Endowment supports Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student research
Three students at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) received summer research fellowships through an endowment established by Charles J. Schleupner, professor of internal medicine at the school and infectious disease physician at Carilion Clinic. This is the third year the awards have been made.
“Introducing students to the research process is very rewarding,” Schleupner said. “Whether the student advances in their career to conduct research personally or at least to know how to assess published research in academic journals, to be able to do so credibly is critically important to what medicine is about — the science, in addition to the art, of medicine.”
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. Students are required to complete a four-year, hypothesis-driven project of publishable quality. Research time is built into the curriculum, making the school one of the few nationwide to put this much emphasis on student research.
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 2026 had an average of more than 3,000 research hours prior to matriculating.
The school provides funding to support each student’s research activities, but those funds are limited. Most students’ research requires additional support, which can come from grants or fellowships, such as this one. In addition, the money provides stipends to students wishing to conduct research during the summer.
“It has been extremely gratifying to witness the steady rise in the quality of research produced by our students due to the strong researchers who have joined the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and the clinical faculty at Carilion Clinic, both of whom are interested in quality research while mentoring our students,” Schleupner said.
The three fellows, each a member of the Class of 2026 are:
Project: Painting with Novel Antisense Wide-Range Peptide Nucleic Acids to Polycarbonate Catheters to Prevent Bacterial Biofilm Formation by Gram-Negative Organisms Associated with Urinary Indwelling Catheters
Research Mentors: Elizabeth Nowak, assistant professor of internal medicine and infectious disease physician at Carilion Clinic; and Jayasimha Rao, VTCSOM associate professor of internal medicine and infectious disease researcher at Carilion Clinic
In her words: I am broadly interested in how to eradicate bacterial biofilms from medical devices, such as urinary catheters, since biofilms pose a significant risk to patient health and are an economic burden on health care systems. My research has potential applications in clinical settings, such as preventing and/or treating catheter-associated urinary tract infections. I am thankful for this additional time to drive my project forward, and I believe that this grant demonstrates the medical school’s commitment to encouraging students to contribute to clinically relevant research in meaningful ways.
Collin Tanchanco Ocampo
Project: Interrogating Human Serum Expression of Cerebrovascular Biomarkers and Collateral Vessel Function Following Acute Ischemic Stroke
Research Mentors: Biraj Patel, VTCSOM associate professor of radiology and interventional neuroradiologist at Carilion Clinic, and Michelle Theus, Theus, professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, director of the Center for Neurotrauma Research at the Fralin Life Science Institute, and co-director of the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health graduate program
In his words: My project focuses on both basic and clinical science, allowing us to directly investigate the bench-to-bedside approach for patients who suffer from ischemic stroke and hopefully reduce the number of poor outcomes. Research is an integral component of my future practice as a physician, and this fellowship motivates me to continue pursuing invaluable experience with our team.
Project: In vitro investigation of immune cell response to histotripsy ablated osteosarcoma cells
Research Mentors: Joanne Tuohy, assistant professor of small animal clinical sciences, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine
In her words: My project will support the development of histotripsy [a noninvasive, focused ultrasound therapy that is able to ablate cancerous tumors in the body] as a viable clinical tool for cancer treatment in humans and canines. Given that my research is focused on both human and canine immune cell responses, I will need to use antibodies for both. Canine antibodies are notoriously expensive and difficult to find, and the summer grant money has been essential in helping me to procure these. I am so very thankful for this institutional support, and I am excited to see where our research takes us.