photograph by Keith Weller

Medical Fellows Get a Chance to Try Research

This past summer, 70 medical, dental, and veterinary students put their courses and rotations on hold to focus on laboratory research. The students, who came from 27 schools across the country, are part of HHMI’s Medical Research Fellows Program, a $2.5 million annual initiative to increase the training of future physician-scientists.

The program gives the students the opportunity to spend a year doing biomedical research at laboratories across the United States. Started in 1989, the fellowship has enabled more than 1,400 students to participate in research.

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An Alumni Perspective
Medical Fellow alum Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa talks about his experience and gives advice to prospective applicants.
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When applying for the program, each student submits a research plan outlining the work they will do with a mentor of their choice. Dylan Wolman, a fellow from Tufts University School of Medicine, applied to work at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus with JFRC fellow Davi Bock and group leader Karel Svoboda. Wolman will be spending his year using light and electron microscopy to study the neural connectivity between the mouse motor and barrel cortices.

“A year of research provides an avenue to practice what should be an essential skill in any scientific field: questioning ‘why,’” says Wolman. “It is a thought exercise [that will teach] you to question why an unexplained symptom in a particular disease constellation occurs, and perhaps even help you develop the spark necessary to pursue that question to its answer.”

In a first for the program, one of the medical fellows will be spending part of his year in Durban, South Africa, at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH). Eric Kalivoda, a student from the University of Vermont College of Medicine, will spend several months in Durban, assisting HHMI investigator William Jacobs with his research on tuberculosis. He will then spend the rest of the year in Jacobs’ lab at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

“K-RITH offers the unique perspective to study and address [the co-infection of HIV and drug-resistant TB] at its epicenter, and I look forward to working with my mentor and the K-RITH team of scientists to develop improved diagnostics for rapid TB drug-susceptibility testing,” says Kalivoda.

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Medical Fellow Kristy Yuan
Meet Kristy Yuan, who spent her fellowship year in the lab of Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.
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This year HHMI also launched a Summer Medical Fellows Program, providing opportunities for 27 medical students to do research for 8 to 10 weeks in the labs of HHMI or Janelia Farm scientists.

The yearlong Medical Research Fellows Program has an important impact on the awardees. Seven of the 71 medical fellows involved in the 2011–2012 program are continuing for a second year, and ten students have decided to pursue a Ph.D. in addition to their medical degree.