Can Assays be Interesting? 

Diana Battalgia – Ph.D. Candidate (Microbiology, Immunology, and Parasitology) 

From an outsider’s perspective, the lab is a cold and boring place where things seem to focus on the most obscure of details. While a lot of science is heavily detail-oriented, it doesn’t have to be cold or boring. There are a seemingly endless number of both complex and simple assays that can be performed.

Unfortunately, research is rarely simple. Like other areas of research, vascularization appears to be straightforward; however, while vascularization is the basis of wound healing, it also plays a role in many illnesses including cancer. Therefore, drugs blocking and promoting vascularization have a big place in research and health care. Some of the assays done to illustrate vascularization are fascinating and quite imaginative.

  • CAM (Chick Chorioallantoic Membrane Assay): This assay takes a 3 day old fertilized chicken egg and uses the developing chick embryo to model neovascularization. A small window is cut into the eggshell and a drug, a gel plug, or even cancer cells can be inserted. The effects can be viewed by a camera or by histological staining.
  • Aortic Ring Assay: Using aortas harvested from mice, new vessel formation can be measured and quantified. The aorta is collected and cleaned of all branching vessels and fat before being embedded in a matrix. After a few days, the growth of new vessels can be visualized under a microscope with additional information being provided by staining.
  • Tubule Formation Assay: Endothelial cells plated in a matrix will spontaneous form tubules and organize into a three-dimensional network of vessels. With a time-lapse video, it is possible to watch the migration and replication of these cells as they form a complex honeycomb shaped system. Image J, a program that allows the quantification of visual data, is commonly used to measure the lengths of tubules and the number of nodes formed.
  • Corneal Angiogenesis Assay: The cornea is usually avascular but by cutting a pouch into the cornea and inserting a gel plug or sponge, it is possible to measure the resulting vascularization. Removing the insert and quantifying vessel permeation then measures the effects of a drug placed in the insert.
  • Zebrafish Embryo Model: Zebrafish embryos are a fast and inexpensive method to model neovascularization in vivo. This animal model can be used to screen anti-angiogenic compounds and to track the genetic expression of vessels in the developing eye. Images can be taken under a microscope.

Human biology is so carefully interwoven and complex that it’s nearly impossible to understand a single event without understanding countless others. Assays such as these take into account the complexity of a living system. Many of these assays are used in labs here at LSUHSC.

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The Dual Perspective 

Katelyn Robillard, M.D./Ph.D. Student 

The M.D./Ph.D. combined degree program is designed to educate medical students interested in a career as a physician scientist. LSUHSC is one of 122 medical schools in the United States to offer this program, and typically accepts 4 to 6 students each year. Since 2003, LSUHSC has graduated 33 M.D./Ph.D.s who have matched into residency programs at Harvard, Yale, and UCLA, just to name a few. These students are often regarded as competitive applicants due to their unique training.

An M.D./Ph.D. combined degree usually takes 7 to 8 years to complete. Students begin with the first two years of medical school followed by taking the USMLE Step 1 exam, before parting ways with their classmates. M.D./Ph.D. then transition to graduate school to complete 3 to 4 years of predoctoral training; which includes working on a thesis project in a laboratory, in addition to completing additional coursework specific to their chosen area of study.

Upon completion of the Ph.D. degree, these students return to medical school to complete the final two years of clinical clerkships and board exams. M.D./Ph.D. graduates have the option to apply for Research Residency Programs, in which protected research time is fully integrated into the clinical training. Most physician scientists will become faculty members at medical schools, universities, and research institutes, spending 70% to 80% of their time conducting research; however, the combined degree allows flexibility in allocating time to research versus clinical practice.

As a fourth-year M.D./Ph.D. student, I have completed my first year of graduate school in the Neuroscience Center under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Lentz. While the transition from a structured medical school curriculum to the blank slate of a thesis project was daunting, I eventually learned how to coordinate my days with class lectures, neuroscience seminars, laboratory experiments, and manuscript writing.

During my first year of graduate school, I have already taken part in unique and exciting learning experiences. I have completed in-depth neuroscience coursework, written a grant application for National Institutes of Health funding, trained to perform subretinal injections at the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston, MA, and become familiar with the newest genetic approaches to treating neurological disease.

My thesis project focuses specifically on Acadian Usher syndrome, a genetic cause of deaf-blindness that, for me, hits close to home. Through Dr. Lentz’s annual Usher symposium and patient studies, I have been able to interact with these patients to learn more about their family histories, as well as their experiences with this devastating disease. These interactions have motivated me at the bench and have also expanded my bedside manner to include the deaf-blind population. Furthermore, I have managed to stay connected to the clinical world by coordinating health screening events, shadowing residents through the M.D./Ph.D. mentorship program, and teaching MCAT biology prep courses to aspiring medical students.

While there are certainly a few bumps in the road to becoming a physician scientist, the M.D./Ph.D. program offers many exciting opportunities for those wanting to take part in scientific breakthroughs that will impact the clinical world. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, “The M.D./Ph.D. dual career is busy, challenging, and rewarding, and it offers opportunities to do good for many people by advancing knowledge, developing new treatments for diseases, and pushing back the boundaries of the unknown.”

 

Gold Humanism Award Recipients

The Gold Humanism Honor Society would like to extend its congratulations to the following students & residents who were nominated and elected by their peers for Students of the Month for June 2017!

  • Class of 2020: Muhammad Farooq & Anna Rees
  • Class of 2019: Kelsey Quarls
  • Class of 2018: Beau Landry Wegener & Brooke Town
  • Residents: Dr. Mary Beth Hulin & Dr. Brennan Watson

Their interactions with their peers, patients, and community have been noted, and we want to commend them on being such great members of the LSUHSC community. These students embody the GHHS pillars of Respect, Integrity, Service, and Empathy.

Congratulations again and keep on being golden!

Welcome Medical School Class of 2021! 

On Monday, July 31, 2017 the School of Medicine welcomed its newest students into the graduating class of 2021.  195 students started their educational journey with two days of orientation, where they met the Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Dr. Cathy Lazarus, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, Dr. Ham Farris, and various senior classmates, who presented information on humanism, gender identity and pronoun usage, and a variety of student organizations.  Dr. Steve Nelson, Dean of the School of Medicine, led the class in the recitation of the Hippocratic Oath, officially dedicating themselves to the medical profession.

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This year’s class is composed of 103 women and 92 men.  Further, although a majority of students are residents of Louisiana, this class also contains students from twelve additional states from all over the country.  Welcome new students and we at The Pulse wish you the best of luck in your academic career!

Graduation

LSU Health New Orleans Graduates New Members of Health Care Workforce

Leslie Capo
Director of Information Services, LSUHSC

Students from LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans’ six professional health schools graduated during its 143rd Commencement on Thursday, May 18, 2017 held at the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena.

Graduates included students from LSU Health New Orleans’ schools of Allied Health Professions, Nursing, Public Health, Graduate Studies, Dentistry, and Medicine. Dr. Larry H. Hollier, LSU Health New Orleans Chancellor, presided over the ceremony.  James Williams, of the LSU Board of Supervisors, conferred the degrees. Gregory C. Feirn, Chief Executive Officer of LCMC Health, delivered the Commencement Address.

Nearly 900 students completed degree requirements this academic year. The vast majority of students – 90% – are from 44 Louisiana parishes. Women comprise 65% of the class.

“The impact of LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans’ commencement reaches far beyond our faculty, students and their loved ones,” said Dr. Larry Hollier, LSU Health New Orleans Chancellor. “It is our graduates who take care of people in Louisiana or become research scientists whose discoveries advance treatment or prevent disease and faculty members to educate and train future generations of Louisiana health care professionals.”

The 143rd Commencement brings the total number of degrees and certificates awarded by LSU Health New Orleans since its founding to 39,454.

Medical Student To Spend A Year Doing Research At the National Institutes of Health

Leslie Capo
Director in Information Services, LSUHSC

Russ Guidry sm vRuss Guidry, a student at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, is one of only about 50 medical students in the country chosen to participate in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medical Research Scholars Program.

According to the NIH, the Medical Research Scholars Program is a comprehensive, yearlong research enrichment program designed to attract the most creative, research oriented medical, dental, and veterinary students to the intramural campus of the NIH in Bethesda, MD. Student scholars engage in closely mentored basic, clinical or translational research projects on the main NIH campus in Bethesda or nearby NIH facilities that match their research interests and career goals.

“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to represent LSU Health Sciences Center at the NIH,” says Guidry. “I can’t wait to discover all that this experience has to offer.” Guidry is a third year LSU Health New Orleans medical student originally from Baton Rouge. For the past couple of years, he has worked on angiogenesis inhibitors in the lab of Dr. Eugene Woltering, the James D. Rives Professor of Surgery and Neuroscience and Section Chief of Surgical Endocrinology at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine.

“Russ Guidry is the fifth LSU student to participate in this prestigious program,” notes Dr. Paula Gregory, Director of Faculty Development at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. The NIH Medical Research Scholars Program is a public/private partnership supported jointly by the NIH and generous contributions to the Foundation for the NIH from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the American Association for Dental Research, the Colgate-Palmolive Company, Genentech and alumni of student research programs and other individual supporters via contributions to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.

Guidry will begin the program in July 2017. While he’s there, he’ll also have the opportunity to take graduate courses and engage in activities like seminars and journal clubs with top experts in a variety of fields.

AOA Inductees (March 2017)

Congratulations go out to the following 8 juniors from the LSU SOM Class of 2018 who have been selected for membership into the Louisiana Beta Chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society:

  • Christopher Anderson
  • Joseph Fougerousse
  • Mark Hoppens
  • Paul Kepper
  • John Miller
  • Jonas Miller
  • Laura Petrauskas
  • Chloe Renshaw

The following residents, faculty members, and alumni have also been selected for membership into the Louisiana Beta Chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society:

 Residents: 

  • Jennifer Broussard, MD
  • Dunia Khaled, MD
  • Sarah Lillis, MD
  • Benjamin Morehead, MD
  • Joshua Sherman, MD

Faculty: 

  • Kristi Boudreaux, MD
  • Charles Coleman, MD
  • Hamilton Farris, PhD
  • Christopher Thomas, MD
  • Christian Winters, MD

Alumni: 

  • Vince Forte, MD
  • Julia Garcia-Diaz, MD
  • Alan Lacoste, MD
  • Janine Steckler Parker, MD
  • Fayne St. John, MD

Please join me in congratulating these students, residents, faculty, and alumni for achieving this most prestigious honor!

 

Match Day: The First Day of the Rest of our Lives

Katie Melder (L4) and Thomas Steele (L4) 

I check my watch, its 10:56. After what seems like days passing by, I check it again – only 10:57! One more time… It seems like the clock will never hit 11! This scene undoubtedly played on loop for many in the Class of 2017 on the morning of Friday, March 17 – otherwise known around the medical world as “Match Day.”

This year, LSU Match Day was held at the St. Charles Club Lounge in the Superdome. Promptly at 11:00 AM, Dr. Cathy Lazarus and Dr. Hamilton Farris began calling students in a predetermined random order, where Dr. Fred Lopez greeted us on stage. The entire Office of Student Affairs assisted in some shape or form, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Ms. Bobbie Millet, Ms. Kourtnie Robin, Ms. Melanie Brown, Ms. Carolyn Calvin, Ms. Phyllis Johnston, and Ms. Lindy Mills for keeping us relatively cool, calm, and collected.

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As students were called, a makeshift “human tunnel” formed, through which classmates would pass before emerging on stage. In keeping with a long-standing tradition, every student deposited a canned good in marked boxes and $1 in a lucky “Pot of Gold.” As students exited the stage, we were handed a necklace of lucky green beads in the shape of 4-leaf clovers before ultimately receiving a simple envelope. Inside this envelope held the location of where we will ultimately call home for the next three to seven years, completing the final stages of our medical training in residency.

What about the canned goods and the Pot of Gold? The canned goods were ultimately donated to Second Harvest Food Bank. And as a reward for being the last name called and patiently enduring the torment of hearing EVERY student’s name called before, Rory Bouzigard was awarded the entire Pot of Gold, amounting to over $200 in cash!

That day, amongst our families, friends, peers and mentors we received more than just an envelope. That simple piece of paper was a guarantee of a future many of us have dreamed about since middle school. For many, opening the letter meant attending their dream program, and for some, a promise fulfilled that partners would finally be reunited after a long absence.

As music played, food and drink flowed, and students and families visited with faculty and staff, I couldn’t help but notice nearly every student was rejoicing. In a recent survey of 150 classmates, 61% of students received their first choice and 95% got in their top 5. LSU School of Medicine has always prided itself as an institution that trains doctors who will ultimately care for Louisiana residents, and this year nearly 50% of the class chose to stay in-state to complete their medical training. Of those, nearly 80% will join an LSU training institution. Of the other half of the class that chose to leave for residency, the programs that matched LSU students include a veritable “Who’s Who?” of prestigious universities: Harvard, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the list goes on. This is a testament to the superior training students receive at LSU School of Medicine.

Around 2:00 PM, in traditional New Orleans fashion, a 5-piece brass band emerged to lead the students, families, faculty, and staff from the Superdome to Pat O’Brien’s on a nearly 30-minute walk down Poydras, Loyola, Canal, and Bourbon streets. As onlookers and out-of-towners looked on incredulously, snapping pictures and videos of this purple and gold procession, we celebrated the relief felt in the certainty of the future. As I looked around, seeing so many of my classmates reveling in success, a sense of immense pride washed over me. After being through so much together, we have forged a bond that distance cannot break. Now it’s time to enjoy the last bit of freedom, hunt for condos and get ready to receive those two special letters behind our name.

CURRICULUM CHANGE – A Guinea Pig’s Perspective 

By Hayes Patrick, Class of 2019 (L2), Class President

Entering medical school in the middle of a curriculum change was an exciting, yet extremely intimidating experience. Not only did the Class of 2019 face the typical stressors of starting medical school, but we did so with a little extra uncertainty. However, while navigating a new curriculum added some anxiety at times – making us feel like we were guinea pigs swimming out into uncharted waters – we also knew that we were entering a medical school committed to improving our education and better preparing us to be Louisiana’s finest physicians. Because of that, our class commends Dean Nelson, Dr. Robin English and the Curriculum Renewal Committee, and the faculty for their tireless work over the last six years in planning and implementing the curriculum change with such success.

The original goals of the curriculum change, according to Drs. English and DiCarlo, were “increased integrated learning; reduction of time spent in lecture; increased emphasis on clinical skills teaching and evaluation; increased time devoted to specific content areas such as cultural competency, health systems, and interprofessional education; and more opportunities for career exploration and clinical experiences in the pre-clerkship curriculum.” Students and faculty agree that the new curriculum has accomplished these goals. After more than 3 semesters, our class has reaped many benefits from the new curriculum, as we constantly hear from older classes that “we have it so much better.”

The L2 class is currently in the middle of Step 1 planning and studying, and we can already recognize the benefits that the new curriculum had in our preparation for the exam. Learning the material through an integrated, systems-based approach and assessing ourselves with customized NBME Shelf exams after each block has already prepared us for the style and content we can expect on Step 1. In addition, many of the supplemental materials that students religiously use to study for Step 1 (e.g. First Aid, Pathoma, uWorld question bank) have already become familiar as we prepare for NBME Shelf exams throughout the school year. Although Step 1 scores were excellent at LSUHSC well before the curriculum change, we are optimistic that the new, integrated approach will benefit our performance this June.

Above all else, this curriculum change has emphasized the importance of clear and transparent communication between students and faculty. Dr. English said that even though the transition has “gone as expected, there have been some challenges that we didn’t anticipate.”  Growing pains that have come with the new curriculum, including scheduling issues or material that still needs consolidating, have required faculty and students to work together in order to resolve unexpected issues.

One of the Aesculapian Society representatives for the L2 class, Lucie Calderon, said, “the faculty have been extremely attentive to the suggestions presented by the Aesculapian representatives and have even been able to incorporate some changes real-time, which attests to their dedication to our learning and well-being.” Another Aesculapian representative, Greg Auda, added, “the curriculum has provided the opportunity for the students and faculty to answer to each other, and improve things for the future based on each other’s input…It truly is a team effort this year, which I hope is a trend that will continue.” While there is always more work to be done in improving our curriculum and our learning, it is reassuring to work with faculty so receptive to the concerns and suggestions of students.

We would like to thank Dean Nelson, the Curriculum Renewal Committee, the Course and Content Directors, and the many other faculty members involved in making the curriculum change possible. And we would like to give a special thank you to Dr. English (affectionately dubbed “Queen E”) for her constant and supportive presence in serving this medical school. Dr. English is an incredible leader among the faculty and students, and she has earned the utmost respect and admiration from the Class of 2019.

Transitions 

By Thomas Steele, President SOM Student Government Association 

“Nothing endures but change.” These words, spoken by Heraclitus around 500 BC, seem especially prophetic in today’s world. No institution is more aware of this undeniable truth than LSUHSC School of Medicine. Undoubtedly the biggest “change” of the last 50 years happened on August 27, 2005, when life was, both figuratively and quite literally, turned upside down for millions of individuals. What followed was a concerted effort of heroic proportions by administrators, faculty, and students to re-establish our world class medical education program. Since that restoration, a period of progress has dawned, and we are now in a unique period of transition as a School – a transition from “restoration” to “excellence.”

The openings of University Medical Center in August 2015 and of the new Veterans Affairs medical center in November 2016 are two beacons of this transition. LSUHSC medical students now have access to two state-of-the-art medical centers through which to care for the medical needs of the Louisiana population. In addition to the expanded opportunities in the clinical years, the members of the Class of 2019 are pioneers in the new pre-clinical curriculum change that began in the 2015-2016 year. The class of 2018 can expect revised and simplified requirements for the L4 year.

At present, the process for reaccreditation with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) is well underway, with the LCME site visit anticipated to occur in the fall of 2017. Results of the Independent Student Analysis (ISA), were analyzed by Dr. Richard DiCarlo, the ISA Committee and the Office of Undergraduate Medical Education and led to identification of several diverse areas of student life that should and could be addressed. For example, student safety while crossing Tulane Ave will result in an elevated walkway to the hospital tentatively scheduled to begin construction in spring 2017. Separately, renovation of all seminar rooms in the 3rd floor Medical Education Building is set to begin in summer 2017.

The overarching goal of the ISA committee is to establish a process of continuous quality improvement in a manner where we do not simply identify problems and develop solutions, but continuously monitor the adequacy and effectiveness of proposed solutions. Dr. DiCarlo has coined the phrase “You Said, We Did” and a follow-up survey to assess the results of these proposed solutions will be sent out this spring.

Although change can be frightening, the transition at LSUHSC is a very positive one. When you combine the growth occurring presently at LSUHSC School of Medicine, the solid foundation of our prestigious faculty members, and the student-focused responsiveness of Dean Steve Nelson’s administration, the end result is a fertile environment in which to plant the seeds of lifelong learning and devotion to the field of medicine.