Medical students leave the lab to show off their research

Medical students had a chance recently to show their peers the work they've been doing behind laboratory doors - and across the world - at the 24th annual Stanford Medical Student Research Symposium.

At the poster presentation in Fairchild Auditorium on May 16, the students described some 45 projects that spanned 17 different medical departments ranging from ophthalmology, psychiatry and neurosurgery. They were joined by first-year medical students displaying posters from their public health projects.

'Witnessing your growth and development is what gives me hope for the future,' Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, told the students.

About 90 percent of medical students conduct research, said Mara Violanti, Scholarly Concentrations program administrator. To help students develop their interests, the Stanford Medical Scholars Research Program funds up to $12,000 for a quarter of research. 'Students' research brings the cutting edge to Stanford,' Violanti said.

The research also brings students to Africa, South America and Asia. The traveling scholars program provides $2,500 to cover costs, Violanti said.

One second-year medical student, Bradford Lee, traveled to India to study health policy. Lee wanted to learn why glaucoma patients in Coimbatore, a city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, missed follow-up treatments when they risk permanent blindness.

Lee hypothesized that fees or transportation difficulty explained the poor attendance. He found instead that misunderstandings about the examination's significance was to blame. Lee hopes doctors can use questionnaires to identify such at-risk groups and provide targeted counseling. The trip challenged and inspired him. 'It was sort of like going into the unknown,' Lee said. 'It gave me a great appreciation for all the resources we have here at Stanford and that we should really feel compelled to make the most of them.'

Another student who traveled to India, Hetty Eisenberg, focused on applying Eastern medicine practices here in the Bay Area. Eisenberg spent a summer in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala learning Tibetan mind and body practices. 'I am really passionate about cross-cultural psychiatry,' she said.

After her return to Stanford, she recruited 129 volunteers at seven Bay Area hospitals to enroll in an eight-week class called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Using several questionnaires to measure general health, mood disturbance, mindfulness and self-compassion, she calculated how a daily meditation practice improved well-being. 'The bottom line is that mindfulness and compassion are correlated with improved health status and mood,' she said.

Stanley Hoang, a second-year medical student, worked in the laboratory of Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, professor of neurosurgery, investigating what molecules improve recovery after stroke. He induced strokes in both normal mice and a breed engineered to lack a protein, called thrombospondin, that influences the growth of brain cells. Normal mice showed new synapses in the brain following injury that correlated with recovery of eating behavior, while the engineered mice lacked similar improvement. 'We showed that the thrombospondin protein is important for this recovery,' Hoang said.

The Stanford Medical Alumni Association presented awards to students for outstanding posters, abstracts and projects. Recipients included Frederick Dewey, Stanley Hoang, Justin Odegaard, Adeoti Oshinowo, Louis Saddic and Gabriel Tsao.

Alongside the research posters, first-year medical students presented summaries of their community health projects. 'It is really a unique opportunity for first-year medical students to learn how to engage in the community and become future physician leaders,' said Evelyn Tu, program manager of the Office of Community Health.

One group entered local schools at lunchtime to teach principles of good nutrition. Catching a 'nutrition beach ball' covered with pictures of different foods, children were asked to describe the health value of the item covered by their right hand. 'We kept reinforcing that health is not just what you eat but how much you exercise,' said Maziyar Kalani, first-year medical student.

The symposium was put together by Ewen Wang, MD, assistant professor of surgery, and Patricia Cross, PhD, associate dean of medical student affairs and professor of structural biology.

The gathering offers an excellent chance for first-year students to find out about research opportunities, Violanti said. A record number of 74 students submitted proposals for this summer and will be considered for funding from the Stanford Medical Scholars Research Program.

Brian Lee is a science-writing intern in the Office of Communications & Public Affairs at the School of Medicine.

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at

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