As he delivered the 18th annual Farr Lecture at Student Research Day in May, Arthur L. Horwich, M.D., described his own path to a career in research. He trained as a pediatrician, but the lure of the laboratory ultimately proved too strong to resist. Still, he found a balance. “Research and the bedside,” he said, “are inextricably linked.” Horwich, a geneticist whose work has shown how proteins fold (see Lifelines), still consults on clinical cases.
“You cannot predict exactly what you will be doing in some balance of research and clinical medicine,” said Horwich. “Make sure it is a balance that really causes you to have fun.”
Student Research Day is an annual celebration of the Yale System of medical education, established in the 1920s by then-Dean Milton C. Winternitz, M.D.
The first two years of medical school at Yale are absent of grades, and students are encouraged to pursue their own interests. A thesis based on original research has been a requirement for graduation since 1839. Yale is the only medical school in the United States with this long- standing tradition.
Five prize-winning students gave oral presentations, and 75 took part in this year’s poster session.
Among them was second-year student Mary Dombrowski, who examined whether transplants of olfactory ensheathing cells can regenerate myelin. She chose the topic because her father has multiple sclerosis. In her experiments with rats she found that the cells did encourage myelin growth. “It has stimulated my interest in neurology as a career choice,” she said.
Fourth-year student Hardean E. Achneck found the bright side to a devastating disease. Ascending aortic aneurysms are associated with a decrease in systemic atherosclerosis. “If we find out what the genes are, we may find the mechanism of this and, eventually, treat atherosclerosis,” he said.
Alison H. Norris, an M.D./Ph.D. student, studied the HIV risk for workers on a sugar plantation in Tanzania. Helena Hansen, who completed the M.D./Ph.D. program in May, studied faith-based substance abuse treatment in a Pentecostal community in Puerto Rico.
Eight students won fellowships from the Doris Duke Clinical Research Fellowship Program for Medical Students, a national program started in the fall of 2001 by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF), with Yale as one of 10 participating universities. The yearlong program starts in July with three classroom courses before students embark on their own research projects.
According to John N. Forrest Jr., M.D., professor of medicine and director of student research, there must be a clinical element to the Doris Duke-funded projects. “Someone in the research group touches the patient,” he said. “It can’t be a mouse model of diabetes.”
Yale received an initial grant of $480,000 in 2001 from DDCF, and its participation in the program was extended this year with an additional $500,000 to carry it forward through June 2009.