August 31, 2001

Summer diabetes program wages war against disease

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Nadeen Hosein, a second-year medical student at Tulane, has a personal interest in the battle against diabetes. She has lost three grandparents to the disease.

Summer diabetes program wages war against disease

Nadeen Hosein turned down vacationing in her native Trinidad so she could participate in this summer’s Vanderbilt Student Research Program in Diabetes and Endocrinology.

The Trinidad native, who has lost three grandparents to the complications of diabetes, sees her time at Vanderbilt as a battle in the war against the disease.

Hosein, a second-year student at Tulane University Medical School, was one of 25 medical students from 12 medical schools, including Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Meharry Medical School, who spent up to three months in the VUMC program.

The program is supported by a combination of funds from the National Institutes of Health and private donations raised through the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center and the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center. It encourages young medical students to consider careers as physician-investigators.

Dr. Oscar Crofford, former director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center and former director of the Division of Diabetes and the late Dr. Phillip Felts, VUSM assistant dean of Student Affairs from 1975 to 1988, founded the program in 1975. The program, directed by Dr. Alvin C. Powers, associate professor of Medicine, and David H. Wasserman, Ph.D., professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, has provided research training to more than 600 students from 60 medical schools. Each student works on an individual research project under the direction of a Vanderbilt faculty member. The research projects encompass the entire spectrum of biomedical research, from signal transduction to gene regulation to patient-oriented research.

Each student receives a monthly stipend and travel support to Nashville. Students apply for the program early in the second semester of their first year of medical school.

Hosein said her paternal grandfather died in his 30s from the complications of diabetes. Her father was only 12 when his father died.

“It changed everybody’s life in my family, including mine,” she said. “I never knew my grandfather, obviously, but it changed my father’s life because he couldn’t go to school. He had to stop and take care of the family business.”

Hosein said that she currently has eight aunts or uncles who have diabetes. They have limited access to health care in Trinidad. What care they do receive is expensive.

“I have been obsessed, and I mean obsessed, with diabetes for the past 10 years, since my grandmother died,” Hosein said. “I know I have to do something in my life that involves diabetes. This program was a dream.”

During the summer Hosein worked in the animal laboratory of Dr. Owen P. McGuinness, associate professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. She compared glucose metabolism by the liver between two different nutritional routes, parenteral and enteral.

The program is a continuation of the philosophy at VUSM that medical students should be exposed to biomedical research early in their education. VUSM, in fact, unlike many medical schools, requires its first-year students to take an Introduction to Biomedical Research class. The IBR program is directed by Dr. Alan D. Cherrington, chair of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. Some students continue their IBR research project in the summer diabetes program, Powers said.

“Rapid advances in biomedical research, such as the human genome project and the ability to design new drugs based on basic science discoveries, are transforming medical care,” Powers said. “Physicians play an important role in translating new discoveries in the laboratory into improvements in patient care.”

Powers said the NIH is projecting that too few physicians are being trained for this important role in scientific investigation and that this may limit the translation of new scientific advances into medical practice. The Vanderbilt program seeks to reach medical students interested in careers as physician-investigators as a way to address this possible shortage.

Vanderbilt students participating in the summer program were: Kevin Maas, Stephen Heubner, Steve Leung, Amy Musiek, Keshi Parbhu, Mike Hooper, Leigh Simmons, Justin Wahlstrom, Andrew White and Irene Whitt. Wahlstrom, a second-year medical student, served as the student coordinator of the program.

Like Hosein, Karen Stark also decided to participate in the program because of real-life experience. Stark, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in January, worked with David G. Schlundt, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt and assistant professor of Medicine at VUMC.

“I hope to work with patients with diabetes,” said Stark, a University of Wisconsin medical student. During the summer she worked on a Vanderbilt-Meharry clinical study that focused on how to improve self-management in patients with type 2 diabetes. The study looks at the difference in patient barrier perception between the health care provider and the patient.

Like Stark, Hosein’s personal experience with diabetes was never far from her mind during the summer program.

“I’m not doing this because I want something on my resume,” Hosein said. “I’m doing it because this is my life. This is my family – my grandmother, grandfather, and a grandfather I never knew. This is my aunts and my uncles. I feel like there’s a war and I want to help fight or do everything I can.”