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Medical students present research projects

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

COMP-NW students Anna Mikami and John Petrucci were awarded first place at the WesternU Oregon Research Symposium for their oral presentation on cardiac sympathetic hyperinnervation in a mouse model of carcinoid disease on Nov. 3.

Students listen to a presentation about mobility of older adults.

The college’s research club hosts the symposium every year, giving medical students an opportunity to share research studies they participated in during the past year. According to Research Club member Tinh-Doan Phi, students participate in research projects conducted by faculty and outside organizations, then present their findings at the symposium.

Dr. Brian Delmonaco, a Samaritan doctor who judged the presentations, said the symposium brought the scientific community together in a forum that would be similar to what would be found at a national medical conference

Visitors discuss a poster presentation about platysma anchors that support the neck and head.

“The quality of research and professionalism of the students at the symposium fired us up to keep pursuing such worthwhile activities,” Delmonaco said. “The ideas discussed and discoveries shared will impact human health around the world.”

He highlighted the research done under Dr. Belinda McCulley, which earned Mikami and Petrucci first place at the symposium.

“McCulley and her lab partners discovered that the proliferation of sympathetic nerves in myocardial tissue is likely responsible for cardiac arrhythmias in patients with carcinoid syndrome. This was shown by elegant use of fluorescent microscopy of heart muscle.”

The presentation by Mikami and Petrucci – a study conducted under Belinda McCully, PhD (COMP-NW), and Rodney F. Pommier, MD (Oregon Health & Science University) – was a successful pilot study determining that mice with carcinoid disease exhibit sympathetic hyperinnervation of the heart ventricles.

Mikami and Petrucci explained the study found that mice with carcinoid disease – a fairly rare but life-threatening, slow-growing cancerous tumor – have increased sympathetic nerves in the heart.

Natalijah Miller explains her research project, “Characterizing the dermal microbiome in biomphalaria vector snails.”

“Most studies regarding carcinoid heart disease typically focus on valvular dysfunction, but another common thing seen in carcinoid heart disease is cardiac arrhythmias, and this is typically studied less often,” Mikami said. “We wanted to figure out what is causing the cardiac arrhythmias, so we created a mouse model of carcinoid disease to see if there was increased sympathetic nerves in the heart, which we did find and suspect could be a cause of arrhythmias.”

The study may lead to a better understanding about the connection between arrhythmias and carcinoid heart disease, which down the road could provide better prevention and treatment methods, she said.

“We are very encouraged about the results and received more funding to continue with our research,” Petrucci added.

Lebanon’s WesternU students from COMP-NW and CHS-NW presented approximately 30 research projects at the event, covering areas in basic science, clinical and applied research. Four of the projects were selected to be presented orally, and the rest were set up as poster presentations.

Presentations covered a range of studies within a variety of topics, including mobility of older populations, wisdom tooth impaction, awareness and outreach, health service resources and procedures, resistance training in postmenopausal women, distribution of waterborne pathogens in Oregon, carcinoid disease, schistosomes and snail vectors, anatomy, rural healthcare, second-hand smoke, movement during exercise, rheumatoid arthritis and vision.

WesternU students gather around poster presentations of research projects.

Student Abrag Nassar presented her study under Morpholino Therapeutics, LLC, in Philomath, in which they are developing a more affordable point-of-care pathogen detection test strip, which was created from a 3D printer. She won second place for her oral presentation.

Winning projects for the poster presentations were: Management of Youth Sport-Related Concussions: Survey of Parents; Autonomic Nervous System Balance in Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis; A PCR-Based Diagnostic to Detect Reproduction Between Snails That Vector Schistosomiasis: An Important Tool for Genetic Mapping Studies; Characterizing the Dermal Microbiome in Biomphalaria Vector Snails; Physical Therapist Visual Observation of Movement Quality During Lower Extremity Resistance Exercises: A Descriptive Study; and Pelvic Alignment During Walking in Clinic and Home Environments.

Students and judges watch Brent Marsonette present a study he conducted with Kevin Nguyen regarding gene resistance and schistosomiasis, which causes approximately 200,000 deaths a year.

“Because we are a smaller school compared to other universities, our Research Club’s goal is to showcase the amazing research that is happening at our school and to give students a platform to demonstrate their work,” Phi said. “We also wanted to take the opportunity to engage with our local community members who are huge supporters in our school and our students’ success, and showcase our research to them.”

The event, sponsored by the Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons of Oregon, WesternU Office of Research and Biotechnology, and the WesternU Oregon Research Club, included keynote speakers Brian Delmonaco, MD, from Samaritan Health, and Andy Karduna, PhD, from the University of Oregon.