WesternU osteopathic medical students are making a regional impact on research.

Thirteen College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific students participated in the Western Student Medical Research Forum, held in Carmel, Calif. in conjunction with Western Section, American Federation for Medical Research (WAFMR), Western Society for Pediatric Research (WSPR), Western Association of Physicians (WAP) and Western Society for Clinical Investigation (WSCI). Two COMP students received awards for their research and presentations.

Mike Nguyen, DO ’11, received the Subspecialty Award for Neurology for his research with Edward Wagner, PhD, COMP Associate Professor of Physiology, titled “Estrogen Rapidly Attenuates Glutamatergic Neurotransmission at Pro-Opiomelanocortin Synapses.”

“This recognition may have been in my name, but in reality represents the fine work being done at COMP, particularly in neurology,” Nguyen said. “Four of the presentations in the neurosciences were by my classmates in the DO Class of 2011. As such, although I was recognized, it is the work of all the research fellows at COMP that deserves commendation.”

This was his first research project, which he undertook to expand his depth and breadth of knowledge, Nguyen said.

“Being a research neophyte, I had a lot to learn – beginning with how to critically read and interpret scholarly papers, to experimental design and implementation, to the machinations of actual lab work,” he said. “This project, and being introduced to research as a whole, will help raise my level of attention to evidence-based medicine and help me stay abreast of the cutting edge of medicine in years to come.”

Justin Roth, DO ’12, received the Claude K. Lardinois, M.D. Award for having one of the top five oral presentations at the research forum. His research project, “Design and Validation of a Hip Joint Fatigue Test Frame for the Biomechanical Evaluation of Hip Fracture Constructs,” was conducted prior to his enrollment at WesternU. Roth is a mechanical engineer who conducted product development research for seven years.

His project involved developing a test standard for evaluating hip facture constructs, and then using that test standard to define how unstable hip fractures are surgically repaired. The conference made an impression on him.

“I was really impressed by the overall quality of the conference and the vast array of different projects out there,” Roth said. “Everything from hard sciences projects to clinical research to community service projects. It’s really neat to see the different things people were doing.”

About 350 medical students attended the conference on Jan. 29-31, 2009. The banquet speaker was a physician from Harvard Medical School, Paul Epstein, MD, MPH, who was on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. He gave a sobering talk about how global warming will affect human health, said Dr. James Martin, COMP Professor of Physiology, who serves as WesternU’s faculty representative for the research forum.

Research builds critical thinking skills, and evidence-based medicine is all the rage, he said.

“In order for evidence-based medicine to be effective, there needs to be an appreciation of how information was arrived at,” Martin said. “With this training, they should have a better appreciation of the science behind statements, which should lead to better care.”

Allan Belcher, DO’11, is WesternU’s student representative for the research forum. He joined an ongoing study on the effect of early steroid exposure on adults with chronic diseases. He found some significant findings in breast cancer patients and presented at one of the “Oncology/Hematology” sessions in Carmel.

“I fully think a background in research will help me be a better doctor just from a perspective of being able to better evaluate developing research,” Belcher said. “Physicians are consistently looking to new advancements in medicine and looking for ways to implement them in their practices and I think my background should help in this manner. I also intend on doing research while a physician so this should help me understand it a little better.”

The highlight of the conference was meeting other medical students and sharing their experiences, Belcher said.

“Since I have started school I haven’t had the opportunity to be around so many medical students from different schools,” he said. “There were 21 schools and there was a great overall ambiance to be around peers that are going through the same grind we are in Pomona. Other second-years shared similar experiences and were all very excited to begin our rotations this year.”

COMP participants in the Western Student Medical Research Forum:

Sonia Badheka, Allan Belcher, Santosh Desai, Eric Dong, Omid Hariri, Brian Kellert, Santa Kerzuma, Mike Nguyen, Albert Noniyev, Deeshali Patel, Charlie Wray, Borzou Farhang and Justin Roth.