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Undergraduates make scientific gains in SURP

by Leah Hyatt
Public Relations
Seventy undergraduate students spent 10 weeks this summer conducting biomedical research under the expert mentoring of MUSC faculty as a part of the College of Graduate Studies’ Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP).

From 12 states and the Virgin Islands, SURP participants gained valuable hands-on research experience to prepare them for post-graduate work and possible careers as clinical or translational scientists.
Melissa Youssef and mentor James A. Cook, Ph.D., review data from Youssef’s research on cell signaling pathways.

Participants chose a research area closely related to their academic interests and professional goals and were paired with a faculty member. Working at a graduate level, they dedicated at least 40 hours a week to their research project which culminated in a research paper and presentation.
Much of the research done by SURP students may contribute to scientific publications after the summer ends. “Participants are often cited in publications resulting from the research they do over the summer,” said SURP program coordinator Debbie Shoemaker. “Last year SURP students were listed as authors on at least 10 scientific publications.”
Bridget Peters, a rising junior at Spelman College in Atlanta, conducted research alongside James S. Krause, Ph.D., associate dean of clinical research and professor, College of Health Professions, and scientific director of the South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Fund, and Lee Saunders, Ph.D., research associate, College of Health Professions. Peters explored the prevalence of pressure ulcers in relation to the socio-economic status of a person with spinal cord injuries.
Krause stressed the importance of Peters’ summer research. “Pressure ulcers are the most costly secondary condition of spinal cord injuries,” explained Krause. “They are associated with early mortality, so looking at disparities in pressure ulcers related to socio-economic status, race and other factors is very important and timely.”
Celina Ridgeway, a student at Voorhees College in Denmark, worked to improve cancer knowledge among minority groups in South Carolina. She helped conduct population-based cancer prevention and control research at a cancer education training session on Johns Island in June, helped enter and interpret the data, and based her final paper on the results from the Johns Island session and seven other sessions that were held in 2008-2009.
Ridgeway’s mentor Marvella E. Ford, Ph.D., associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology, also acknowledged the significance of Ridgeway’s work. “South Carolina has some of the nation’s highest rates of cancer disparities,” she said. “I think it’s good for the students to see that the work they’re doing is of critical importance in helping to reduce disparities.”
James A. Cook, Ph.D., professor of neurosciences, shared his excitement about new findings that SURP participant Melissa Youssef helped contribute as a part of the research team. “We’ve generated very exciting results and new knowledge about cell signaling pathways,” said Cook.
Youssef, a rising junior at Furman University, conducted research on the immune response of cells in relation to beta-arrestin 1, a signaling protein of the innate immune system. The research focused on how it might inhibit inflammation leading to sepsis, a condition that is the major cause of death in critical care patients. “This type of research might lead to innovative ways to treat sepsis that currently don’t exist,” said Cook.
Youssef applauded SURP as a great opportunity to get research experience in the laboratory.
“Furman [University] doesn’t have a large variety of clinical research options, so I wanted to gain experience in the health care field this summer at MUSC,” she said. “When I came into this, I really had no lab experience. Now I feel really comfortable in the lab, which is good if I want to get my Ph.D.”
Many involved with SURP believe that participation in this program gives students an edge when applying to graduate school and while earning an advanced degree. “Bridget will have an advantage getting into school, and also, once she is accepted into school,” said Krause. “She’ll have experiences that other people won’t have.”
The program is supported through various grants. “Students are funded by a variety of mechanisms, which includes an NIH training grant, a NASA training grant and a Department of Defense grant,” said Perry Halushka, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the College of Graduate Studies. “Faculty, departments and the College of Graduate Studies have also provided significant fiscal support.”


Thursday, Aug. 7, 2009

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