Wide array of research projects in 34th annual symposium

Juggling medical school and scientific research, Stanford students came together in a poster board competition to show the depth and breadth of their projects, from global health to stem cells.

- By Tracie White

Medical student Kimberly Souza helped develop a low-cost hand splint for post-surgery burn victims for her research project. She was one of the winners at this year's Medical Student Research Symposium.
Paul Sakuma

Over the three years that Stanford medical student Kimberly Souza worked on her research project, which entailed traveling back and forth to burn wards in Nepalese hospitals, she got to know the story of one of the children in her study well.

“I met him when he was 4. His arms were burned and both hands,” said Souza, who presented her project May 4 at the 34th annual Medical Student Research Symposium at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. “When he was 2 years old he was walking in his mom’s shoes and tripped and fell in the fire where she was cooking.”

Souza’s project resulted in the Handhero, a $20 retractable hand splint that she and her colleague Jana Lim, a PhD student in neurosurgery, hope to market to nonprofit health care agencies working in developing countries. The low-cost medical device is designed to prevent contracture of the fingers of post-surgery burn patients.

The annual symposium showcases medical student research. Faculty and staff judges select the 10 best poster presentations, of which Souza’s was one.

This year’s event featured nearly 50 projects from medical students whose work reached across a variety of fields of medicine, from oncology to neurology to heart disease. Projects delved into such topics as stem cell research, health care policy, bioinformatics and global health. They explored diseases such as pulmonary arterial hypertension, sepsis and carcinomas.

“The range of projects is terrific,” 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 Stanford medical student is required to complete at least one quarter’s worth of research, but most do more, he said. Some, like Souza, take a research year away from medical school to work on their projects.

Nearly 50 students participated in this year's research symposium on May 4.
Paul Sakuma

Fire hazard

Souza’s research showed that the most common burn wounds in rural Nepal were to the hands of small children, who often fall into open fires used for cooking. Usually it’s years before the children get surgery to repair the deformities to their fingers, which curl up into fists as the wounds heal. The hand splint successfully keeps the fingers from retracting again in the months following surgery.

The 4-year-old who fell while playing in his mother’s shoes successfully recovered 100 percent of the use of his hands using the hand splint post-surgery, Souza said.

“I took a year off to research this,” said Souza, who is a now headed into her last year of medical school. “I’ve always had an inclination toward global health. There’s such a huge disparity globally. I believe health care is a human right.”

For their projects, the students work with faculty members, who provide mentorship and guidance through the potential pitfalls and successes of medical research. “Many of these projects will eventually be published,” Baker said. “Our goal is to make research part of the medical school experience at Stanford.”

Kuo-Kai Chin, a second-year medical student, presents a poster about his research on the use of two anti-seizure drugs as post-surgery pain medications.
Paul Sakuma

‘Not black and white’

Kuo-Kai Chin, a second-year medical student, chose to explore a new area for him: health policy. For his project he ventured into the world of epidemiology and statistical analysis. “It’s been a big learning experience,” said Chin, a self-described math and science guy, laughing about the ups and downs of the journey. “I’ve learned that research is not black and white.”

Chin set out to investigate the use of two anti-seizure medications, gabapentin and pregabalin, that have been shown to work well as possible alternatives to opioids as post-surgery pain medications.

“Everyone knows about the opioid epidemic,” Chin said. His project set out to discover whether use of these adjuvant analgesics instead of morphine after knee replacement surgeries was increasing at Stanford as concerns about the national opioid epidemic increased.

His results showed that from 2008-15, the use of these drugs did, in fact, increase significantly.

“Physicians are thinking about the opioid crisis and about what alternatives are available,” said Chin, who will be presenting results of the study at a health policy conference in New Orleans this summer.

Combining research and medical school at the same time is a challenge, Chin said.

“There are a lot of dead ends. School sometimes gets in the way, but I’ve learned a lot about research.”

The winners of this year's Medical Student Research Symposium and their mentors are:

  • Kimberly Souza, “Development and clinical testing of a novel low-cost hand splint for burn scar contracture patients in Nepal.” Mentor: James Chang, MD, professor of surgery.
  • John Cannon, “A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled crossover trial of levocarnitine for vismodegib-associated muscle spasms.” Mentor: Anne-Lynn Chang, MD, associate professor of dermatology.
  • Kaylene Carter, “Quantification of early predictive biomarkers for Type 1 diabetes.” Mentor: Brian Feldman, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics.
  • Sara Choi, “A randomized double-blinded, placebo-controlled use of transversus abdominis plane (tap) block in breast cancer patients undergoing microsurgical breast reconstruction with abdominal free flap.” Mentor: Gordon Lee, MD, associate professor of surgery.
  • Luqman Hodgkinson, “Influence of adherence to antiretroviral medications on mortality at Kakamega County Referral Hospital.” Mentor: Michele Barry, MD, the medical school's senior associate dean for global health.
  • Julia Kao, “The dynamics of anemia in a birth cohort in coastal Kenya: links to infection and nutrition.” Mentor: Desiree LeBeaud, MD, associate professor of pediatrics.
  • Grace Laidlaw, “Custom 3-D-printed ultrasound-compatible vascular access models: training medical students and residents for safe, real-world vascular access.” Mentor: Rajesh Shah, MD, clinical assistant professor of radiology.
  • Sarah Miller, “First-in-human intraoperative near-infrared fluorescence imaging of glioblastoma using cetuximab-IRDye800: results from a pilot study.” Mentor: Eben Rosenthal, MD, professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.
  • Juan Miguel Sandoval, “Assessment and molecular modeling of the GABA-A receptor +alpha/beta subunits interactions with kava pyrones.” Mentor: Edward Bertaccini, MD, professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine.
  • Carolyn Sinow, “Alterations in Spanish language interpretation during pediatric critical care family meetings.” Mentor: David Magnus, PhD, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.    

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

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