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Student Spotlights

Poster session shows results of student’s medical research labors

Apr. 18, 2013

A typical pre-medical student might not get the chance to meet a division director at a major school of medicine until after they enter graduate school. But for IUPUI sophomore Felix Casiano-Rivera, working closely with Homer L. Twigg, III, M.D., director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Occupational Medicine, was just another day at the office.

Victoria Rarity

Victoria Rarity, a junior biology major at the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI, discusses her research at the Life-Health Sciences Internship Program poster session. | Photo Juan Guzman

Casiano-Rivera, a biology major at the Purdue School of Medicine at IUPUI, is one of 60 undergraduate students to participate in this year’s Life-Health Sciences Internship Program who presented work at the sixth annual LHSI Poster Session on April 12 in the VanNuys Medical Science Building. The Life-Health Sciences Internship Program is housed in the IU School of Medicine Graduate Division.

“I was really impressed by the level of interaction between the school of medicine and undergraduate students,” said Casiano-Rivera, who helped analyze extract and analyze bacteria samples from patient tissue as part of a larger investigation into the lung’s microbiome.

“Normally someone my age wouldn’t even get the chance to work with the school of medicine until after graduation, Casiano-Rivera added. “Getting this opportunity to work with Dr. Twigg and my colleagues in the lab was amazing.”

Dr. Twigg also serves as associate professor of medicine and Floyd and Reba Smith Investigator in Pulmonary Disease at the IU School of Medicine.

Brandi Gilbert, director of the director of the Life-Health Sciences Internship Program, said the program, established in 2007 with funds from the IUPUI Commitment to Excellence, is designed to take pre-professional students out of the classroom and into labs at offices across the IU School of Medicine.

LHSI posters

Eric Wolf, a junior biomedical engineering major at the IU School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI, talks about his poster presentation. The LHSI program provides undergraduate students the chance to contribute in medical research. | Photo Juan Guzman

“Our aims is really to give students the opportunity to learn about these fields first hand; to them to adequately explore before they embark on a career,” she said. “They may have an idea of what it’s like, but you never really know until you do it And. I like to tell them that by the end of the year they’ll know if they want to do this – for better or for worse they will know. It really helps to clarify their future goals.”

A longtime participant in the program as a mentor, George Sandusky, DVM, M.D., agrees the program can serve as a powerful educational experience for students – as well as provide investigators invaluable assistance in the lab. This year, he served as the mentor to three students from the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI, whose worked included preparing mouse models for analysis on research related to cancer biomarkers.

“This is really a great program,” said Dr. Sandusky. “Every year research work comes in that needs doing and we get it done with help from our interns. It’s wonderful working with students; I enjoy watching them grow, learn and develop.”

His interns work also resulted in a paper that will take several of the students to Milwaukie, Wis., in the fall to present their poster at the National Association of Medical Examiners. “I’m hoping to get them a job after they graduate,” said Dr. Sandusky, who points out that the experience will provide the students a rare opportunity to meet professionals in the field from across the country.

VanNuys Medical Science Building poster session

About 60 students presented their posters in the atrium at VanNuys Medical Sciences Building. | Photo Juan Guzman

“This whole experience has really been a great opportunity to get introduced into what real scientists and professionals do in their jobs,” said Chelsea Dodge, a junior forensic science major and one of the interns who will present in the fall “Everyone’s so willing to work with you and your classes schedules. You’ve got great access to the mentors because they’re all right here on campus.”

The other undergraduate students to serve in Dr. Sandusky’s lab were Shannon Cook and Ronnie Surface, both also biology majors at the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI.

Another student in the program was Emily Doan, a sophomore biology student whose mentor was Jill Reiter, Ph.D., assistant professor of OB-GYN. Her internship experience involved helping gather more information about why placenta samples from mothers who received a drug used to treat gestational diabetes also causes abnormally high birth weights.

“As an undergraduate, you spend most of your time in lectures, or, if you’re in a lab, your teaching is always looking over your shoulder,” Doan said. “My mentor really gave me space to me learn and perform assays on my own.”

The program helped her feel better prepared to embark in the next step in her career, added Doan, was recently accepted into graduate program at the Purdue University School of Pharmacy.

Other students to participant in the program have gone in to graduate school in medicine, nursing, dentistry, optometry and pharmacy, among other majors, added Gilbert, who notes the program accepts students from about 27 different pre-professional majors and minors across almost all of the different IUPUI schools, especially the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI and the bioengineering program at the IU School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI.

Gilbert added that about 40 percent of participants in the program go directly to graduate or professional school after graduation, and that about 98 percent of students to participate in the program who have not yet graduated remain enrolled full-time.

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