Student research symposium showcases curiosity and scholarship

From 3D-printed mitral valve models to a retrospective study on birth control, the 35th Annual Medical Student Research Symposium presented a rich array of scholarly pursuits.

- By Julie Greicius

Medical student Katherine Dickerson listens to fellow student Brigit Noon discuss her poster presentation May 16 at the 35th annual Stanford Medical Student Research Symposium.
Paul Sakuma

In his last year as an undergraduate student in bioengineering at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Sheun Aluko took a contemporary dance class and two yoga classes. Inspired by the intersection of movement and bioengineering, Aluko was drawn to the possibility that technology could provide real-time feedback for physical therapy.

On May 16, at the 35th annual Stanford Medical Student Research Symposium, Aluko, now a third-year medical student at Stanford, discussed his research project, “Development of a wearable gait-training device for children with cerebral palsy.” He is conducting the research under the guidance of a faculty mentor, Jessica Rose, PhD, professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of the Motion & Gait Analysis Laboratory at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.  

Aluko was one of 64 medical students who presented posters of their research projects to a roomful of their peers, faculty, staff and others at the symposium in Berg Hall at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. Forty-eight faculty and staff members served as judges. They circulated, asking questions of the presenters and taking notes.

“This symposium is the one yearly session where the students are the focus,” said Neil Gesundheit, MD, MPH, interim senior associate dean for medical education and professor of medicine. “Their projects reflect close collaborations between our students and our faculty, because typically on each poster the student is first author, and the faculty mentor and sponsor of the work is senior author.”

‘At the edges of science’

This year’s posters represented just a sampling of work by Stanford’s medical students, many of whom present their research at other national and international conferences instead of, or in addition to, presenting at the symposium. Their research interests span an enormous range.

“Our students are constantly interested in being at the edges of science and finding opportunities to get into those labs and do things, which I think is super exciting,” said Laurence Baker, PhD, director of the Scholarly Concentration Program and professor of health research and policy.

Sheun Aluko talks about his project, “Development of a wearable gait-training device for children with cerebral palsy.”
Paul Sakuma

Brigit Noon, a second-year medical student, spent a quarter devoted to research on a retrospective analysis of data showing trends in the uptake of long-acting, reversible contraceptive methods — such as intrauterine devices or contraceptive implants — for women in the immediate postpartum period.

“This project was particularly interesting to me because it focuses on a forgotten population of women who are actually very highly susceptible to becoming unintentionally pregnant after delivering a baby,” Noon said. “That’s driven from perhaps lack of knowledge, a belief that you can’t get pregnant when you’re breastfeeding, or other ideas about suppressed fertility.”

Most student research is financially supported by the Medical Scholars Research Program, a grant program that has been active at Stanford for nearly 40 years. “Altogether, we fund something on the order of 200 quarters of research by medical students each year,” Gesundheit said. “That’s in addition to other sources of funding. And that’s what makes it remarkable.”

Generous financial support is just part of what makes Stanford medical students’ research projects happen. “Stanford has a long history of being a real leader in this area, working very hard to make it possible for students not just to get money from the grant program, but to have entrée to faculty projects and activities,” Baker said.

For faculty mentors like Baker, who has overseen the symposium for 10 years, supporting students is uniquely rewarding. “We see students who come here without a lot of research experience sometimes, but who really find a passion area,” Baker said. “We also have students who achieve at high levels, so the idea that we can help them get their papers into Science or Nature, or work with people to create what may ultimately become major projects for them in their careers, I just think that’s super cool.”

Kay Hung, is investigating the feasibility of producing flexible, 3D-printed models of the mitral valve for patient education prior to mitral valve repair.
Paul Sakuma

Kay Hung, a second-year medical student, investigated the feasibility of producing flexible, 3-D-printed models of the mitral valve for patient education prior to mitral valve repair, then measured the improvements in patient understanding and satisfaction, as compared with those who received traditional education before their procedure. She said her faculty mentor, Joseph Woo, MD, the Norman E. Shumway Professor and professor of cardiothoracic surgery, was encouraging.

“He always asked questions I hadn’t thought about, and got me thinking in new directions, especially when I was stuck,” Hung said. “But he never did the work for me, and I really appreciated that.”

The scholarly concentration has been a requirement for medical students at Stanford since 2003. Many students say they are grateful for the way their research efforts help them develop connections with their peers, faculty members, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, Baker said.

“Often enough, someone will say, ‘I wouldn’t have done this project, but I had to. Then I found a group of people I like, and I found a mentor I can work with, and an area of research I’m really into,’” Baker said. “You meet people and you find things and they become part of your world in a new and possibly expanding way. And that’s also an exciting thing for me to see.”

“Just seeing and helping Stanford bring to bear what it can do for students is rewarding,” Baker said, “because of the way the students use it and run with it, and because of the things they can do when they get these chances.”

Winning poster presentations:

  • Alvaro Amorin, “Stereotactic radiosurgery in the multimodal management of pituitary adenomas: a single center’s experience.” Mentor: Justin Moore, MD, PhD, surgical neuro-oncology skull base fellow.
  • Jacqueline Aredo, “Impact of concurrent genetic mutations on KRAS-mutant non-small cell lung cancer outcomes and tumor PD-L1 expression.” Mentor: Heather Wakelee, MD, professor of oncology.
  • Henry Bair, “Patterns and factors associated with inappropriate antibiotic prescription for respiratory tract infections: a systemic review at Stanford Express Care.” Mentor: Marisa Holubar, MD, clinical assistant professor of infectious diseases.
  • Anita Chanana, “Targeting CCR1 expression in epithelial ovarian cancer.” Mentor: Oliver Dorigo, MD, PhD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology.   
  • Jaclyn Konopka, “The influence of oral contraceptive hormones on anterior cruciate ligament strength.” Mentor: Jason Dragoo, MD, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery.
  • Anusha Kumar, “Interim findings from an open label phase 1B investigator-initiated study of Secukinumab in patients with moderate to severe papulopustular rosacea.” Mentor: Anne Chang, MD, associate professor of dermatology.
  • Jeffrey Kwong, “Assessing the Fisher, Millard, and Mohler techniques of cleft lip repair surgery with eye-tracking technology.” Mentor: Rahim Nazerali, MD, clinical assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery.
  • George Liu, “Thyroid cancer risk in airline cockpit and cabin crew: a meta-analysis.” Mentor: Chris Holsinger, MD, professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.
  • Julia Ransohoff, “Discovery of differential RNA binding and regulation by the APOL4 protein to disease-linked psoriasis CDSN gene variants.” Mentor: Paul Khavari, MD, PhD, the Carl J. Herzog Professor in Dermatology in the School of Medicine.
  • Megan Roche, “A prospective multicenter study optimizing bone health and preventing bone stress injuries in Division 1 distance runners.” Mentor: Michael Fredericson, MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery.


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

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