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Palestinian Student Wins Research Day Competition at Wake Forest University School of Medicine

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Hazim El-Haddad, an international student from Gaza, has won the 21st annual Medical Student Research Day competition at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Ben Jackson of Lexington, S.C., came in second. Jerona A. Thomas of Charlotte came in third in the overall competition and also captured the Women’s Health Center of Excellence Award. All are second-year medical students.

The 54 research posters entered into the competition was a record, according to Richard St. Clair, Ph.D., professor of pathology and director of the medical student research training program.

Forty-six of the students, all now in their second year, had participated in the Medical Student Training Program this past summer, working in the laboratories of basic science or clinical faculty at the School of Medicine. Others found faculty advisors independently at Wake Forest, at other universities or in federal research laboratories. El-Haddad, for instance, worked with Hunter C. Champion, M.D., Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

El-Haddad studied enlarged hearts, comparing two types – those that resulted from intensive exercise, such as swimming, which is called physiologic hypertrophy, and those caused by reduced heart function, which progresses to heart failure, called maladaptive hypertrophy.

His studies were done in mice, and when mice exercised by swimming regularly, their hearts enlarged, improving heart function. Other mice had induced symptoms of heart failure.

The research tested whether a drug called sildenafil citrate (Viagra) – widely known for its use in erectile dysfunction – will improve heart function and reduce heart size in mice with the maladaptive hypertrophy. El-Haddad’s research showed that sildenafil worked. But it did not interfere with the beneficial hypertrophy associated with swimming. “These findings may be of significant clinical importance,” he said in his poster presentation.

Jackson studied the constriction of the arteries in the fingers and their response to cold which is associated with Raynaud’s syndrome, where the fingertips turn blue or purple. Raynaud's phenomenon is seen with many autoimmune diseases and has been reported to affect up to 20 percent of the population.

He noted that in studying that syndrome and another similar disorder, scleroderma, most other researchers had tested arteries from elsewhere in the body, which may not accurately reflect the pathological changes in the arteries supplying the fingers and toes in the two diseases. So his studies involved finger arteries; he cooled the test arteries from 98.6 to 73 degrees, and documented the effect.

Jackson, who worked with Delrae Eckman, Ph.D., of the Department of Pediatrics and Andrew Koman, M.D., Beth P. Smith, Ph.D., and Tom Smith, Ph.D., all from the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, also conducted tests using several compounds that might allow the arteries to remain open. He had promising results from one compound known as UK 14,304. Thomas, who did her research in the behavioral laboratory of Donald Dougherty, Ph.D., in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, tested the effect of alcohol on reducing inhibitions, leading to behavioral health risks. She said that while previous research from others had recognized such a response, those studies did not measure the dose of alcohol, the time course, or whether the effect was different in men and women.

Her study involved three drinks in a 2.5-hour period. She found that women were less inhibited during the time they were actively drinking and their blood alcohol concentration was rising, while men were less inhibited in the two hours following their last drink.

“This study suggests that there are behavioral implications to the biological differences between men and women in their metabolism of alcohol,” Thomas said.

Both El Haddad and Thomas hold bachelor’s degrees in chemistry from Duke University. Jackson holds a bachelor’s degree from Mars Hill College.

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Media Contacts: Robert Conn, rconn@wfubmc.edu or Karen Richardson, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu, at (336) 716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 30th in primary care, 41st in research and 14th in geriatrics training among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.

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