medical school Tag

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Vincent Danna (’17) was in middle school when he lost all of his hair.

He suffers from a condition known as alopecia universalis, which is when the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. His personal struggle led him to want to become a dermatologist and help those who experience serious skin diseases and other ailments.

Vincent Danna (left) and brother

Vincent Danna’s brother (right) decided to shave his head in support of Vincent when he lost all of his hair in middle school.

“It sounds silly,” he said, “but my experience really spiked my interest in wanting to help other people through medicine.”

His passion led him to pursue a degree in biological sciences at Washington State University Tri-Cities, which in turn helped him land an internship at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). He continues to conduct cancer research with the computational biology group at PNNL.

He plans to use both experiences to get into a good medical school so that as a doctor, he can help others with similar and more serious medical conditions.

Real-world cancer research

At PNNL, Danna and his colleagues are analyzing ovarian cancer data in order to digitally categorize the productivity of what are called kinases. Kinases are enzymes within a cell that modify proteins and play a major role in the process of cell division.

Under the supervision of his PNNL mentor, Jason McDermott, Danna’s research focuses on identifying whether certain kinases are significantly overregulated or underregulated within cancer cells, which could demonstrate how kinases lead to the formation of malignant tumors. Targeting dysregulated kinases, he said, has the potential to stop the spread of the cancer, or to prevent it from developing altogether.

WSU Tri-Cities alumnus Vincent Danna

WSU Tri-Cities alumnus Vincent Danna

This spring, the team analyzed kinase data from 69 ovarian cancer patients. Danna said their results are promising.

“Cancer is essentially the over-replication of cells,” Danna said. “Chemotherapy targets fast-growing cells, but that can affect the whole body, as well as normal cells, which is why patients typically lose their hair. With our research, we hope to target something more specific, like a kinase or a gene.”

In the future, he said individuals may be able to take a drug or another inhibitor to suppress or better regulate those kinases.

“Targeted therapy is recognized as being one of the healthier and more beneficial methods in treating patients with ovarian cancer,” he said.

Danna and his colleagues at PNNL are now investigating whether dysregulated kinases have implications for phenotypes. Phenotypes are an organism’s gene-expressed observable characteristics, such as hair color. The outcome could help predict a patient’s lifespan and ability to fight ovarian cancer.

“The goal of that research is improving that patient’s quality of life and and to give them a better estimation of what they’re dealing with,” he said.

Additionally, Danna and other PNNL researchers are using similar processes to examine patient resistance or sensitivity to a type of cancer treatment called platinum therapy. The therapy uses platinum compounds to produce changes in the DNA structure as a way of treating specific cancers, including ovarian cancer.

Medical school and beyond

Danna said his science and statistics courses at WSU Tri-Cities gave him the ideal foundation for being successful with his work at PNNL. He said gaining the biological knowledge, as well as developing the statistical analysis skills to understand the computational side of writing code and programming through his internship, is what gave him the background to be successful with his position at PNNL.

Combining his academic knowledge with the opportunity to work on research that has real-world medical applications, has given him a realistic look at how medical research is done, and as a result, is experience he can someday use as a doctor, he said.

“It feels good that the research I’m completing will hopefully make a difference in the lives of future cancer patients,” he said.

Danna plans to take the Medical College Admission Test this spring and apply to medical schools soon afterward. He is currently considering the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine as an option.

Looking to the future, he is excited to lead his own medical initiatives that one-day might positively impact the lives of patients.

“I know what it’s like to suffer from a condition that can affect your physical and even emotional well-being,” Danna said. “I hope to make a difference in the lives of my own patients, someday.”

By Terren Roloff, WSU Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. – Hosts in Everett, Vancouver, the Tri-Cities and Spokane are sought to welcome, support and orient Washington State University medical students to their communities during six weeks over a two-year period beginning in September.

While studying for their first two years at WSU Spokane, students will spend six individual weeks in the city where they will be located in their third and fourth years. Individuals and families are sought to help broaden the students’ connections and understanding of their communities during those weeks.

Since Spokane students will already have housing, only hosts in Everett, the Tri-Cities and Vancouver will provide housing.

“We look forward to having hosts introduce students to individuals who are actively involved in their communities, as well as provide fun activities for our students,” said John Tomkowiak, founding dean of the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

WSU’s charter class of 60 students will begin their four-year medical education program in August. Residents of Everett, Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Vancouver are being sought to host during:

Sept, 3-9, 2017
Nov. 26-Dec. 2, 2017
March 25-31, 2018
Aug. 19-25, 2018
Nov. 11-17, 2018
March 24-30, 2019

Hosts will be invited to participate in the college’s community nights, to be held on Wednesday each of the weeks at the respective WSU campuses.

For more information, please email community hosting coordinator Kyle Holbrook at kyle.holbrook@wsu.edu.

 

News media contacts:
Kyle Holbrook, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, 509-368-6779, kyle.holbrook@wsu.edu
Terren Roloff, WSU Spokane communications, 509-358-7527, terren.roloff@wsu.edu

By Maegan Murray

Demi Galindo, a master’s student at Washington State University Tri-Cities, recently received a call that would change the course of her life.

She had been accepted to medical school. Better yet, she had received a tuition waiver for her four years of medical education, with the exception of two semesters during her third and fourth years – an acceptance package that is incredibly rare.

“Most people will tell you to not expect to get these, so I feel incredibly grateful to have received this package,” she said.

At WSU Tri-Cities, Galindo maintained a 3.8 grade-point average as a pre-medical student. After graduating last spring, she took on the incredibly difficult task of earning a master’s degree from WSU Tri-Cities in biological sciences in a single year, which she plans to have completed by the end of this spring semester. But it was the research opportunity and mentorship from a WSU Tri-Cities professor that she said truly set her apart from other applicants.

In her junior year as an undergraduate, Elly Sweet, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of biology, approached Galindo about a research opportunity that not only would give her a leg up on her competition for medical school, but also had ties back to medicine.

Mentorship leads to opportunity

Sweet is one of many mentors participating in WSU Tri-Cities’ Million Women Mentors program. Through the program, female students are paired up with female mentors who are successful in related fields. Sweet currently mentors approximately 80 students in the general biological sciences, both male and female, of which many are pre-health students.

“Dr. Sweet has done a lot for me in my undergraduate years, from being an excellent teacher for medical school prerequisite classes, which is how we met in my human physiology class,” Galindo said. “Throughout the semester, I could come to her for questions regarding class materials. During one of our meetings, she mentioned the chance to do research in Dr. Jim Cooper’s lab, which I was not even aware of prior to this.”

Through the research opportunity, Galindo worked under the direction of Cooper and Sweet studying the effect that the over and under abundance of thyroid hormone has on zebrafish jaw formation, of which they hope to use for advancements in human health in the future.

“We’re trying to determine what is causing these changes in the development of the fish, which may be translated to learning more about human skull deformities in humans,” Galindo said.

Using own mentorship experience to lead students to greatness

Sweet said she had a mentor while she completed her schooling, and that it served as a tremendous asset. Her mentor, Diana Darnell, mentored her while she was an undergraduate.

“She was an amazing biology professor,” Sweet said. “I worked as an undergraduate researcher in her lab where I had my first exposure to the world of developmental biology research. Dr. Darnell was not only an excellent professor; she was always there for her students outside the classroom.

“I valued her presence and guidance throughout my undergraduate years. Ultimately, she led me to my first job and graduate school in developmental biology,” she said.

Sweet said what is most rewarding about serving as a mentor, herself, for the biological sciences is that she can help students pursue their passions. She said she is relatively new to the role, and that her first main group of students she’s mentoring is graduating and getting accepting into medical schools this year.

“Students first come to my intro to biology classes as shy freshmen trying to find their place,” she said. “They are hard-working students from a variety of backgrounds. By their senior year, they are eager and ready for their next steps beyond WSU Tri-Cities. I enjoy helping them pursue their dreams.”

Looking toward the future

In addition to directing her toward her research experience, Galindo said Sweet helped her with academic planning, gave her advice in the application process for medical school and was overall a great person to talk to when she was feeling stressed.

“Overall, she has just been a great person to turn to and I can be straightforward with her since she knows me so well,” she said.

Galindo said she encourages students to start conversations with their professors because, especially at a smaller campus like WSU Tri-Cities, the one-on-one connection and support is immensely valuable.

“Students may not know where to turn to for advice on this whole process, so I advocate for getting involved in extracurriculars and don’t be afraid to talk to your professors,” she said. “I think some of my success came from the fact that I just went and talked to my professors and was noticed for this with such small class sizes. The opportunities just started to expose themselves.”

Galindo will start medical school this August. From there, she said she is thinking about a career in family medicine or neurology.

“I think because of the diverse cases and schedule of family med, this is where I will most-likely end up,” she said. “I would like to have a joint practice with several other physicians as this will give me the flexibility to have a family, too.”

Galindo said she hopes to stay humble with her aspirations, while providing the best quality of care possible.

“I want to be a physician that people in my community know for having excellent care, as well as a physician that will listen to them and be on their team when it comes to their health,” she said.

For more information about WSU Tri-Cities’ role with Million Women Mentors and how to get involved, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/mwm/. For more information about the organization, itself, visit https://www.millionwomenmentors.org.