Forty-one College of Medicine students presented their independent research projects to faculty members, guest judges and fellow classmates this week in a FIRE mini-conference designed to showcase medical topics about which the doctors-in-training are passionate. FIRE stands for Focused Individualized Research Experience and was the dream of Dean Deborah German, who wanted the med students to create their own projects as a way to “keep your dream alive” and make first-hand discoveries in an area of interest.
In their presentations, students outlined their initial project goals and how they will conduct their research over the next year. Their projects ranged from the health benefits of community gardening to tracking Hepatitis C in liver transplant patients, from preventing weight gain in college freshmen to designing better helmets to protect soldiers during battle.
“I have one word for everybody,” Dr. Lynn Crespo, assistant dean for undergraduate medical education, said after the presentations. “Wow. What we have heard today has so far exceeded anything we could have dreamed of.”
The students evaluated each other’s proposals and those scores determined the top four projects:
- Ashley Curry is conducting research on vision care and its role in the management of diabetes. Eye damage is a key complication of diabetes, and Ashley’s study will determine how much diabetics know about eye disease, how poor diabetic control affects eyesight and whether educational materials are helpful in teaching patients the importance of eye care. Ashley’s research mentor is Lee Nasehi, chief executive officer of Lighthouse Central Florida, a vision rehabilitation resource center. Her faculty advisor is Dr. Laurel Gorman.
- Lynn McGrath is determining whether “pressure vents” in military helmets can better protect soldiers hit with explosive devices such as those used in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Current helmets amplify the pressure next to the soldier’s skull during a blast and Lynn hopes to determine if a new design – that releases some of that pressure, almost like the spout in a tea kettle, will decrease the incidence of traumatic brain injury. Lynn’s research mentor is Dr. Jogi Pattisapu and his faculty advisor is Dr. Lynn Crespo.
- Zsuzsanna Scionti is studying the recurrence of the Hepatitis C virus in patients who have had a liver transplant. Hepatitis C can result in liver failure and because the virus is found in the blood, it often attacks a new liver within five or 10 years after a transplant. Zsuzsanna will study whether biomarkers in blood tests can effectively determine cirrhosis of the liver instead of invasive biopsies. Zsuzsanna’s research mentor is Dr. Nikolaos Pyrsopoulos. Her faculty advisor is Dr. Diane Jacobs.
- Keith Connolly is evaluating the accuracy of noncontrast MRIs in diagnosing Superior Labrum Anterior-to-Posterior (SLAP) lesions in the shoulder. This shoulder injury is most common in athletes with an overhand throwing motion, such as pitchers, and is often difficult to diagnose with a physical exam. Keith will research whether increasing radiologists’ training and the strength of magnets in MRIs improves detection of this painful condition. Keith’s research mentor is Dr. Brad Homan and his faculty advisor is Dr. Loren Nelson.