Students gaining valuable experience from research collaborations with WMed faculty

Student Research
The engagement of students in ongoing research projects is a key focus of the medical school

When he graduates this May, fourth-year student Philip Bystrom will leave WMed with a swath of research experience, including a prestigious Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship that took him to Uganda for a year.

Bystrom credits his success in no small part to his early involvement and collaboration as a first- and second-year student with faculty at WMed who he says were eager and willing to mentor him and allow him to assist with research papers and other ongoing projects.

“The faculty are very approachable, they have projects going on and they’re happy to include students,” Bystrom said.

Bystrom is among numerous students who are engaged in ongoing research projects at the medical school. For example, 17 students in the inaugural MD Class of 2018 are listed as authors on a total of 21 peer-reviewed articles and two book chapters, according to Scholarly Publication Reports compiled by the WMed Medical Library. The Class of 2019, which Bystrom is a member of, boasts 15 student authors on a total of 23 peer-reviewed articles.

Current members of the WMed faculty who collaborated on projects with students in the Class of 2018 included Drs. Kelly Brown; Parker Crutchfield; Joyce deJong; Colleen Dodich; Jairo Espinoza; Joseph D. Fakhoury; Andrew Geeslin; Tyler Gibb, ; Donald Greydanus; Janet M. Hur; Jeffrey King; Dilip Patel; Joseph Prahlow; Helen D. Pratt; Kelly Quesnelle; Michael Redinger, and Brandy Shattuck.

Current members of the WMed faculty who collaborated on projects with students in the Class of 2019 included: Drs. Kelly Brown; Joyce deJong; Ahmed El-Isa; Monoj Konda; Andrey Leonov; Dilip Patel; Joseph Prahlow; Kelly Quesnelle; Aisha Shakoor; Neelkamal Soares; Luis Toledo and Matthew Zaccheo.

A full listing of the citations can be seen on the Student Research Activities webpage on the WMed website.

Dr. Krishna Jain, a renowned Kalamazoo vascular surgeon who is now a clinical investigator in WMed's Center for Clinical Research, estimates that 70 to 80 students at the medical school are currently taking part in ongoing research projects. Those projects, he said, have resulted in regional, national, and international presentations, as well as publication in scholarly journals, including the Journal of Vascular Surgery. 

At WMed, Dr. Jain serves as a mentor for students, residents, and junior faculty in clinical studies and scholarly activity with the goal of fostering the broader participation in – and success of – clinical studies, as well as growth in oral and poster presentations, and publications from WMed.

“There is a wealth of clinical research in Kalamazoo because we have two very busy hospitals providing cutting-edge medical care,” Dr. Jain said. “Clinical research is our strength.”

Dr. Jain said the engagement of students in that research is a key focus of the medical school, and the new Research Opportunities Database platform will enhance collaboration between WMed students and faculty on ongoing research projects.

“The database will make it easier for students to find mentors and research projects,” Dr. Jain said. “Having the new platform will make that important collaboration that much easier.”

Bystrom, who will complete his residency training in General Surgery at the University of Illinois at Chicago Metro Group Hospitals following graduation, said the projects he first worked on after arriving at WMed in 2014 included writing two review articles about liver ischemia and reperfusion with Kelly Quesnelle, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

“Dr. Quesnelle helped me and mentored me on how to write a paper,” Bystrom said. “It was a big learning curve and she supported me through the process. With her help, it was effortless.”

Bystrom said the experience he gained with Dr. Quesnelle and other WMed faculty, including Joseph Prahlow, MD, professor in the Department of Pathology, helped make research less intimidating for him. He said he also is certain that the early experience helped him be competitive and stand out when he applied for the Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellowship.

“Getting your first paper published can seem like this impossible hurdle in your head but after I worked with Dr. Quesnelle, I began approaching others,” Bystrom said.

Indeed, Bystrom’s research portfolio has grown during his time at WMed. The research he conducted as part of his fellowship in Uganda led to him doing a presentation on Dengue fever at a Doris Duke research conference and he earned an American Society of Tropical Health and Hygiene Travel Award that afforded him the opportunity to present his research in November 2017 at the ASTMH Annual Meeting.

While in Uganda, Bystrom also assisted on a clinical trial examining the efficacy of adjunctive sertraline in the treatment of cryptococcal meningitis in HIV-positive patients and conducted research examining the accuracy of a PCR-based test aimed at quicker detection of TB meningitis. That study, “Diagnostic Accuracy of Xpert MTB/Rif Ultra for TB Meningitis in HIV-infected adults: a prospective cohort study,” was later accepted for publication in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the world’s leading journal in infectious diseases.

Bystrom is involved in several ongoing projects at WMed and is set to do a poster presentation with Dr. Gitonga Munene, associate professor in the Department of Surgery, in May at the Michigan Chapter of the American College of Surgeons 66th Annual Meeting about a research project that examined how imaging can affect surgical decision-making for pancreatic cancer patients. Bystrom said he’s also working on a research project with Dr. Robert Sawyer, chair of the Department of Surgery, that is a systematic review of antibiotic treatment following surgical infections.

“The opportunities are here,” Bystrom said. “You can get as much out of it as you’re willing to put in. There are a lot of faculty involved in research and it’s a small community. That’s one of the benefits of going to a smaller school, I think a lot of community and academic preceptors are willing to take you under their wing.”

Dr. Quesnelle, who has worked with Bystrom and several other students on different research projects, echoed Bystrom. She said the fact that WMed is not a large institution in terms of the total number of students, leads to a strong sense of community and makes the institution a friendly place for students to partner with faculty on research.

She said the collegial atmosphere at WMed has led to important and timely research, including a project she worked on with Dr. Joyce deJong, chair of the Department of Pathology, staff from the Department of Pathology and the Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, and several students, that examined the role of gabapentin in multi-drug overdoses.

Dr. Quesnelle said Dr. Grant Finlayson, a 2018 WMed graduate, and fourth-year students Michael Chavarria, Stephanie Chang, and Tyler Gardner, played a prominent role in the research and analysis for the project. All of that led to Finlayson presenting the group’s research at the 2016 National Association of Medical Examiners Meeting, as well as Finlayson being listed as the lead author on “Gabapentin in Mixed Drug Fatalities: Does this Frequent Analyte Deserve More Attention?”, which was published in March 2017 in Academic Forensic Pathology.

Dr. Quesnelle said their research on gabapentin led the group to conclude that medical providers may want to exercise caution when prescribing gabapentin to patients who have also been prescribed certain other opioids. As of today, the research paper still ranks as the fifth most-read paper in Academic Forensic Pathology for the last six months.

“It was very rewarding to see the students mature over the course of the project and mentor them through that project,” Dr. Quesnelle said. “To see the students go through the process of creating and disseminating new knowledge that will potentially influence the way physicians prescribe medication was very rewarding. As an educator, that’s your goal and that’s why I’m in this game.”