Three graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania have been selected as Medical Research Fellows by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Megan Clark from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Ryan Kiefer and Richard Maduka from the Perelman School of Medicine are among the 66 medical and veterinary students chosen to each spend a year in a laboratory working with a mentor on a biomedical research project that the student proposed.
Each medical fellow receives $41,000 in grant support from HHMI, and fellows are eligible to apply for a second year in the program. The program allows participants a respite from their medicine or veterinary training to burnish their research skills, with an aim to produce physicians and veterinarians well versed in basic scientific research.
Megan Clark, a second-year student in Penn Vet, first gained research experience as an undergraduate at the University of Delaware, where she completed a thesis focused on characterizing the immune cells present in the adipose tissue of dairy cows. She has continued to pursue immunology research while at Penn Vet, working in the lab of Phillip Scott, professor of microbiology and immunology in the Department of Pathobiology.
There, she has examined the role of T cell metabolism during infection with the parasite Leishmania, which causes a serious skin disease common in the tropics called leishmaniasis. Recently, the Scott lab found that tissue-resident memory T cells are present not only at the site of Leishmania infection, but also at skin sites distant to infection, where these cells can be retained for as long as a year and play a role in protective immunity against the disease. During the fellowship, Clark will build on these findings, using a murine model to examine how these T cells migrate into non-inflamed skin sites and how they are retained in the skin to provide protection against leishmaniasis.
Ryan Kiefer is a medical student finishing his third year at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. Early in his medical education, he was introduced to the field of interventional radiology and became interested in both the clinical therapies and research performed by this specialty. Beginning this summer, he will take a year-long hiatus from his clinical education to perform basic and translational science research under the mentorship of Terence Gade, an assistant professor of radiology who is part of the Penn Image-Guided Intervention Laboratory. The PIGI Laboratory utilizes numerous methods to develop diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to various pathologies with a particular interest in oncologic therapy.
Ryan will work with Gade to study the metabolic stress response of hepatocellular carcinoma in an effort develop a novel imaging paradigm for dormant cancer states that may lead to improved detection and treatment of this condition and others like it. Following the completion of his research and final year of medical school, Ryan plans to pursue a residency and eventually a career in academic interventional radiology.
Richard Maduka, in his third year of medical school at the Perelman School of Medicine, has participated in several clinical research projects with the Department of Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and gained exposure to gastrointestinal medicine. He will now be taking the year to perform basic science research under the mentorship of Celeste Simon, a professor of cell and developmental biology, who runs her laboratory within the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute.
The Simon lab research focus is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which changes in oxygen and nutrient availability modulate normal tissue homeostasis and mammalian pathology, with a particular focus on cancer cell metabolic reprogramming, metastasis and the link between chronic inflammation and cancer predisposition. Maduka will work with Simon to characterize the role of the HIF1-alpha gene and B lymphocytes in pancreatic cancer and also the mechanism by which these factors promote accelerated oncogenesis.
“This engagement is perhaps the best way for talented students at this stage in their training to understand the powerful opportunity that emerges at the intersection of medicine and laboratory research,” said David J. Asai, senior director in science education at HHMI. “We hope that each of the Med Fellows seriously considers pursuing a career as a physician-scientist.”