Second-year UCF College of Medicine students presented their independent research projects that showcase medical-related topics about which the doctors-in-training are passionate.

The Focused Individualized Research Experience (FIRE) projects were the dream of Dr. Deborah German, vice president of medical affairs and founding dean of the College of Medicine. She wanted medical students to develop a spirit of inquiry and “keep your dreams alive” by conducting research in an area of interest. “The research work you’ve done is part of the fabric of this medical school,” German told students Wednesday.

Research ranged from designing better helmets to protect soldiers during battle to determining whether teaching dementia patients a new skill of playing the violin helped them retain mental functioning. Students were graded by both faculty members and peers with awards going to the top three peer-evaluated projects.

First place went to Keith Connolly, who studied whether basic non-contrast MRIs are accurate 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 the painful condition is often difficult to diagnose.  Keith studied 244 patients and found that only 38% received an accurate diagnosis with the non-contrast MRI. As a result, those patients may have gone to physical therapy or taken medications to deal with symptoms rather than having the simple surgical procedure to repair the lesion.

Keith was a decorated Naval officer before coming to the UCF College of Medicine and had never done clinical research before the FIRE project. “I’m interested in orthopedics,” he said. “This research showed me how important it is to create knowledge that will help improve patient care.” Keith’s research mentor was Dr. Brad Homan of Celebration Orthopedics.

Second place went to Sarina Amin, who evaluated the use of a drug, phentolamine, to improve blood flow to the brains of newborn babies undergoing surgery to repair congenital heart defects. Since there is a chance for brain damage while the heart is stopped during these surgeries, Sarina studied how phentolamine could be used to decrease the damage and improve patient outcomes. Sarina’s research mentor was Dr. William DeCampli of Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital.

Third place went to Matthew Dean, who studied how emergency wards can diagnose patients with a sepsis infection earlier by measuring the amount of carbon dioxide they exhale. Sepsis, which is more prevalent in the elderly, can cause organ failure by drastically reducing blood pressure in its victims. Matthew’s research mentor was Dr. Salvatore Silvestri of Orlando Regional Medical Center.