allowed me to pursue research that involved a breadth of hands-on patient experiences, which will undoubtedly influence the course of my future career. It was a great honor to receive this award, and I strongly advocate continued funding by the AΩA and continued participation by medical students from across the country.

Neil Issar
Class of 2014
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

The AΩA Student Research Fellowship has fast-tracked my career as a future physician-scientist. The award sponsored my first, independent research project that has now been presented at the national Plastic Surgery Research Council meeting and will soon be published. Furthermore, I believe that the award played a significant role in my acceptance into the prestigious and highly competitive Physician-Scientist Training Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. I am extremely grateful for receiving the fellowship and would like to thank the AΩA for investing in my research and infinitely furthering my professional development.

Sameer Shakir
Class of 2014
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As a first year medical student, I was interested in not only learning the basics of medicine in the classroom but also exploring the many factors that play into health care delivery and access. Early on, I had established a research project with excellent support from my two advisers. However, I did not have the means to fund the work through the summer or cover the cost of eventually submitting my work for presentation, something I had really hoped to do.

The fellowship let me pursue that opportunity to be a "student-researcher," to examine medicine and health care both in and outside the classroom. It funded research supplies that I used in the field for data collection as well as preparation of numerous abstracts and posters. It funded my travel to both regional and national conferences where I was able to present, defend, and distribute my findings as poster and oral presentations, something I had never done before. The conferences were especially exciting because I could not only share my work with like-minded colleagues, but also meet many people in the field of research, medicine, and global health who I very much admire. Lastly, I was able to fund a submission and therefore publish a first-authored manuscript of my work in the International Journal of Family Medicine.

Together, those experiences inspired, challenged, and shaped me profoundly as a student. They gave me skills and confidence to continue to pursue research through my career. In fact, the project I started with the help of the fellowship is still ongoing. We presented my findings to the local government in Yoro, Honduras, which helped inform changes to our mission that will better target the community health needs. How inspiring to see my research make change in a community's access to health care! I am planning my next trip to Honduras for this January, to continue expanding on our findings from my last project. This work has shaped my experience in medical school tremendously. I have no doubt it will continue to shape my education and future profession in a positive way, as well.

Thank you again for the opportunity.

Kate Pearson
Class of 2014
Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
Research abstract: "Access and Barriers to Health Services Vary Among Three Neighboring Honduran Communities"

Personally, the research fellowship was invaluable to my experience in medical school. It opened the doors for me to work in the field of medicine that I am interested in. Prior to this, I had never done clinical research. This fellowship enabled me to gain experience in going through the process of clinical research from applying for IRBs, setting up databases, analyzing statistical data, and performing surgery. Through this process I got to know urology attendings and residents and learn more about urology. In addition, this opened the doors for me to publish abstracts and articles in urologic journals and speak at two conferences about my project. These are just a few of the opportunities that I experienced through the generosity of this grant.

Ingrid Wahjudi
Class of 2014
Loma Linda University School of Medicine
Research abstract: "Do Antiandrogens Protect Against Pneumoperitoneum-Induced Renal Ischemia during Laparoscopic Surgery?"

Receiving the AΩA Student Research Fellowship allowed me to take time during my third year of medical school to complete a research project that I had started during a summer research program the year previously. More than the technical and specific knowledge I gained in the field of behavioral neurophysiology, my research experience gave me an invaluable understanding of the proceedings that occur in medical research, from initiation of experimental design through execution, troubleshooting, data analysis, and final reporting of results. I hope to use this basic understanding in my career as a clinician researcher in order to effectively communicate and collaborate with scientists working in basic science and translational research.

Priyanka Parekh
Class of 2013
University of Texas Medical School at Houston

Receiving the AΩA Student Research Fellowship meant being able to conduct mental health research in rural Mexico. It allowed me to travel to remote communities to conduct health fairs and collect data on undiagnosed diabetes and hypertension in these areas. It meant not having to worry about accruing additional student loans in order to go to this underserved community instead of staying in my geographic comfort zone. It also allowed me to encounter the many difficulties in research design and execution that are inherent in such a setting which I would not have had exposure to otherwise.

Katie McKenney
Class of 2014
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
Research abstract: "MESA: A Promotora-Based Women's Mental Health and Social Support Intervention in Rural Mexico"

Updated on September 17, 2013.