The “Rising Star” research exchange program is an ongoing trans-atlantic cooperation between the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at Yale School of Medicine and the Department of Radiology at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, Germany. Initiated by the former Radiology chairman Professor Jeff Geschwind, Dr. Julius Chapiro, and their European partner Professor Bernhard Gebauer (Charité), this exchange program was designed to give medical students from Berlin a unique opportunity to work on their doctoral thesis in the United States. The program began in early 2013 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD and continued after relocating to Yale. Professor Geschwind proudly stepped in as scientific supervisor of the program and describes the program as seeking to “support the next generation of physician-scientists early in their medical careers and to excite them for radiological research, which reaches far beyond what they have learned in medical school.” Dr. Chapiro describes the program as offering “transformative, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and opportunities to young researchers from Berlin.” He describes the hallmark of this collaboration as the “dedication to research, extraordinary discipline, and family-like, diverse research team which unites the best and the brightest in one research lab.”
The competitive application process in Germany seeks to identify highly motivated students with the genuine desire to tackle complex scientific problems. “We are not looking for students who simply seek to add some research to their CVs,” says Professor Gebauer, vice- chairman of Radiology at Charité and thesis supervisor for all exchange students. “We want to give our greatest talents the opportunity to prove themselves abroad in one of the most outstanding research institutions worldwide,” says Professor Gebauer. The participants of the exchange are generously supported by the Rolf W. Günther Foundation for Radiology and Radiological Sciences (www.rwguenther-stiftung.de), which was founded in 2006 by Professor Rolf W. Günther to support research in different subspecialties within radiology. Professor Günther is the former chairman of the Department of Radiology at the University Hospital Aachen in Germany and current Distinguished Professor in Research & Development of Interventional Radiology at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin.
After arriving at Yale, the exchange students are fully integrated and treated as independent members of the Yale Interventional Oncology Research Lab. Students are immediately assigned to ongoing research projects and are expected to lead and complete an independent research assignment within the period of their stay at Yale which usually lasts between 6 to 12 months. Each student is supervised closely and benefits from a “tandem-mentoring” concept which connects the visiting student with more senior researchers in the lab for the entire duration of their stay. Each research project embodies the main mission of the lab, to expand the frontiers of knowledge about local image-guided tumor therapies of liver cancer and interventional oncology, an exciting new and continuously growing branch of radiology. Research projects may include basic science research on tumor metabolism, translational research and clinical trials, or studies with an emphasis on biomedical engineering and image analysis. To contribute to the larger scientific community, each student is expected to submit at least one scientific abstract to an international scientific meeting and to conclude his or her project with one first-author publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Within this framework, intensive and individual mentoring and tight supervision are provided to help lead students to success. The program mentors state, “It is our mission in academic medicine to teach research skills just like we teach clinical skills. Otherwise, we will lose our qualitative edge over non-academic tertiary care centers in the long run, which will factually jeopardize our ability to lead.”
This innovative framework has already yielded tremendous results; as the first participant of the exchange program, Lynn Jeanette Savic completed her basic science project with an equal first-author publication in Clinical Cancer Research, a paper which has been officially recognized by the Molecular Cancer Research Center in Berlin with the prestigious Recognition Award in 2016. Lynn Savic has also set a high standard for her successors in the lab with a total of nine published papers in peer-reviewed journals. She was also selected for the Medical Excellence Grant in the category of Science Excellence provided by the Manfred Lautenschläger Foundation in Germany. Both Lynn Savic and her successor, Florian Nima Fleckenstein, have been awarded student scholarships by the German National Academic Foundation. As a special highlight and testament to the quality of scientific training, Lynn has now returned to the U.S. in her new role as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale after graduating from medical school in Berlin. Other exchange students, Boris Gorodetski, Florian Fleckenstein, and Susanne Smolka presented their research in key scientific sessions at the Annual Meeting of the Radiologic Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago in 2014, 2015 and 2016. “I am truly honored to be given the chance to be a part of this incredible research team. Completing my thesis in the U.S. meant fulfilling a childhood dream,” says Florian Fleckenstein who received a travel grant from the German Cancer Society Berlin for his research. Susanne Smolka, whose research was featured in an exclusive interview published on the front page of the RSNA Daily Bulletin in 2015 believes in the future of the exchange program. She says, “Ever since our lab relocated to Yale, we have worked tirelessly to establish the infrastructure and to continue our success story at our new institution, and I know we have succeeded.” In November 2015, the Yale Radiology Research Lab welcomed two additional exchange students from Germany, David Wainstejn and Duc Do Minh, and in March 2016, Bruno Tegel joined the team. All three students conducted exceptional research during the course of their stay. Notably, Duc Do Minh simultaneously managed to develop remarkable programming capabilities. Since then, Milena Miszczuk and Irvin Rexa also successfully completed the program in March 2017.
Tabea Borde and Lucas Adam, a graduate psychologist, are two medical students from Berlin who currently participate in this research exchange. In July 2017, Charlie Hamm will follow their footsteps and will be joined by Isabel Schobert in October, who will participate in the renowned Biomedical Sciences Education Program (BMEP) as a DAAD research scholar.
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