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Medical education research on display at Research Day 2012

During the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s 11th annual Research Day on Sept. 27, students and faculty members showcased growing achievements in medical research—accomplishments recognized by Dean Kenneth Johnson, D.O.

“We are experiencing a staggering advancement in our medical knowledge, and you are helping to push that knowledge forward. I’m so proud of you,” said Johnson to a crowd of energetic students, faculty and guests gathered on the Irvine Bricks.

This year 44 posters represented researchers’ broad interests and the influential role that early mentorship can play in medical education.  Each student gave a  presentation, and 13 judges rated their research and presentations against set criteria and offered advice.

“This feedback is intended to help them prepare their cases if they choose to take the presentations to other events. For example, this year several students will be taking their projects to the American Osteopathic Association, and the judges gave them valuable information,” said Jessica Wingett, CAP-OM, manager of the Office of Research and Grants and organizer of the event.

Erich Heine, OMS II, presented research on diabetic nephropathy, currently the most common cause of chronic renal failure in the United States. Working with Karen T. Coschigano, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular/cellular biology, they submitted “Increased Macrophage Infiltration and NGkB Activity in Diabetic SKO Mouse Kidneys.”

“Increasingly we are seeing more of the immune system implicated in the pathogenesis of diabetic nephropathy,” Heine said. “If there was some way we could limit these immune cells from infiltrating the kidneys that would perhaps lead to a better prognosis . . . This may eventually even translate into human research.”

He started the project during his first year in medical school, which he then continued in a Research and Scholarly Advancement Fellowship this past summer. Heine presented the research at the Ohio University Student Research and Creative Activity Expo in May and at a Diabetes Institute meeting in September.

“This has really helped supplement my learning in medical school. I’ve been immensely immersed in lectures and also research, and that kind of 'mesh' between the two has really helped spark more interest and helped my learning,” said Heine, who will go to OhioHealth/Doctors Hospital in Columbus for third- and fourth-year rotations and would like to “translate some of this to a more clinical approach to looking at diabetes.”

Jennifer Valentic, OMS II, started working on her research project, “Individualized Breast Milk Analysis: A Paradigm Shift in Fortification for Preterm Newborns,” in the summer of 2010 through a program with MetroHealth Medical Center called Chester Center Scholars. It was supposed to be just a summer opportunity, but she continued to work on it during what she called her “year off” before medical school.

Working with primary investigator Sharon Groth-Wargo, Ph.D., R.D., neonatal nutritionist for MetroHealth Medical Center and associate professor of nutrition and pediatrics at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, Valentic analyzed changes in the macronutrient content of human milk over time from mothers of preterm infants weighing less than 2 kilograms at birth.

They knew that breast milk is often inadequately dense in nutrients to support the growth and development preterm babies. Yet in practice, there is a working assumption that all breast milk is the same, so mother’s milk is often fortified the same way.

Using an infrared milk analyzer, Valentic and Groth-Wargo analyzed their subject’s milk for fat, protein, lactose and calories to determine how to add milk supplements accordingly.

“What we found is that babies were actually getting a lot less protein and calories than we thought. They essentially accumulated a huge protein debt over time during their hospital stay,” Valentic said, who is going to St. John Medical Center in Westlake for clinical rotations next year. “They already have so many challenges stacked up against them.”

The next steps for the researchers, Valentic said, include determining how infrared milk analyzers can fit into hospital settings. She and Groth-Wargo would like to develop a way for health care providers to use this machine to design individualized plans for mothers and their infants.

“It was quite encouraging that a 'Research Day' is in its 11th year—it was quite successful and with terrific support from the medical school administration,” said first time judge, Russell E. Savage Jr., M.T.S.C., Ph.D., grant writer at the Diabetes Institute at Ohio University.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016