Summer research a SURE thing for students

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August 1, 2016

After a long scholastic year, most students look forward to the summer months as a time to recharge from the rigors of academia. But on Rowan’s campuses, a select group of high school, college and medical school students have decided, instead, to plunge into the depths of academic biomedical research.

From bench to bedside

Improving the health of individuals and communities begins with research and, this summer, 85 medical students from the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU), in Camden, and the School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM), in Stratford, are paired with faculty mentors from both medical schools and from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) on research projects in laboratory and clinical settings.

First-year SOM student Rahil Kheirkhah is working alongside faculty mentor Robert Nagele, PhD, of the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging, searching for biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases. One of 38 students in SOM’s Summer Medical Research Fellowship Program, Kheirkhah first learned of Nagele’s research during a lecture he presented to medical students.

“His lecture was the first time someone gave a talk about bench research and I thought, ‘I really want to do this’,” she said.

Reflecting on the first few weeks of the program, she says the day-to-day experience of working in the lab hasn’t disappointed.

“The potential to do ground-breaking research is very exciting,” she said. “This program isn’t just been a great opportunity for research. It’s also a great opportunity to bridge the gap between researchers and physicians.”

At CMSRU, 47 students participating in the Summer Research Program have been matched with mentors from the medical school, Cooper University Hospital and Rowan’s Glassboro campus. Research projects are as varied as the locations and include studying the use of cyberknife radiosurgery in cancer patients, determining gene variants that can cause epilepsy, fabricating vascularized scaffolds for central nervous system repair and studying the connection between B cell lymphocytes and inflammation.

While students in both medical school programs will have the opportunity to present their findings at research symposiums during the coming academic year, CMSRU student Ian Gleaner’s summer research from last year yielded another benefit besides the educational experience. The paper he authored on his research involving bone cancer and the use of a specific form of radiation therapy was recently accepted for publication in the journal Insight Cancer Research.

A SURE thing

The Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) is a 10-week, tuition-free, paid internship at GSBS. Designed to be a hands-on research experience for undergraduate students considering graduate education in the biomedical sciences, SURE research opportunities are available in such areas as developmental biology, inflammatory mediators, aging, gene expression, stem cells and cancer biology. Students accepted into the program also receive an exclusive invitation to present their work at the annual GSBS Fall Research Retreat.

This year, the eight students who successfully applied to the SURE program include two current Rowan undergraduate students.

Ana Carlton will graduate from Rowan this fall. This past academic year, she did research in the lab of Dr. Dimitri Pestov, an associate professor of Cell Biology at GSBS, and wanted to continue her research this summer as she prepared for graduate school.

“I learned so much from Dr. Pestov, as well as from the other students here,” Carlton said. “Following graduation, I want to go for my PhD in cell biology, so this has been the best experience that I can receive to prepare for that.”

Psychology major Claire Corbett is participating in the SURE program, working with faculty mentor Michael Anikin, PhD, an assistant professor of Cell Biology at GSBS. Anikin’s research focuses on RNA polymerase structure and on mitochondrial transcription.

Corbett, who will pair her Psychology degree with a minor in Biology, expects to pursue a graduate degree in research, a plan that is being helped by her experience this summer.

“I’m really interested in behavioral neuroscience, which is the biology behind behavior,” she explained. “The SURE program is giving me the background on research techniques and what it’s like to work in a biochemistry lab.” Previously, she had assisted with research in an avian cognition lab on the Glassboro campus.

Like many of the other students who have opted for a summer in one of Rowan’s research labs, Corbett pointed to the positive, collaborative learning environment she found in the summer program.

“It’s been fun and everyone is really willing to teach me,” she said.

Five for five for five

In its second year, the High School Biomedical Science Research Program at GSBS has been drawing strong interest from area high school students who are eager to gain the kind of research experience that is only available in an academic laboratory. The program accepts five area students who spend five hours per day over a five-week period, working in GSBS laboratories on the Stratford campus.

The program was developed by acclaimed researcher Katrina Cooper, PhD, an associate professor of Molecular Biology at GSBS and SOM, who wanted to develop the same sort of mentoring program that helped launch her own career as a research scientist.

Under the program the students – who this year represent Lenape, Cherokee, Eastern, Holmdel and Seneca high schools – worked with research faculty and graduate students. In addition, they have attend weekly lectures presented by GSBS faculty and, at the end of the program, presented their research findings at a symposium attended by family, friends, faculty and GSBS graduate students.

Sam Beluch participated in the initial program last summer. Recently graduated from Eastern High School, he’s returned this summer, working as an intern in Cooper’s lab.

“As I was applying for college, my research experience in the lab here at Rowan helped me to focus exactly on what I was looking for in my undergraduate program,” he said. “To someone who is still in high school, this program is definitely a great opportunity. The people here do a great job working with you to develop your skills and to help you succeed.”