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Stanford Report, May 7, 2003

Annual student research symposium ranges from biofeedback to zero gravity


Medical student Elissa Meites helped run free medical clinics in remote Papua, New Guinea, villages for a month last summer — an unusual start to her two years of clinical rotations. She also conducted research on ulcers and learned about malaria firsthand.

"I was excited to get the diagnosis because I’m interested in infectious diseases, and everyone cool in infectious diseases has had malaria at least once," she said.

Fifth-year medical student Andy Zhang (right) presented his poster on tendon wound healing at the annual student research symposium. Zhang was one of about 50 students who gave a presentation Thursday. Photo: Benjamin Hoehn

Meites presented her research at the annual medical students’ research symposium Thursday. About 50 students participated, half with talks and half with poster presentations. Medical school classes were canceled so students could attend, and some of next year’s prospective students came, too.

Meites took part in the traveling scholars program, which funds research in far-off places. She and her colleagues were trying to find out whether villagers with stomachaches were infected with Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that is linked to most stomach ulcers. They took a drop or two of blood from each patient with stomach pains, then tested the blood for antibodies to H. pylori. The tests found no sign of the bacteria.

That could mean that the villagers aren’t infected — unlikely, since the bacteria are found almost everywhere else in the world. Or they could have a strain that the tests didn’t catch.

About 90 percent of Stanford students do research, said Pat Cross, PhD, associate dean of medical student research and scholarship, who administers the student research programs. "It’s unusual for somebody not be involved in research because of the broad range of exceptional opportunities here," she said.

In comparison to other years, the field of neuroscience was more strongly represented with 12 presentations, said Cross. Issues related to health-care disparity were addressed by several students across four departments: health research and policy, medicine, surgery and pediatrics. Most research was funded by the school’s medical scholars program and MD/PhD programs.

The symposium presented a chance for students to learn what their classmates have been up to, Cross added. Having research experience sharpens critical reasoning and can give students a deeper understanding of the specific field they’re interested in, she said. Many Stanford students take five years to complete their degree because they spend time on research.

Bryan Warme, who said he plans to be in medical school for five years, presented his research on joint replacements. He performed hip replacement surgery on mice. "They’re up and walking and climbing the same day as the surgery," he said. "They’re great patients."

Hundreds of thousands of particles fall off of a replacement hip with every step, Warme said. The body’s immune system responds by attacking the area, including the bone near the joint. Eventually, the joint loosens and has to be replaced. Warme was studying how mice responded to particles by implanting different particles along with the joints. He said his work may help replacement joints last longer.

Eliza Long tested how mice use structures in the inner ear known as otoconia to orient themselves. The work may help explain how astronauts get by in zero gravity. Long worked with a professor in the neurobiology department and a scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center. She presented a poster at the symposium.

Student Una Lee spoke about her research on prostate cancer detection. She reviewed charts from over 800 patients who were referred to the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System for prostate biopsies and found that of men referred for the procedure, obese patients were significantly less likely to be found to have prostate cancer than men of normal weight. Lee will start a residency in urology this year.

Another student, Vedant Kulkarni worked with a patient who has dyskinetic cerebral palsy, a less common form of the syndrome, to train him to relax his upper arm muscles. Kulkarni chose the project because his sister has cerebral palsy. He concluded the biofeedback technique didn’t work as well as he had hoped but is worth further testing in future research.

Warme won an award for his presentation at the symposium. Other award winners in the oral presentation category were Ryan Louie and Everett Meyer. In the poster category Matthew Simmons, Matthew Kirschen and Pamela Mosher won awards.

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