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September 2, 2011 - Clyde Huggins Recipients Announced at 2011 Medical Student Research Day
Clyde Huggins Award 2011

The University of South Alabama College of Medicine hosted its 38th annual Medical Student Research Day on Aug. 5, 2011. Dr. Talmadge King, the Julius R. Krevans Distinguished Professor in Internal Medicine and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, 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 Jason Largen and Zachary Simms.

Largen, a sophomore medical student, was recognized for the best oral presentation, titled “Antisense oligonucleotides of SER/THR protein phosphatase 5 in HELA cells enhances CHk1 and p53 phosphorylation after UV light induced genomic damage.” Largen was sponsored by Dr. Richard Honkanen, professor of biochemistry & molecular biology.

Simms, also a sophomore medical student, was honored for the best poster presentation, titled "Glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase contributes to phenotypic changes in hypoxic pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells." Simms was sponsored by Dr. Sachin Gupte, assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular biology.

Largen’s project focused on the role that an enzyme – protein phosphatase 5 – plays in a cell’s response to stress, such as DNA damage. “The ultimate goal of this research is to decide if the enzyme is a potential target for fighting cancer, but we still need to better understand what role it plays, if any, in normal cells outside of DNA repair,” explained Largen.

Throughout his research project, Largen said he was exposed to many new procedures and techniques within the lab. More importantly, he learned more about how basic science research works.

“It’s a very long process that requires a great deal of patience, attention to detail, and a bit of luck,” Largen said. “I also learned there is no such thing as bad results. Just because the experiment didn’t turn out as you expected doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it.”

Largen’s mentor, Dr. Honkanen, said the project Largen worked on was an extension of the work he conducted last summer. “He worked on a very challenging project,” Dr. Honkanen said. “However, he was up to the task at hand. Like last year, his hard work was very productive.”

Largen said he is interested in pediatric oncology as a possible specialty. “This can often be a research-heavy field,” he said, “so having exposure to the types of research going on is very valuable.”

Simms’ project involved a closer look at Pulmonary Hypertension (PH), a fatal disease that is not well understood. “People with PH experience muscle growth in the arteries of their lungs, and it is this change that causes problems,” Simms said. “We wanted to see what happens in cells to cause this change because this is the key to creating a medication or therapy to prevent the disease in those at risk.”

According to Simms, participating in research ultimately leads to a well-rounded physician. “Since research is where we often discover the major breakthroughs in medicine, I wanted to gauge my interest in it by really getting a full experience,” he said. “By taking part in research, I have a better appreciation of the work and a more complete understanding of the things we learn in class.”

Simms said it was a pleasant surprise to receive the award and a great way to end a productive summer of research. “There's always going to be a drive to stay cutting-edge, and I feel like through my participation in this research project, I now have a lot more of the skills I'll need to do that.”

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, 16 first- and second-year medical students participated in research projects with basic science and clinical faculty in the College of Medicine. A weekly seminar series introduced the students to important research related areas. The program highlights the relationship between scientific discoveries and their application in clinical medicine.

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