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Four Students Win Awards at Medical Student Research Day

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Brian Werner, a second-year medical student from Lancaster, Pa., took first place in the 22nd annual Medical Student Research Day poster competition at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

His poster, “Development of a Novel Nanotechnological Approach to Non-Invasive Assessment of Tissue Pressure,” described a new method of measuring tissue pressure in the body using silver nanoparticles.

The Pennsylvania State University graduate explained, “Changes in pressure alter the light-emitting properties of these nanoparticles, which can be measured with a sensor outside the body. The process would measure various tissue pressures such as pressure within compartments of the arms or legs. “ Potentially, the process could measure intracranial or other difficult-to-measure pressures, which are much lower than blood pressure, typically ranging from 10 to 40 millimeters of mercury.

The second-place winner was Karim Ali, also a second-year medical student and a 2005 Guilford College graduate from High Point. His poster was “Carbon Nanotube-Silicone Nanocomposites for Applications in Urinary Catheters.” Ali said he was looking for a way to reduce urinary tract infections, the most common hospital-acquired infections, especially in urinary catheters.

“We combined carbon nanotubes with silicone to create a composite, which may be a better material for use as urinary catheters,” he said. “This composite material appears to decrease bacterial counts, allows less urinary salt deposition, and does not seem toxic.”

The third-place winner was Jennifer E. Sanders, a second-year medical student and a 2005 graduate of Davidson College from Jasper, Ala. Her poster was “The Perimenopausal Endometrium: Confused? An update on the Soy Estrogen Alternative Study.”

She said her findings go against the conventional scientific knowledge that estrogen controls the endometrium, or the lining of the uterus, at the time of menopause. Instead, she found that during the perimenopausal transition, the endometrium may be under local control in the uterus.

Jodi Galla, a second-year medical student and a graduate of Purdue University from Pittsburgh, Pa., won the Women’s Health Center of Excellence award for her poster, “Measuring Sleep in Depressed Insomniacs: Can Polysomnography be Replaced?”

She said, “My research found that polysomnography (overnight sleep studies) continues to be the best way to measure sleep patterns in people suffering from both depression and insomnia. Newer methods are not as reliable, but may be more accurate on some measures than previously thought.”

A record 55 posters were presented, said Richard St. Clair, Ph.D., chairman of the intramural research support committee, which selects the students to participate in the summer research projects under the Medical Student Research Training Program.

He said 53 medical students – nearly half the class of 2009 – won scholarship support for their research proposals this past summer. They all presented posters along with one student who presented a poster for work done elsewhere, and another who presented research done the previous summer.

Each student works with at least one faculty member, and some had three or four mentors.

Medical Student Research Day also included a lecture by Stephen G. Young, M.D., professor of medicine at David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, on progeria, a rare genetic disease that leads to premature aging in children.

The disease produces rapid aging of features, loss of hair, frequent fractures, osteoporosis, and severe atherosclerosis, which ends up killing these children at an average age of 13. Researchers were able to generate a knockout mouse strain that duplicates the disease.

Young described tests in these animals of a drug that dramatically reduced rib fractures, and improved bone density. When the drug goes into human clinical trials, “I’m optimistic that we will see some improvement.”

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Media Contacts: Robert Conn, rconn@wfubmc.edu, Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@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 18th in family medicine, 20th in geriatrics, 25th in primary care and 41st in research among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 35th 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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