Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine Students Conducting Wide Range of Summer Research Projects

Medical student Annie Press spent two weeks living and working with a population of sugar cane harvesters in the Dominican Republic. Here, she takes the blood pressure of a patient.

Many of Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine’s inaugural students are spending the summer months conducting research projects, locally and overseas, that cover a wide range of health issues. Several students are partnering up with top research investigators from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and the North Shore-LIJ Health System, while others are traveling abroad to work on public health projects.

Students design iPhone App to measures lung function
Students Alan Gandler and Travis Doering, who will both be entering their second year of studies in September, are working on the development of an application for the iPhone that will assess a patient’s pulmonary function; much in the same manner a spirometer does in a doctor’s office.  Once the application is downloaded onto a phone, a patient would simply blow into the speaker and get a measurement of their lung function. This function is measured in units called “Forced Expiratory Volume in one second (FEV1),” an important parameter for many pulmonary diseases.

“The ultimate goal will be for patients with pulmonary diseases such as COPD, Cystic Fibrosis, and asthma to be able to measure their own lung function by blowing into their iPhone,” said Gandler. “It is our hope that we will be able to empower patients to take better control of their health and accurately predict and prevent adverse outcomes.”

Gandler and Doering are working on the project under the guidance of principal investigator Kevin Bock, MD, a critical care pediatrician at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center.

“I have been very impressed with the innovative mind set of these students,” said Dr. Bock.

Cardiovascular Research at Feinstein
 Asaph Levy is working alongside Kaie Ojamaa, PhD, Director of the Laboratory of Molecular Cardiovascular Research and Associate Investigator with the Center for Heart and Lung Research at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Levy’s project involves inducing heart attacks in an experimental model in order to assess what a restrictive blood supply, also called ischemia, does to cardiac tissue and how to best treat it. The answers could help doctors in the future when treating human patients with heart attacks.

“I have found that training medical students in our research labs bring a fresh view to our studies, and their eagerness to question and oftentimes challenge our thinking reinvigorates our science,” said Dr. Ojamaa.  “I think they motivate us all.  In turn, their stint with research and discovering the “why and how” of disease adds a more critical and thoughtful dimension to their practice of medicine.  We hope that asking scientific questions and seeking the answers become second nature, which will continue to motivate these aspiring physicians throughout their careers to find better ways to treat patients and cure disease.”

 “Medicine is changing every day,” Levy said. “I’m just happy to be able to experience parts of its transformation.”

Studying Health Issues of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic
Annie Press, Ekjot Grewal, Christina Scelfo and Crystal Kyaw, also second year students, all spent two weeks living and working with a population of Haitian sugar cane harvesters in the Dominican Republic. Press’ project focused on the prevalence of hypertension and obesity in the population of harvesters who resided in an impoverished community called “Bateye 16.” Other projects included educating the population about dehydration and the proper recognition and treatment of diarrheal illness, and proper breastfeeding practices.  

 “I really wanted another cultural experience,” said Press “Working in a developing country allowed me to witness, first-hand, the barriers and challenges these patients face.”

While examining one pregnant woman, Press and Kyaw discovered the patient had seriously high blood pressure and preeclampsia, a condition that could have endangered her life and the life of her unborn child. The woman was immediately transported to a local hospital where she underwent a cesarean birth.

Finding the serious condition was a “random catch,” Press said, but one that certainly resulted in a happy ending. The new mother named her baby “Crystal,” after Crystal Kyaw.

The educational/immersion experience in the Dominican Republic was part of the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York’s (CCMC) Pediatric Residency Program’s new Global Health Track, a partnership with a local hospital in that country.

The students worked under the supervision of Dr. Shaanan Meyerstein, a resident at CCMC, as well as a local attending physician and a nurse practitioner.

Journey to Africa
Med student Grace Fisler may have ventured the furthest this summer, in terms of miles. She traveled abroad to Uganda with the non-profit Call to Care: Uganda, which is based in Connecticut. The mission involved bringing a teaching tool called the “Malaria Wheel,” that is used in schools all over the country, to teach children how to avoid contracting malaria. Fisler’s role was to train nurses at various schools and orphanages on how to use the basic first aid medical supplies that were brought from Yale New Haven Hospital.

“This experience has been completely life changing,” Fisler said. “I have grown to love the orphans and other children in the schools and have formed meaningful relationships with some of the older children that I know will carry on for years to come.”

Fisler said that the first few days in Uganda were very emotionally-draining as she witnessed the developing country first-hand and saw many malnourished children.

“Luckily the group I went with spent a lot of time reflecting on the many emotions such an experience invokes,” she said. “This trip will absolutely contribute to my future work as a physician and in my current life as a medical student. I am extremely excited to bring back what I have learned and to invoke enthusiasm in my fellow classmates to fundraise for the many great causes we encountered on our journeys.”

“I am impressed with the level of resourcefulness and commitment that all the students have shown when choosing their summer projects,” said Dean Lawrence Smith, MD. “I look forward to hearing first-hand about some of the life-changing experiences they had over the past few months and the results of their research projects.”

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