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Class of 2016’s Maximilian Jameson-Lee named to G. Watson James III, M.D. Scholarship

The Class of 2016’s Maximilian Jameson-Lee

Class of 2016’s Maximilian Jameson-Lee

On May 1, more than 40 students participated in the annual Medical Student Research Day.

This year’s Research Day saw a dramatic increase in the number of students presenting as a result of a change to poster session format. “In the past we had oral presentations and, because of limited time, only about 10 to 15 of the submitted abstracts were chosen for presentation,” said Gordon Archer, M.D., senior associate dean for research and research training in the School of Medicine. “This year the poster session format – and the poster printer purchased by our office – made it possible for everyone who did any summer research to present their work.”

Some of the presenters were past participants in the school’s Student Summer Research Fellowship Program, a two-month program between the M1 and M2 years in which students perform research under the guidance of a faculty member in the medical school. Other medical student presenters conducted research under the guidance of a medical school faculty mentor outside of the summer program.

Each year, three awards are given for the most outstanding presentations and research projects. The $1,000 first prize is made possible by the G. Watson James III, M.D. Scholarship Endowment that carries the name of a 1943 graduate of the medical school who went on to become Chairman of the Division of Hematology. At his death in 2001, James’ friends and family established the scholarship that goes to the medical student who wins the research competition, a fitting legacy for the outstanding physician-scientist. The second prize of $500 and $250 third prize are funded by the School of Medicine’s Dean’s Office.

Judges assessed the competition through various criteria in order to determine the top three presentations, including a coherent hypothesis, the presenter’s understanding of the background information of their research topic and the level of their participation in the experimental work. Finally, the judges scored the students based on the quality of their poster presentation and their ability to articulate findings and conclusions.

This year’s James Scholarship winner is the Class of 2016’s Maximilian Jameson-Lee. After earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida, he went on to the National Institutes of Health to conduct infectious disease research. He then completed a Ph.D. in Immunology and Cancer from the University of Virginia and post-doctoral studies at Naval Research Labs in Washington D.C.

At Student Research Day, Max presented findings from a bone marrow transplant study that sought to refine the match between bone marrow donors and recipients for improved outcomes. Max explains that, today, bone marrow transplants are matched at 8 genetic locations and for blood type. For approximately the same price, whole exome sequencing looks at over 20,000 loci, which opens the door for a much more individualized approach. Less expensive than whole genome sequencing, exome sequencing analyzes just the coding regions of the genome.

Working in the research lab of Amir Toor, M.D., Max’s team performed whole exome sequencing on nine bone marrow donor/recipient pairs, searching for genetic differences. These differences could potentially cause the new immune system from the donor to recognize the recipient as foreign, thereby triggering an immune response that could produce adverse events such as graft vs. host disease. His research group found large differences on the genomic level but were not able to correlate those differences with transplant outcomes.

By Anish K. Desai


M.D.-Ph.D. candidate Julie Bonano attends 64th Annual Nobel Laureate Meeting

Chair of surgery

At the 64th Annual Nobel Laureate Meeting, Julie Bonano met Nobel Prize winner Ferid Murad, M.D., Ph.D., a clinical pharmacologist whose studies were the basis for much of Julie’s early coursework.

Julie Bonano felt a rush of excitement and then a little apprehension when she spotted Nobel Prize winner Ferid Murad, M.D., Ph.D., across the room. This, after all, was a man she deeply admired.

It also was the chance of a lifetime. So Julie, an M.D.-Ph.D. candidate in the medical school, took a deep breath and introduced herself. In a matter of seconds, the butterflies fluttering around in her stomach had vanished.

“He immediately invited me to sit down with him at the table,” she said. “We talked for close to an hour about his research and his career. It was incredible.”

Julie, who will graduate in 2017, met Murad during the 64th Annual Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany, earlier this summer. She was one of 600 young researchers from 80 countries selected to attend. Ahmad Altarifi, Ph.D., who graduated from VCU in 2013 and is now an assistant professor in Jordan, was also chosen.

“Having two VCU students selected is significant,” said Steve Negus, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and toxicology and mentor to both Julie and Altarifi. “Julie is a very talented student and is certainly representative of the top tier of student here. She is special.”

Julie works in Negus’ lab and is studying the behavioral effects of designer drugs of abuse, including the principal ingredients in bath salts. After completing her M.D.-Ph.D. program, she hopes to pursue a residency in anesthesiology and a fellowship in pain management while continuing her research on drug addiction.

“I love taking care of patients and I love research,” she said. “For me, it’s always been about helping people.”

Julie, 26, grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010 with a double major in biology and Spanish. During the second week of her freshman year, she joined a cell and developmental biology lab, studying infertility. She later moved to cancer research, exploring how cancer invades the brain.

“I wanted to explore the brain more, which led me to investigating how drugs affect the brain,” Julie said. “It’s become a passion of mine.”

Julie at meeting

Connecting with other young researchers from around the world, Julie says, was one of the best parts of the meeting. “We all come from different places and from different backgrounds. Yet we all have the same passion for science. It was so inspiring to be a part of that.”

That passion, Julie said, began in high school during a stem cell research project.

“That really opened my eyes to science and what science can achieve,” she said. “It’s amazing to think of the possibilities – how science can improve our world.”

During her trip to Germany, Julie met dozens of other students who also want to make a difference. They all had the chance to meet some of the 37 Nobel Prize winners in attendance and sit in on lectures and panel discussions.

“When I was chosen, I was excited, shocked and humbled,” Julie said. “I knew it would be incredible, but the actual experience exceeded every single expectation I had. I was surrounded by people who have made the greatest scientific contributions to our society – to have them all in one place at the same time was unbelievable.”

Perhaps even more outstanding, Julie said, was making friends with other young researchers from around the world.

“We all come from different places and from different backgrounds,” she said. “Yet we all have the same passion for science. It was so inspiring to be a part of that. It reinforced what I want to do, and I left there with a new energy to make a difference.”

By Janet Showalter


The Class of 2017’s Trina Chakrabortty uses yoga to promote a balanced life, connect with classmates

Trina yoga

Trina Chakrabortty demonstrates the “Tolasana” or scale pose.

After running her first marathon in 2008, Trina Chakrabortty decided the time was right to incorporate yoga into her daily exercise routine.

“My father encouraged it,” said Trina, who just completed her first year of medical school. “Something immediately clicked for me. I noticed I had more energy and my running got better.”

A few years later, she enrolled in a 200-hour teacher certification program so she could share her newfound love with others. Today, Trina teaches two to six classes a week on the MCV Campus at the Larrick Student Center, as well as several other locations around the city, including the Robinson Theater Community Arts Center in Church Hill.

Many of her students are classmates looking to escape the stresses and demands of medical school.

“Trina is fabulous,” said Kate Waybill, a member of the Class of 2016. “Medical school is all consuming, and Trina understands the stresses we go through. She is so good at helping us let go of everything around us. When I leave, I feel relaxed and rejuvenated.”

For Trina, the benefits have proven even more life-changing.

“Yoga keeps me sane,” she said. “It’s really all about balance, which is hard to keep in medical school. Yoga has helped me keep it all in perspective. There’s that mental clarity – the clearer and more focused you are, the better able you are to handle stress.”

At 29, Trina is not your traditional medical student. After graduating from the College of William & Mary in 2006 with a degree in neuroscience, she began to doubt her desire to become a doctor. Her father is a family physician, and Trina always thought that would be her path too.

Trina yoga

Trina Chakrabortty

“I had to take a detour first to get there,” she said with a laugh.

That change in direction took her west, where she earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern California. She worked on campus in university admissions, where her work with prospective students and faculty in the School of Public Policy exposed her to the obstacles within healthcare and medicine. A short time later she traveled to India, her parents’ home country, and recommitted herself to medicine.

“That trip really opened my eyes,” she said. “There are a lot of parallels to the health care issues in this country – most notably the lack of access to health care in certain settings.”

Detour over. She started prepping for the MCAT, completed a one-year graduate-level certificate program and was accepted into the VCU School of Medicine. Since then, she’s been focusing not only on her studies, but also on her new duties as the Class of 2017’s wellness representative, chosen by her classmates to help them maintain a balanced life.

“Yoga is a great avenue to promote overall health and well-being with my classmates,” she said. “To help them is a real honor. Since I began teaching here, my classes have been packed. Some even ask if I can teach more often. To me, that is very humbling.”

Despite her busy schedule, Trina finds time to volunteer for Project Yoga Richmond. She also finds ample opportunity to promote health and wellness while assisting with planning the MCV Student Government Association Community Health Fair.

After graduating, Trina hopes to incorporate both yoga and medicine into her career.

“If I am going to tell patients to manage their lifestyle well, I need to do that myself,” she said. “To me, teaching people about good health at any level is what it is all about. Yoga has done a lot to enrich my life, so it only makes sense that I empower others to enrich their own.”

By Janet Showalter


Rising M2 Celeste Lipkes takes second prize in national poetry competition

Celeste Lipkes

Celeste Lipkes

Celeste Lipkes has been an avid poet for years, taking great pride in her creative writing. But she often wondered if readers would find her work worthwhile.

“You always wonder if people are going to want to read what you write,” said Celeste, a member of the medical school’s Class of 2017.

That doubt is fading fast. Her work, which embodies a wide variety of life experiences, has been featured in several publications, including the Bellevue Literary Review. She has won a number of writing competitions, and most recently her poem “Victor” took second-place honors in the William Carlos Williams Poetry competition. The work is a braided piece, weaving together multiple stories of sacrifice.

“We receive roughly 500 submissions each year, so Celeste’s second-place prize is an extraordinary accomplishment,” said Richard Berlin, M.D., a psychiatrist, poet and judge for the WCW competition. “Victor is a very powerful poem.”

Celeste grew up outside Tampa. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2011 with a degree in creative writing and a concentration in pre-med. She earned a master’s in poetry from the University of Virginia before coming to medical school.

“I became really interested in the sciences in high school because I had a lot of experience as a patient,” said Celeste, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was 15. “I knew I wanted to do both – become a doctor while pursuing my passion for writing.”

During her senior year of high school, Celeste was so sick that she missed more than 50 days during a single term. Poetry offered her a way to cope.

“Writing is very therapeutic for me,” she said. “It was a way for me to come to grips with what I was going through.”

Although she doesn’t have as much time to write today because of the demands of medical school, Celeste is completing her first poetry manuscript. And with support from a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, she is working this summer on a series of essays about medical education. She also finds time during the summer to volunteer with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America and teach poetry classes at the high school and college level.

“I want to be taken seriously in both my passions,” she said. “Poetry and medicine are alike in many ways. They are both focused on the narratives of people. With both, you are paying deep attention to something with the belief that in that attention, you will find valuable information.”

For “Victor,” she drew from her experience working in the neuroscience lab at Johns Hopkins. There, she was responsible for some lab procedures and looking after the mice. Her poem delves into the sacrifice of lab animals for the sake of scientific discovery, as well as the sacrifice of soldiers in combat.

“I think at the core of who we are, we are always looking for meaning,” she said. “I think poetry is a way of not only making meaning out of a situation, but bringing beauty to it.”

As she pursues a medical career in chronic care, Celeste hopes her continued writing will inspire others to share their stories and life experiences.

“I think many doctors turn to writing because so much of what we do is veiled from the rest of the world,” she said. “But writing is a great way to share what we go through as caretakers.”

Celeste’s poem, “Victor,” along with the poems of the other award winners, is available in an online PDF.

By Janet Showalter


M3s learn the ropes for clinical years

M3s learn ropes

Rising third-year students participated in half a dozen workshops during orientation week. Perioperative education instructors taught them how to scrub, gown and glove to establish and maintain a sterile field in the operating room.

In the course of earning a four-year medical degree, transitioning from the preclinical to clinical years is an important milestone. This summer, 193 third-year students marked that transition in a week of orientation activities.

The Class of 2016 participated in nearly a half dozen workshops – 167 students on the MCV Campus’ Center for Human Simulation and Patient Safety and 26 of their counterparts at the Inova Campus’ Claude Moore Health Education & Research Center. They practiced clinical skills like drawing blood, intramuscular injections and inserting catheters. They also learned how to scrub, gown and glove to establish and maintain a sterile field in the operating room.

“Preparation for a career in medicine demands the acquisition of a large fund of knowledge and a host of special skills,” said Jerry Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the medical school.

Strauss spoke at the school’s annual Student Clinician Ceremony. Sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, the event is designed to provide guidance, information and support to medical students as they move into the clinical years.

“In the coming year, medical students will be pressed to demonstrate high standards of skill and performance,” Strauss said. “The Student Clinician Ceremony reminds those students and our faculty of the challenges and imperatives to providing humanistic care to patients at the same time.”

M3s learn ropes

A career in medicine requires a host of special skills. During M3 Orientation Week, small teams of students practiced inserting catheters in one of nearly a half dozen simulation sessions.

At the ceremony, Chris Woleben, M.D., F.A.A.P., the medical school’s associate dean for student affairs, reminded the students of the days when they first entered medical school. At that time, they were told they would hold many peoples’ hearts in their hands as they’d been called to the service of healing.

“During this year you will see many faculty and residents treating very seriously ill and, at times, difficult patients,” Woleben said. “This year will be one filled with awe, inspiration and obstacles to fulfilling your calling.” He encouraged the students to nurture those things that inspire them, rise above obstacles and develop their identities as physicians.

At the Student Clinician Ceremony, the medical school also recognized outstanding residents through the Gold Foundation’s Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award. Current fourth-year students chose six residents who exhibited particularly strong teaching skills and were role models for compassionate, relationship-centered care during the students’ third-year rotations.

Adrianne Colton, M.D.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
2012 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

Sasa Espino, M.D.
Department of Surgery
2011 graduate of the VCU School of Medicine

Inna Garber, M.D.
Department of Psychiatry
2012 graduate of New York College of Osteopathic Medicine

David Jared Kobulnicky, M.D.
Department of Internal Medicine
2013 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

Brian Le, M.D.
Department of Plastic Surgery
2009 graduate of VCU School of Medicine

Pete Meliagros, M.D.
Department of Internal Medicine
2012 graduate of VCU School of Medicine


MPH student Elise Glaum hosts webinar for national public health association


MPH student Elise Glaum drew on her experience with the Shot@Life campaign to host a webinar for health care professionals interested in using social media to connect with their community.

This spring, masters of public health student Elise Glaum conducted a webinar in conjunction with the American Public Health Association’s Health Communication Working Group. Her webinar, “Incorporating Social Media into Your Professional Life,” highlighted tips for health care professionals interested in using social media to connect to a community and on promoting business goals to an online audience. She also discussed how to navigate the institutional barriers and challenges health practitioners sometimes face when using social media.

Elise’s advice and tips stem from her experience working at the United Nations Foundation. She served as the online communications associate dedicated to overseeing the social media strategy for the Shot@Life campaign that promotes child vaccinations worldwide. Her work with Shot@Life connected her to over 150,000 online campaign supporters and contributes to her breadth of knowledge.

One of Elise’s webinar tips to health care professionals was to establish a voice and to remain relevant and interesting on social media. Elise described how she posted photos and updated stories of campaign volunteers abroad to promote the Shot@Life campaign. By sharing unique stories, Elise was able to garner greater support and attention for the campaign and to connect in an interesting and unique way with her online community.

Elise’s webinar “Incorporating Social Media into Your Professional Life,” is available online.
To learn more about the Shot@Life campaign and how you can volunteer or contribute to the cause, visit www.shotatlife.org.

Elise, who will graduate from the MPH program in the spring of 2015, will intern this summer with the Richmond City Health District.

by Eleana M. Legree