Science Research Enrichment Program gives college students the chance to work closely with WMed faculty and researchers

Madison Roland at MATT Conference 2023
Madison Roland got the opportunity to present her research at the 2023 Midwest Association for Toxicology and Therapeutic Drug Monitoring (MATT) Annual Meeting.

From an early age, Madison Roland鈥檚 interest in science and working with children has been steadfast.

Now, as a soon-to be senior at Kalamazoo College where she is majoring in chemistry, business, and pre-med, Roland is pursuing a future career as a physician, a path that will allow her to combine both of those passions.

That decision and the shaping of her career plans, Roland said recently, was buoyed and fueled by the eight weeks she spent in the summer of 2022 in the Science Research Enrichment Program at WMed.

鈥淚 think between the curriculum at K-College and what I鈥檝e been able to learn, along with the Science Research Enrichment Program, it really helped solidify that science is what I wanted to do,鈥 Roland said.

The Science Research Enrichment Program is a pathway program that pairs rising second-year, third-year, and senior-year college students with a WMed scientist and their research team. The program provides direct, hands-on laboratory research experience with a focus on learners who have not had an opportunity for a deep dive into top-level research in their previous coursework or job experiences.

During her summer in the program, Roland got the opportunity to work with Prentiss Jones, PhD, who serves as an associate professor and forensic toxicologist in the medical school鈥檚 Department of Pathology. Under Dr. Jones鈥 mentorship, Roland and Syann Hollins partnered on a research project examining blood lead levels in Genessee County, Michigan.

Roland and Hollins were able to gain hands-on experience in Dr. Jones鈥 lab, honing their skills on the use of different lab equipment and techniques. They also gained valuable knowledge about the research process.

鈥(Dr. Jones) has just been a huge support ever since that summer and someone to look to for advice,鈥 said Roland, who attended Kalamazoo Central High School before moving with her family to Washington state where she graduated from North Creek High School. 鈥淭here are a lot of skills that have transferred for me to K-College 鈥 how to use different instruments and techniques in the lab and just a lot of background knowledge 鈥 and it鈥檚 been cool to be able to take skills from one part of my academic life and put them to use in another one.鈥

What has been even more rewarding for Roland and Hollins is the chance to continue their research and work with Dr. Jones and his team even after their time in the Science Research Enrichment Program.

Madison Roland, Syann Hollins, and Prentiss Jones at MATT Conference 2023
Syann Hollins, left, Prentiss Jones, PhD, center, and Madison Roland attended the 2023 MATT Annual Meeting.

Since the summer of 2022, they have continued their project examining blood lead levels and that work led to Roland and Hollins giving oral presentations at the 2023 and 2024 Midwest Association for Toxicology and Therapeutic Drug Monitoring (MATT) Annual Meeting, respectively.

鈥淚 really enjoyed being able to present in that setting, seeing the dynamic of professional organizations and other researchers鈥 work and absorbing the knowledge from their presentations,鈥 said Hollins, a 2021 graduate of Gull Lake High School who is now a junior at DePaul University where she is majoring in health science on the pre-med track.

In their research project examining blood lead levels of decedents from Genessee County, Hollins and Roland hypothesized they were likely to find high levels of lead in most samples in light of the Flint Water Crisis and the high lead levels that were detected in the city鈥檚 drinking water. The duo examined samples from 132 people and, to their surprise, found normal blood lead levels in 130 of the samples.

The remaining two samples, however, had blood lead levels well beyond what is considered toxic.

鈥淭he levels were so high that these individuals could not have been walking around,鈥 Dr. Jones said.

A closer examination revealed that the two samples came from people who were killed by gunfire. With that knowledge in hand, Dr. Jones said Hollins and Roland changed course in their research and examined blood lead levels in 82 cases involving gunshot wounds. And while a gunshot was the cause of death in each of those incidents, the research by Hollins and Roland is now examining whether physicians who encounter gunshot victims at the hospital should consider a treatment plan that includes chelation to lower blood lead levels. Their research is also examining if gunshot victims who survive with retained projectiles in their bodies should also receive regular chelation treatment to lower their blood lead levels, which are often very high.

Dr. Jones said he is hopeful that Hollins and Roland will be able to submit their research and findings for publication in a journal later this summer.

Noah Chukwuma at WMed Research Day 2024
Noah Chukwuma presented his research poster at听the 42nd Annual Kalamazoo Community Medical and Health Sciences Research Day in April at the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus.

鈥淚t鈥檚 been really rewarding to see them formulate their own questions and come up with their own results,鈥 Dr. Jones said. 鈥淭he hope is that we will be able to put the results of their research out there so others can also raise questions. What I鈥檝e tried to tell them is the way science works is it鈥檚 a 1,000-piece puzzle and it would be arrogant for any scientist to think they could solve that puzzle alone. So, the hope is to add 1/1000 of a piece and stimulate those questions and further that research.鈥

Similar to Hollins and Roland, other young learners who have been a part of the Science Research Enrichment Program walked away with a stronger appreciation for 鈥 and deeper knowledge of 鈥 the research process and how the work contributes to furthering the fields of science and medicine.

Noah Chukwuma, a junior at Kalamazoo College who is majoring in biochemistry with a concentration in global health, spent eight weeks in the summer of 2023 working in the lab of Adil Akkouch, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Surgical Services at WMed.

Chukwuma, a native of Livonia, Michigan, said he valued the opportunity to work both independently and in tandem with Dr. Akkouch to learn different techniques in the lab, such as quantitative PCRs, western blotting, and RNA extraction. After his first two weeks in the program, Chukwuma said he began work on a research project examining how to speed up the bone healing process.

鈥淲hile I have taken molecular biology and courses that talk about these techniques, I hadn鈥檛 gotten the chance to use them yet,鈥 Chukwuma said. 鈥淏eing able to do the steps and have it explained as to why it was important and how the data can be used created a much bigger picture for me. Now, there was a story, now there was a why to doing it.

鈥淚 can鈥檛 describe how valuable it was to see a project built from the ground up with a lot of research and forethought ahead of time,鈥 he added.

Chukwuma plans to pursue his 六合彩开奖直播 degree after he completes his studies at K-College and he said that, in addition to his work in Dr. Akkouch鈥檚 lab, he also enjoyed meeting with WMed faculty, residents, and students to talk about their career and education paths. He said the experience has helped shape how he will pursue medical school in the future.

Additionally, Chukwuma was able to shadow Keith Kenter, 六合彩开奖直播, chair of the medical school鈥檚 Department of Surgical Services, and get an up-close look at Dr. Kenter鈥檚 work in the operating room and how he interacted with patients in his clinic at WMed Health.

Syann Hollins at 2024 MATT Conference
Syann Hollins presented her research at the 2024 MATT Annual Meeting.

鈥淓verything really worked in tandem,鈥 Chukwuma said. 鈥淒oing research, I could see the work and the impact it would have. Then, I was also talking to healthcare professionals who are using techniques based off important research. It really inspired me to want to continue the pursuit of a career in healthcare.

鈥淭he entire experience really gave me the opportunity to literally see the whole picture of why the research is important, here鈥檚 what the research can do, and here are the people you can help,鈥 he added.

Chukwuma is continuing to work in Dr. Akkouch鈥檚 lab and, this summer, he will also take time to speak with 鈥 and mentor 鈥 the newest cohort of students from the Science Research Enrichment Program. His research last summer in Dr. Akkouch鈥檚 lab also afforded him the opportunity to present a research poster at WMed鈥檚 Research Day in April at the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus.

Abraham Konjoh, an alumnus of the 2022 Summer Research Enrichment Program, also got the opportunity to present a research poster at this year鈥檚 Research Day.

The poster was the result of ongoing research Konjoh is working on in Dr. Akkouch鈥檚 lab examining the role of specific regulatory microRNA molecules and how they influence osteoporosis. Konjoh said the experience has been formative for him and allowed him to hone his skills in the lab while also learning important aspects of research such as literature review, data collection, and hypothesis formulation.

鈥淭he poster presentation was beneficial as it allowed our lab team to formulate the data we collected into a story,鈥 said Konjoh, who is a junior at K-College where he is majoring in biochemistry. 鈥淧resenting the poster allowed me the opportunity to showcase our research whilst also gaining experience and feedback relating to aspects regarding the actual presentation of research.

鈥淚 was able to understand the importance of research as a foundation for advancements in medicine,鈥 he added. 鈥淪pecifically, its role in reshaping our understanding of diseases and treatments and improving patient care.鈥

For Konjoh, the Science Research Enrichment Program at WMed was the second pathway program he completed at the medical school. While in high school, Konjoh was part of a cohort of students in the Early Introduction to Health Careers (EIH) 2 program. The program, now in its 10th year, is a longitudinal initiative comprised of monthly Saturday Science academies held each year from October to May.

EIH 2 focuses on health sciences, math, and development of critical thinking and problem solving for 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students and the curriculum for the weekend science academies includes intentional, guided research, individual mentoring sessions, clinical and non-clinical speakers.

鈥淧articipating in EIH 2 provided me with the opportunity to collaborate with peers to solve problems, mirroring the environment we might encounter in pre-healthcare environments,鈥 Konjoh said. 鈥淭he program also helped me to understand the connections between case studies, diagnoses, and treatment. Through practical experiences and in-depth discussions, I learned how to approach medical cases systematically and holistically, leading to more accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans.鈥

Maya Daniels, who is majoring in international studies with a concentration in international development at Spelman College, took part in the Science Research Enrichment Program in the summer of 2023 and completed research on polycystic kidney disease in the lab of Erik Larson, PhD, and Gerrit Bouma, PhD, professors in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. She also got the chance to co-author a research publication with Drs. Larson and Bouma.

鈥淚t was a really good experience,鈥 Daniels said. 鈥淚 learned so much because I had never been in a lab before then. It gave me an appreciation for research and what goes into research and the time and dedication that you have to have.鈥

As he has worked as a mentor in the Science Research Enrichment Program over the last few years, Dr. Jones said the program鈥檚 success for students is undeniable. He said he appreciates the opportunity to give something back as a mentor.

鈥淢adison and Syann were the first two students to work in my lab and now I have my fourth and fifth students in the lab,鈥 Dr. Jones said. 鈥淲e鈥檙e trying to build upon legacies and as I look at the end of my career I wish I was doing this 20 years ago.

鈥淚 can鈥檛 imagine the impact a program like this would have had,鈥 Dr. Jones said. 鈥淪tudents who gain this experience give back, they pay it forward.鈥