Thursday, August 25, 2016

Winners of Clyde G. ‘Sid’ Huggins Medical Student Research Awards Announced

Pictured from left: Dr. Jon Simmons, associate professor of surgery at the USA College of Medicine and a trauma critical care surgeon at USA Medical Center; second-year medical student Jonathon Whitehead; Dr. Michael Chinkers, associate professor of pharmacology at the USA College of Medicine; second-year medical student Connor Kimbrell; and Dr. Mary Townsley, professor of physiology and cell biology. Whitehead and Kimbrell were awarded this year's Clyde G. 'Sid' Huggins Medical Student Research Award.
The University of South Alabama College of Medicine hosted its 43rd annual Medical Student Research Day on July 29, 2016. More than 40 student research projects were presented at the event.

The Clyde G. ‘Sid’ Huggins Medical Student Research Awards, honoring the memory of Dr. Huggins, were presented to Jonathon Whitehead and Connor Kimbrell. Dr. Huggins served as the first dean of students for USA’s College of Medicine.

Whitehead, a second-year medical student at USA, was recognized for the best oral presentation, titled “Burn-Wound Analysis in the Far Infrared.” Whitehead was sponsored by Dr. Jon Simmons, assistant professor of surgery at the USA College of Medicine and trauma surgeon in the division of trauma/critical care at USA, and Dr. Wiltz Wagner, professor of pharmacology at the USA College of Medicine.

Whitehead’s project helped him gain knowledge about the use of infrared thermal technology to assess second-degree burns. Not only could information learned during the course of this project increase the accuracy of diagnosing second-degree burns, but the technology also could potentially increase the speed of diagnosis, reduce the length of patient hospital stays and increase the quality of patient care in the future.

According to Whitehead, one of the most valuable elements of his research project was learning how to think critically from Dr. Wagner and Edward Crockett, a graduate student in the department of pharmacology at the USA College of Medicine.“In medical school, because of the huge amount of information you are required to remember every week, it is easy to fall into the trap of memorizing information instead of critically thinking,” Whitehead said. “Dr. Wagner and Ed continually challenged me to ask questions and delve into my creativity and instinct for the answers.”

Whitehead said Dr. Simmons also played a vital role, impacting the direction and progression of his project. “Dr. Simmons was the backbone of this project,” Whitehead said. “He was passionate about the practical use of the technology, and this passion radiated to the other surgeons in the field. His excitement fueled this project and opened the doors of possibility.”

Kimbrell, also a second-year medical student at USA, was recognized for the best poster presentation, titled “Depletion of Mitochondrial DNA: Impact on Mitochondrial Volume Density, Bioenergetics, and CA2+ Signaling in Lung Microvascular Endothelium.” Kimbrell was sponsored by Dr. Mary Townsley, assistant dean for faculty affairs and professor of physiology at the USA College of Medicine, and Dr. Mikhail Alexeyev, assistant professor of cell biology and neuroscience at USA.

Kimbrell’s project examined mitochondrial depletion and the effect it has on cellular calcium movement. Kimbrell said his research is important because it is an attempt to better understand the role mitochondria play in regulating cellular calcium movement in relation to specific ion channels that are in turn related to specific physiological functions. “We were looking to see if disrupting mitochondria would cause signals indicative of calcium accumulation to spread further apart in cells,” he said.

Kimbrell said he is thankful for this research program, as it gave him the opportunity to better understand research problems and techniques, which will equip him in his future career. “I had a chance to network with different researchers and professionals, learn new lab methods and techniques, broaden my knowledge in general and refine my writing and presentation skills,” he said.

The regular interaction with professional mentors is considered one of the advantages of the 10-week program. “Dr. Townsley and Dr. Alexeyev served as constant sources of constructive criticism and guidance in performing experiments,” Kimbrell said. “They were invaluable sponsors to have, and it was an honor to be allowed their time and resources to explore this project with them,” Kimbrell said.

During the 10-week summer program, first- and second-year medical students participate in research projects with basic science and clinical faculty in the College of Medicine. Students present their research projects either orally or on poster at the culmination of the summer research program where they are judged by COM faculty on the presentations. Winners are given a plaque and a cash award of $100 each.

Click here to learn more about this year’s event.

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