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Sept. 22, 2015 - Clyde G. 'Sid' Huggins Medical Student Research Awards Announced

Huggins-4.jpgThe University of South Alabama College of Medicine hosted its 42nd annual Medical Student Research Day on July 31, 2015. Dr. Dan Roden, professor of medicine and pharmacology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, gave the keynote address.

The Clyde G. “Sid” Huggins Medical Student Research Awards, honoring the memory of Dr. Huggins, were presented to Jordan Nickols and Francie O'Hea. Huggins served as the first dean of students for USA’s College of Medicine.

Nickols, a second-year medical student at USA, was recognized for the best oral presentation, titled “Lipopolysacharide Induced Pulmonary Endothelial Barrier Disruption: Critical Role for Bicarbonate Stimulation of Adenylyl Cyclase Isoform 10.” Nickols was sponsored by Dr. Sarah Sayner, assistant professor of physiology and cell biology at USA.

Nickols’ project focused on elevated bicarbonate concentrations and how they can increase the effectiveness of endothelial cell disruption when the disruption is initiated by lipoproteinsaccharides (LPS). LPS is an endotoxin that is responsible for most cases of sepsis. Sepsis can lead to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), and the treatment for ARDS is mechanical ventilation that can lead to hypercapnia, a condition that occurs when a patient has an unusually high level of carbon dioxide in their blood. The treatment for hypercapnia is a sodium bicarbonate infusion. The clinical application for future research is looking at how this treatment may worsen lung injury due to its detrimental effects on pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells.

“I felt like I was able to contribute to a body of work that was meaningful and has potential for clinical application,” Nickols said.

According to Nickols, one of the most valuable elements of his research project was working with Dr. Sayner. He worked under Dr. Sayner while performing research on the same topic last summer. “I really enjoyed the work that we were doing, and wanted to come back to work with her again this summer,” Nickols said. 

Francie O'Hea, also a second-year medical student at USA, was recognized for the best poster presentation, titled “Improved Methods for Detection of High Risk Breast Cancer Populations in Women Presenting for Imaging.” O’Hea was mentored by Dr. Joel Lightner, assistant professor of radiology at USA, and Dr. Lynn Dyess, professor of surgery at USA.

O’Hea’s project examined how to accurately identify which women who present for a screening mammogram are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Those who are identified as high risk typically merit additional surveillance or become candidates to consider for reducing their risk of developing breast cancer.

“This project was a unique experience in that I was able to review breast images with Dr. Lightner - some of which were identified to be abnormal and then later a confirmation of cancer,” O’Hea said. “I was able to participate with Dr. Dyess in the removal of the cancer. It was a really neat experience to be able to follow a patient full circle.”

The habitual interaction with professional mentors can be considered an invaluable component of the 10-week program. “Once I met with Dr. Lightner and Dr. Dyess and saw their enthusiasm, I knew that this project would be the perfect fit,” O’Hea said.

During the 10-week summer program, first- and second-year medical students participate in research projects with basic science and clinical faculty in the College of Medicine. Students present their research projects either orally or on poster at the culmination of the summer research program where they are judged by COM faculty on the presentations. Winners are given a plaque and a cash award of $100 each.

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