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August 30, 2013 - Clyde Huggins Recipients Announced at 2013 Medical Student Research Day
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From left to right: USA Research Day winners Anna Crutchfield, Madelyn King and Brian McGrath

The University of South Alabama College of Medicine hosted its 40th annual Medical Student Research Day on Aug. 2, 2013. Dr. Joe Garcia, vice president for health affairs and Earl M. Bane Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology and Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was the keynote speaker.

The Clyde G. “Sid” Huggins Medical Student Research Awards, honoring the memory of Dr. Huggins – who served as the first dean of students for USA’s medical school, were presented to Anna Crutchfield, Brian McGrath, and Madelyn King.

King, a sophomore medical student, was recognized for the best oral presentation, titled “Blood Transfusion Products Contain mtDNA DAMPs: a Potential Effector of TRALI.” King was sponsored by Dr. Jon D. Simmons, assistant professor of surgery.

For King’s project, she studied blood transfusion products that contain mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) DAMPs - molecules that can initiate and perpetuate immune response in the noninfectious inflammatory response - and their effect on transfusion-related acute lung injury.

“Participating in summer research helped me understand that an important aspect of health care stems from continuous research and constant improvement in the standard of patient care,” said King.

The regular interaction with professional mentors can be considered an invaluable component of the 10-week program. According to King, the most valuable element of her research project was “being able to experience the collaboration between doctors and scientists and also participating in the development of innovative medical therapies that could greatly improve the quality of patient care.”

Anna Crutchfield, a second-year medical student, and Brian McGrath, a first-year medical student, tied for first place for the best summer medical research poster.

Crutchfield’s summer project is titled, “Regulation of MMP12 in Metabolic Syndrome.” Her project was sponsored by the American Heart Association, but especially recognizes Dr. Petra Rocic, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, for guidance throughout the process.

Crutchfield’s project focused on the regulation of an enzyme - protein matrix metalloproteinase-12 - having an affect on patients with metabolic syndrome, a combination of the medical disorders that, when occurring together, increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. “There are many factors that cause metabolic syndrome associated with obesity,” Crutchfield said.

“Removing adipose tissue decreases the amount of MMP12. Thus, removing fat may alleviate detrimental consequences caused by obesity.”

This kind of intensive study is vital “because research will be a part of your life, especially if your profession involves medicine,” Crutchfield said. “Research provides new insight on disease processes, new treatment options, and many other findings that can enhance life in general.”

McGrath’s research project is titled, “Role of Aspergillus fumigatus sialidase in Disruption of Pulonmary Artery and Pulmonary Microvascular Endothelia.” McGrath was sponsored by Dr. Jarrod Fortwendel, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology; Dr. Gene Cioffi, associate professor of pharmacology; and Dr. Donna Cioffi, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.

McGrath’s project involved a closer look at Aspergillus fumigatus, which is a fungus of the genus Aspergillus, and is one of the most common Aspergillus species to cause disease in individuals with an immunodeficiency. He studied its effect on the pulmonary artery and pulmonary microvascular endothelia.

There are obvious benefits to doing medical research, such as groundbreaking scientific discoveries and learning more about an area of focus. However, there are many more skills to be developed over this summer program. “This summer, I learned a great deal about laboratory techniques and how to both ask and answer scientific questions,” explained McGrath. “Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I want to continue to participate in biomedical research throughout my medical training.”

In addition, McGrath said that he learned a lot about the research process itself. There is copious behind the scenes work, like designing the experiments, and of course, “adapting to unforeseen difficulties.”

“I found my research experience to be a valuable component of my education as it helped me to develop critical thinking and independent learning skills that I know will be instrumental to my future career as a physician,” McGrath said.

Having received this award, McGrath said that he was excited and honored to have won. Recently beginning his first year of medical school, McGrath has not yet chosen a field in which to specialize, but is interested in hematology/oncology. “I would like to gain more exposure to many more areas of medicine before making this important decision.”

Medical Student Research Day is the culmination of the summer’s work with the presentation of oral and poster presentations. During the 10-week program, first- and second-year medical students participated in research projects with basic science and clinical faculty in the College of Medicine.

The program highlights the relationship between scientific discoveries and its application in clinical medicine, while providing the students an introduction to important research related areas.

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