Annual symposium showcases medical student research

For the past 32 years, Stanford medical students have participated in the symposium as a chance to share months — and sometimes years — of research work that they’ve done.

Symposium judge Sonoo Thadaney listens as Raymond Deng explains his research project on opioid use among veterans at the annual Medical Student Research Symposium on May 7.
Norbert von der Groeben

In a dress shirt and tie, Raymond Deng, a third-year medical student, stood next to a poster describing his research on opioid use among veterans.

“I’m interested in addiction medicine,” he said. “Prescription drug abuse is huge.” He was discussing his findings with Sonoo Thadaney, director of the Program in Bedside Medicine. She was one of the judges at the annual Medical Student Research Symposium on May 7 at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.

For the past 32 years, Stanford medical students have participated in the symposium as a chance to share months — and sometimes years — of research work that they’ve managed to conduct while also attending classes, studying and getting their clinical education in the hospital wards.

“It’s something you make time for,” said Christine Ryan, a second-year student who has co-authored three research papers in the past. She was presenting her research on the use of ibrutinib, a newly approved treatment for leukemia patients. “We all just sort of juggle everything.”

The symposium drew about 45 presenters and a crowd of spectators, among them students and faculty members. As the judges of the research competition circulated, the students stood next to their posters, preparing their pitches, sometimes a bit nervous, sometimes excited. For many, this was their first research presentation; for others it was a chance to further hone their skills.

At the end of the event, the judges picked 10 winners of the poster competition. The winners received a monetary award funded by the Stanford University Medical Center Alumni Association.

Anjali Dixit describes her research on managing low back pain. She was one of the 10 winners in this year's competition.
Norbert von der Groeben

Doing research allows medical students to explore various personal areas of interest and hone their skills as scientific thinkers. Some plan to make research a key part of their careers.

“I’ve learned so much about people skills and organizational skills,” said Monica Coughlan, a third-year medical student who has conducted lab research before but was presenting her first study in “bedside,” or clinical, research.

The symposium is designed to be less structured and formal than other research conferences to encourage students to share their work with their peers.

Some of the projects are still in progress. All have a Stanford faculty adviser. Funding comes from a variety of outside fellowship awards and internal fellowships from the Medical Scholars Research Program.

“Stanford tries really hard to open doors in the area of scientific research and give students a little nudge to go through,” said Laurence Baker, PhD, director of the Scholarly Concentration Program, a required program of study for medical students that promotes in-depth learning and scholarship. Each of Stanford’s medical students are required to complete at least one quarter’s worth of research, but most do more, he said.

“We train the kind of doctors who become leaders,” Baker said. “Whether that involves publishing, clinical work, research or patenting — education in scientific research is a key element of training.”

Paul Johannet's research project involved a way of predicting surgical complications following treatment for esophageal cancer. 
Norbert von der Groeben

For Deng, this was a chance to explore the world of addiction medicine, something he is interested in perhaps pursuing as a career.

Deng’s study involved researching a Veterans Health Administration’s database on opioid drug prescriptions and determining possible predictors of opioid discontinuation. He looked at a year’s worth of data on 1.3 million veterans with prescriptions for opioids. Results showed that 65 percent of patients continued opioid use after one year. He also found that patients with schizophrenia and dementia were significantly associated with discontinuing opioid use after a year, perhaps indicating some success with programs begun during the same time period to prevent addiction.

Thadaney, the symposium judge, listened intently to his description, nodding her head in encouragement.

“Why did you pick this study?” she said, clipboard in hand.

“Personal reasons,” Deng said, adding that someone in his life has a heroin addiction, and that an epidemic in prescription drug abuse has been shown to have contributed to an increase in heroin use.

She nodded again. “The great thing with data like this is that the data itself can bring up questions that we didn’t think of,” she said. “If the Googles and the Yahoos of the world can use data like this for research, so can we. Great work. Go crazy with it.”

Winners of the 32nd annual Medical Student Research Symposium

  • Alexander Ball, “Pediatric quality of life in children with moyamoya disease and stroke.” Mentor: Jorina Elbers, MD, assistant professor of neurology.
  • Carl Dambkowski, “Lifebubble: an in vitro assessment of the functionality and efficacy of a novel neonatal umbilical catheter protection and stabilization device.” Mentor: James Wall, MD, assistant professor of surgery.
  • Anjali Dixit, “Initial management of low back pain: comparative costs and Medicare savings from a conservative diagnostic strategy.” Mentor: Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, professor of medicine.
  • Steve Ko, “Addressing summer hunger: a community-campus partnership.” Mentor, Lisa Chamberlain, MD, associate professor of pediatrics.
  • Matthew Li, “Aging-like changes in the transcriptome of irradiated microglia.” Mentor: Theo Palmer, PhD, associate professor of neurosurgery.
  • Tara Mokhtari, “Does taste perception change after bariatric surgery?” Mentor: John Morton, MD, associate professor of surgery.
  • Akhilesh Pathipati, “Implementation and evaluation of Stanford Health Care direct-care tele-dermatology pilot program.” Mentor: Justin Ko, MD, MBA, clinical assistant professor of dermatology.
  • Diana Robles, “Opportunities for maternal transport of pregnancies at risk for delivery of VLBW infants — results from the California Maternal Quality Care  collaborative.” Mentor: Maurice Druzin, MD, professor of pediatrics.
  • Jessica Su, “Accuracy of exercise echocardiography in identifying myocardial bridging.” Mentor: Jennifer Tremmel, MD, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine.
  • Sarah Waliany, “Role of surveillance imaging versus symptoms and signs in detection of recurrence of non-small cell lung cancer after curative intent therapy.” Mentor: Maximilian Diehn, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiation oncology.

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