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As budding researchers, students reveal a talent for ‘mind-boggling’ science

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Autumn


From a study of a transgenic mouse with Alzheimer’s disease to an analysis of the effects of clinic attendance on weight loss after gastric bypass surgery, a diverse array of projects were on display on Student Research Day in May.

Jack A. Elias, M.D., the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Medicine, and chair of internal medicine, called the quality of the science exhibits in the Hope Building “absolutely mind-boggling,” while one older guest was overheard saying to a contemporary, “Can you imagine us doing anything this sophisticated when we were students here?”

April Levin, a fourth-year medical student who plans to specialize in pediatric neurology, studied epileptic seizures in WAG/Rij rats, an inbred strain of rat that is genetically susceptible to seizures. Levin wanted to see whether having a seizure somehow teaches the body to have more seizures. Through the use of ethosuximide (ESX), a treatment for absence seizures, Levin and her team were able to prevent seizures in very young rats. Months later, a brain-wave comparison showed that early treatment with the antiepileptic drug ESX before the onset of seizures resulted in decreased seizure activity months after ESX was discontinued.

Karen Archabald studied whether prenatal discussion of breast feeding by health care providers makes a difference in a new mother’s feeding choices. Archabald, a fourth-year medical student planning to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, found that while 95 percent of the women she interviewed had concerns about breast feeding, only a quarter of those had their concerns addressed by a health care provider. While 75 percent said they were asked about their feeding plans, only 25 percent of those felt they had had a conversation with their health care provider. “There is a lot of room for improvement in terms of discussion,” Archabald concluded.

The day’s keynote address, the 20th annual Farr Lecture, was delivered by Elias, who has spent his career studying pulmonary disease. Asthma, he said, is a “silent epidemic” that afflicts up to 20 million people in the United States alone. One slide Elias showed drove the point home, however, even more forcefully than that staggering number. The slide was an autopsy specimen from an 11-year-old girl who died in the grip of an asthma attack while her mother raced her to the hospital.

Elias ended on a note that surely left his audience of budding scientists feeling energized about their career paths: the work conducted in his lab laid the scientific groundwork for Aerovant, a new asthma treatment. Aerovant is now showing promising results in clinical trials.

Abstracts and complete theses by Yale medical students are accessible online via the Yale Medicine Thesis Digital Library at

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