Best Research Projects Take to the Podium

Eight members of the Class of 2015 were selected to give oral presentations at the second annual VTCSOM Medical Student Research Symposium.

Sam Bircher researched how the visual system circuitry matures in a rodent model. As the optic nerve grows, it branches out into the brain. Bircher found that each branch ending developed differently, depending on where in the brain it ended. Bircher received guidance from Michael Fox, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Karen Bowers investigated whether emergency room patients who received the sedative ketamine in addition to opiate pain medication experienced better pain control than those who received opiates alone. Bowers found that patients who received the same opiate doses didn’t have better pain control whether they received ketamine or a placebo. Ketamine did, however, reduce the need for additional opiate medication for pain after the initial dose. Bowers received mentorship from Corey Heitz, director of undergraduate medical education in Carilion Clinic’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

James Dittmar, working with Gregorio Valdez, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, helped create an online search engine for researchers. Using publicly available data from a range of sources, the website, called EvoCor, presents information about functionally linked genes. When a scientist types in the name of a gene, EvoCor will return a list of genes that are likely to have evolved from an original source or in parallel. Researchers can use the website to focus their research on specific genes.

Joshua Eikenberg researched how resistance training exercise can improve blood sugar levels in people considered prediabetic. Eikenberg concluded that prediabetic individuals had improved glucose levels after a supervised 12-week program, but suggested that further studies are warranted to determine whether participants would continue with the training in an unsupervised setting. Brenda Davy, an associate professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, mentored Eikenberg.

Jesshan Faridi worked with Edmundo Rubio, the chief doctor in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Carilion Clinic, to study the risk factor of fire in a laser surgery for treating cancer in the lungs and bronchi. Faridi found that location as well as the concentration of oxygen contributed to the likelihood of combustion during the surgery. He suggested that further studies are necessary to pinpoint the safety threshold for risk contributors to this type of surgery.

Shravan Kumar studied how to manage withdrawal syndrome in newborns exposed to drugs before birth. Babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome typically require an inpatient treatment program with long hospital stays, but Kumar discovered that the infants could be transitioned to outpatient programs without increasing their medical risk. Kumar received mentorship at the Carilion Clinic Children’s Hospital from Phyllis Whitehead, an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and Joan Fisher, a former Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine professor who is now at a clinical associate professor at the Stanford School of Medicine.

Philipp von Marschall, mentored by Carol Gilbert, a general surgeon in Carilion Clinic’s trauma and surgical critical care unit, studied how elderly patients with head injuries recovered if they were already on a preventative medication, such as aspirin to prevent blood clots. He found that patients who were on an antithrombotic therapy before their injury were no more likely to have poor neurological function as a result of the injury than those who did not use similar medications.

Jacquelyn Wentworth (pictured above), with the mentorship of Xiang-Jin Meng, a professor of molecular virology at the Virginia–Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, researched how the hepatitis E virus infects cells. Wentworth found that mutated virus particles with altered genetic material continued to propagate and release hepatitis E, but that the rate slowed. The results offer a promising target to investigate for vaccine development, especially as no vaccines currently exist for this virus.

Video: Research Focus

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine's research focus begins the first week of school and continues through all four years of study.

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