The experience at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine is more than the learning and practice of basic and clinical science. In pursuit of its mission to create the next generation of physician thought leaders, the school has a disciplined focus on research in its curriculum.

In support of that mission, Charles J. Schleupner, infectious disease physician at Carilion Clinic and professor of internal medicine at the School of Medicine, has set up an endowment at the school that will support student research for years to come.

“It can usually be a very salutary process introducing students to controlled research,” Schleupner said. “Whether they move on in their careers to conduct research or at least know how to assess published research in academic journals, to be able to do so effectively is critically important to what medicine is about — the science of medicine.”

The first five recipients of Schleupner’s endowment have spent the summer pursuing their research projects. In order to graduate, students must complete a four-year, hypothesis-driven project of publishable quality. Research time is built into the school’s curriculum, making the school one of the few nationwide to put this much emphasis on student research.

It’s rigorous, but many of the students who are admitted cite the research curriculum as one of the main reasons they selected the school. In fact, each member of the Class of 2025 had an average of more than 3,000 research hours prior to matriculating at VTCSOM.

“VTCSOM is unique because it provides research money to support each student’s research activities, but research can be expensive, and these student funds are limited,” said Leslie LaConte, assistant dean for research.  “Most students’ research requires additional funding, which can come from grants or fellowships such as this one. And prior to this year, we’ve had no mechanism to provide stipends to students wishing to conduct research during the summer.”

Schleupner said he has witnessed a steady rise in the quality of student research produced at the school.

“No question about it, the quality has clearly ramped up,” Schleupner said. He attributes that in part to the strong researchers who have joined the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, which provides a number of research mentors for the medical students. He stated that this has also happened in parallel with the evolving clinical faculty at Carilion Clinic also interested in research and mentoring our medical students.

“It’s all in the name of the advancement of knowledge,” said Schleupner, who has been an active researcher during his medical career. “It gives me great satisfaction to assist with promoting and supporting research among these future doctors.”

The five research fellows, all members of the Class of 2024, are:

Devra Asah

Project: Designing an antibody mimicking molecule that can elicit neutralization and inactivation of SARS-CoV-2.

Research mentors: Konark Mukherjee, assistant professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

In her words: "I am collaborating on a basic science research project, so having more in-person time (made possible by the Schleupner award) for laboratory work with the PI (principal investigator) and graduate student proved to be extremely beneficial. From this experience, I was able to learn from both, and truly understand the nature of my project."


Kasen Hutchings

Project: Research the use of a novel P13K peptide inhibitor as a treatment for glioblastoma.

Research mentor: Zhi Sheng, assistant professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

In his words: "Dr. Schleupner’s research grant allowed me to focus fully on my research this summer without stressing over my bills. Because of this fellowship, I was able to spend significantly more time in the lab and was able to make tremendous progress with the funds provided."


Caroline Kim

Project: Randomized controlled trial evaluating the added benefit of telemedicine to pre-operative counseling among endometrial cancer patients.

Research mentors: Shannon Armbruster and David Iglesias, both gynecologic oncologists at Carilion Clinic.

In her words: "Telemedicine is a crucial component of my study. Dr. Schleupner's student research endowment will allow my team to use specialized videography and editing software that can provide detailed information about user experience, which in turn has the potential to improve the quality of care for endometrial cancer patients, and set a precedent for the use of telemedicine in other aspects of oncology care."


Katelyn Stebbins

Project: Mapping the non-image forming visual pathway in the ventral lateral geniculate nucleus of mice.

Research mentor: Michael Fox, professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and director of the school of neuroscience at the Virginia Tech College of Science.

In her words: "As a first year M.D./Ph.D. student, this research grant allowed me to get involved with my new lab earlier and set the groundwork for my thesis project. Dr. Schleupner's endowment directly supporting the research endeavors of future students demonstrates the value that VTC places on meaningful, clinically-relevant research throughout all four years of medical school; it's not an afterthought, it's a priority."


Benjamin Tintera

Project: Working to identify a novel drug target that will potentiate the immune mediated destruction of pancreatic cancer cells seen after the use of tumor ablation therapies.

Research mentor: Irving Coy Allen, associate professor of inflammatory disease at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

In his words: "With Step 1 (medical licensing exam) going pass/fail for our graduating class and future graduating classes, research is going to be highlighted even more in our residency applications. Dr. Schleupner's generous donation has allowed for me and my fellow recipients to do more in-depth research that is meaningful to us, all while bolstering our residency applications in the future."

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