August 16, 2012

Ph.D., M.D. students team up in bench-to-bedside program

This summer, the Program in Developmental Biology introduced a new format to its annual Boot Camp class.

Graduate student Mary Lynn Dear and medical student Daniel Arteaga present research findings during a poster session for the Program in Developmental Biology’s Boot Camp class. (photo by Steve Green)

This summer, the Program in Developmental Biology introduced a new format to its annual Boot Camp class.

Medical students, Ph.D. students and clinicians tripled up to study the relationships between basic developmental processes and human diseases.

“The most promising advances are going to require a translational approach,” said Richard Samade, Ph.D., a medical student who participated in the class.

“The great aspect of this course is that very early on in training it is fostering a collaboration between medical students and Ph.D. students, encouraging them to share ideas about how they can develop translational research,” Samade said.

This year, Boot Camp emphasized the importance of understanding the biological processes behind disease progression, and highlighted the need to broadly relate basic research to disease states.

For the first time, this summer’s course also aimed to open the lines of communication between graduate students and medical students.

It was organized by Amy Fleming, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and director of medical student education, and David Bader, Ph.D., Gladys Parkinson Stahlman Chair in Cardiovascular Research.

“Our students currently train in silos. One will become an M.D. and one a Ph.D., and even if they study in related fields they may never cross paths,” said Fleming. “We are hoping to break down the barriers by creating communication early in their scientific careers.”

“Imagine the possibilities,” Bader added. “Scientists working together from bench to bedside.”
Each of the 14 Ph.D. candidates in the course was paired with a second-year medical student and physician mentor, creating an interdisciplinary learning team.

Student pairs were asked to study the normal development of a specific organ, like the heart or eye, and to explore how that organ can be studied in animal models.

After this foundational learning, the students accompanied their physician mentors into the clinic to view firsthand how patients were affected by developmental abnormalities in the organ of interest.

The clinical aspect of the class “reminds you of how far we have come but how much further we still need to go in order to fix these problems during development and avoid surgery,” said Hannah Worchel, a Ph.D student who studied cleft palate development during Boot Camp class.

On Aug. 3, at the end of the eight-week course, the students presented their findings and related their clinical experiences during a poster session.

The class also provided the data for a novel medical education study. Before and after the course, student participants were given a survey, approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB), assessing their comfort level in talking to peers, mentors and clinicians about their research.

The study, co-authored by Fleming, Bader, Samade, and Ph.D. candidate/student teachers Elise Pfaltzgraff, Daniel Levic and Becky Adams, will be presented at the Learning Communities Institute national meeting in conjunction with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in November.

By Jessica Mazerik

Bill Snyder,  (615) 322-4747