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The University of South Alabama College of Medicine hosted its 44th annual Medical Student Research Day on July 28, 2017.
Rising first- and second-year students at the USA College of Medicine presented the findings of their 10-week long summer research projects in eight oral presentations and 41 poster presentations to a diverse group of faculty, students and guests.
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 College of Medicine, were presented to Patricia Connor and Stuart McFarland.
“The main purpose of the Medical Student Summer Research Program is to expose students to basic science, translational and/or clinical research,” said Wito Richter, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and chair of the Summer Research Committee at the USA College of Medicine. “In addition, the students receive instructions on presenting their research findings to an audience in weekly seminars. I think the ability to communicate research findings clearly to the public is more important than ever, as scientific facts are frequently misrepresented or disputed in public discourse.”
According to Richter, there were many excellent research projects this year. “Judges were not only impressed with both Patricia and Stuart’s findings, but also their clear and convincing presentations,” he said.
Connor, a second-year medical student at the USA College of Medicine, was recognized for the best poster presentation. She was sponsored by Dr. Sidney Brevard, professor of surgery at the USA College of Medicine and a trauma and critical care surgeon with USA Health, and Dr. Ashley Williams, a third-year general surgery resident at USA Health.
Connor’s project, titled “Trauma Patients Have Improved Access to Post-Discharge Resources Through the Affordable Care Act,” compared the level of insurance coverage and the use of post-discharge services of trauma patients treated at USA Medical Center before and after implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “If you look at surveys covering the years just prior to the implementation of the ACA (2005-2009), you’ll find that hundreds of trauma centers across the United States closed, in part because they served many uninsured patients who were unable to pay the hospitals for their services. Now that a few years have passed since the insurance mandate was implemented, it was important to look back and ask whether passing of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate in 2010 helped our highly vulnerable trauma patient population get the insurance they need,” she said.
Connor found that after the implementation of the ACA, trauma patients treated at USA Medical Center were more likely to have health care coverage and utilize post-discharge services, compared to the pre-ACA period. In addition, Conner determined that Medicaid patients were more likely than uninsured patients to receive home health services or intermediate nursing care. “However, given that Alabama opted out of the Medicaid expansion, this still leaves 40 percent of our trauma patient population without health insurance coverage,” she said.
McFarland, a first-year medical student at USA, won the prize for the best oral presentation for his talk titled “Role of Endothelial TRPV4 Channels in Carotid Artery Function and Low-Flow Remodeling.”
McFarland’s project was sponsored by Drs. Mark Taylor and David Weber from the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology at the USA College of Medicine and explored how the blood vessels of mice without the TRPV4 protein, a critical ion channel protein, respond to various drug stimuli. “One of the functions of this protein is to sense blood flow through the arteries,” McFarland said. “We were interested in comparing blood vessels from normal mice to those that had the TRPV4 channels genetically removed. This study is unique because it is the first to look at an animal model that lacks TRPV4 channels in the endothelium, but retains TRPV4 in other cells and tissues of the body.”
Ultimately, McFarland found that blood vessels lacking TRPV4 channels contracted more. “This implies that in normal endothelium TRPV4 channels serve to alleviate vessel contractions.”
According to McFarland, this research is important because it helps understand the body’s progression from a normal state to a disease state. “We are particularly focused on atherosclerosis, which is linked to endothelial dysfunction,” he said. “The goal is to better understand the progression of a healthy blood vessel to one that has endothelial dysfunction and may eventually develop atherosclerosis. If we can better understand that transition, we hopefully can prevent it from occurring and keep people from developing the disease."
Winners of the Clyde G. ‘Sid’ Huggins Medical Student Research Awards receive a plaque and a cash award of $100 each.
Click here to learn more about this year’s event.
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