Danielle McKenna presents a poster on breast cancer research.

Scholars Research Day

UD undergraduate students showcase summer biomedical research

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8:46 a.m., Sept. 5, 2012--University of Delaware undergraduate student interns in the Delaware IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (Delaware INBRE) program showcased a summer of research efforts during a special event Aug. 20.

Their work was shared during the Christiana Care Health System (CCHS) Value Institute’s Scholars Research Day and Luncheon, which was held in the John H. Ammon Medical Education Center on the Christiana Hospital campus.

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Timothy J. Gardner, M.D., medical director, Center for Heart and Vascular Health, and executive director of the Value Institute, welcomed an audience that included about 100 clinicians and nurses.

Gardner lauded the accomplishments of INBRE student researchers and mentors as enhancing Christiana Care’s efforts to deliver innovative, affordable health care to the community. 

“We want to take this to the next step and make sure that what we’re doing is valuable to our neighbors and to our society,” Gardner, said. “These research projects that you have been hearing about this summer are at the very center of this kind of activity.” 

Thomas Bauer, M.D., Christiana Care’s co-principal investigator for the National Institutes of Health’s Delaware INBRE, said the Value Institute’s summer research program is an opportunity to educate the next generation of scientists working together in the medical and academic communities.

“The time that students get to work with their mentors is extremely valuable,” Bauer said. “I want to thank all of the physicians and nurses who worked with students this summer to educate them and impact the rest of their lives.”

Bauer, chief of thoracic surgery at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, noted that Delaware’s academic scientists and engineers ranked first in the number of articles produced for every $1 million in academic research and development funding, with 4.64 articles compared to the national average of 2.97 articles. 

“A lot of people like to do the research, but when you get to publication, that’s a different story,” Bauer said. “I’m encouraging each student and mentor to use your poster and what you have learned about the process to get your paper started and submitted.” 

Student poster presentations

Danielle McKenna, who graduated from UD in May with a degree in biological sciences, presented research titled “To Determine the Penetrance and Spectrum of Cancer Associated with BRAC1 Mutation Carriers and Assess the Cost Effectiveness of Testing.” Zohra Ali-Khan Catts, director of the Cancer Genetics Program at the Helen F. Graham Center, served as mentor. 

“This summer is the first time I did an intern project where I shadowed a genetic counselor,” McKenna said. “It has been a very rewarding experience and I want to continue to work in genetic counseling.”

Lindsey Olivere, sophomore biochemical major at Duke University, presented “Understanding the Use of a Pharmacy Refill History in Primary Care Practice.” Mentor for the project was Daniel Elliott, M.D., co-director of Ambulatory Medicine and Clinical Outcomes Research at Christiana Care.

“I worked with Robbie Zent (research coordinator in the Department of Medicine) who helped line up tours of the different departments at Christiana Care, including the Neonatal Unit and the Surgical Intensive Care Unit,” Olivere said. “I was able to observe a lot of research projects and learn how the process works.” 

Megan Burch, a senior in UD’s College of Arts and Sciences, presented “Systematic Review of Patient Contact Following an Emergency Department Visit.” Daniel Elliott, M.D., mentored. 

“Dr. Elliott was really helpful and a taught me a lot. It was a great experience, especially for my future goal to be a doctor,” Burch said. “I can’t believe how much research happened in just one summer. I was really impressed by my peers.” 

“It was satisfying to watch the students have a foundational experience and to help them potentially make a better informed decision about their majors and careers,” Elliott said. “I also enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm of the students as they engaged with a new way of thinking and a new way of developing and completing a project.” 

Jacob Joseph, a senior biological sciences major at UD, presented “Language Needs and Health Literacy of Post-Partum Women Serviced by Christiana Care Health Systems.” Deborah B. Ehrenthal, M.D., director of Health Services Research for Women and Children and medical director of women’s health programs in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Christiana Care, served as mentor. 

“The task was to survey post-partum moms and see how language affected them,” Joseph said. “This population-based research shows how language is important. It was neat to do such a wide variety of research.” 

Victoria Kopec, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, presented “Cardiovascular Risk One Year Following a Pregnancy Complicated by Hypertension.” Deborah B. Ehrenthal, M.D., mentored. 

“I loved every second of this summer. This was a great opportunity for me to get research experience and to be a part of the hospital environment. You can really see the passion that Dr. Ehrenthal and the rest of the Health Services Research for Women and Children’s team have for their work,” Kopec said. “Pennsylvania medical schools require a certain amount of patient hours, and I was able to get a lot of patient contact hours this summer through my appointments with patients and the interviews that were conducted on the maternity floors.”

Ehrenthal said that the collaboration between UD and Christiana Care is a necessary component to continuing efforts to improve the health and health care of people in Delaware.

“Jacob was interested in exploring public health, and Victoria was interested in becoming a physician’s assistant,” Ehrenthal said. “Their work on both projects will make a big contribution to helping us at CCHS provide better care to the patients in our community.”

Andrew Idell, a sophomore medical laboratory sciences major at UD, presented “Implementation of Emergency Department Scribes on Physician Productivity: Initial Data.”  Neil Jasani, M.D., director of Emergency Medicine Residency at CCHS, mentored.

“Being in the emergency department every day and seeing how the emergency unit equipment and software is used was very interesting,” Idell said. “I also learned a lot about the thought processes involved in emergency department work.” 

Karl Steiner, senior associate provost for research development at UD, and principal investigator of Delaware INBRE, cited the program’s growth. 

“When we launched Delaware INBRE over a decade ago, it was at best a dream,” Steiner said. “To see this today, and the broad acceptance of the program at Christiana Care Health System, is great. This is the realization of that dream we laid out in 2000.”

Steiner said that one of INBRE’s goals is to link physicians with academic peers and laying the foundation for a successful biomedical research program.

“INBRE also provides those in academia the opportunity to work with the clinical side and to reach out to the student population and open their eyes to the opportunities that are out there for them,” Steiner said. “The program has a statewide impact that fits into the strategic goals of each of our institutions.” 

Jeanette Miller, associate director of Delaware INBRE, said it was important for the students to know that more than 100 clinicians and nurses were present to learn if they could apply the results of student research projects.

“Across the board, INBRE gives students the opportunity to carry out research projects,” Miller said. “The summer research projects also provide professional and cognitive benefits, as well as being an excellent preparation for graduate school.” 

About Delaware INBRE

Delaware INBRE is a partnership among six institutions, including four academic partners — the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College and Wesley College — and two clinical partners — Christiana Care Health System and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

INBRE undergraduate researchers students take part in a retreat, special seminars, research symposia and poster sessions. 

The program is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences and administered by the University of Delaware. 

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photos by Ambre Alexander

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