medicine Tag

By Maegan Murray

An immersive experience at Washington State University Tri-Cities has Amy Verderber, a biology teacher at Kamiakin High School, performing research that has tie-ins to medicine.

Verderber studied biology in college before certifying to become a teacher, but she never got the opportunity to explore the field’s full research potential. Within the last two summers through the Partners in Science program, however, Verderber found herself working directly beside university biology faculty, completing research that has potential to improve what is known about human skull deformities and diseases.

Amy Verderber

Amy Verderber, a teacher at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, Wash., got the opportunity to complete biological sciences research at Washington State University Tri-Cities through the Partners in Science program.

Through the Partners in Science program, which is supported by a $15,000 grant from the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, high school teachers are paired with a university professor in their field and the pair spends two consecutive summers completing research. During the end of each summer experience, the teachers prepare a presentation on their research and how they plan to implement what they learn into their classroom setting. The university professors also get the value of an additional hand in the lab and in the high school teacher’s second summer, an experienced lab researcher to help with their studies.

Verderber is working with Jim Cooper, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Elly Sweet, clinical assistant professor of biology, in researching the impact of thyroid hormone on the development of jaw shape and jaw biomechanics in the zebrafish. The researchers hope their research will shed light on how the abnormal thyroid hormone levels during development can lead to human skull deformities.

Verderber continues to use the experience to provide her students with real-world opportunities and outlooks in science. She has applied what she’s learned to her lessons and often brings discussion of her experience into her labs and instruction.

Elly Sweet (left) talks with Amy Verderber about their research on the thyroid hormone in zebrafish.

WSU Tri-Cities professor Elly Sweet (left) talks with Amy Verderber about their research on the thyroid hormone in zebrafish.

“It’s been a great experience,” Verderber said. “To my students, it is more than just reading out of a textbook. I’m able to bring what is happening all around them into a practical classroom experience. It provides them with a look into the lab setting. I am not just a teacher who went to school and studied the subject. I now can say I’ve worked in a real lab and am doing scientific research with real-world applications.”

Throughout the two summers, Verderber recorded zebrafish feeding mechanics using a high-speed video camera, determined the effects of both an overabundance and a deficiency of thyroid hormone on jaw mechanics and performed research on the genetic controls of fish skull development.

“We’re trying to identify how thyroid hormone activates or deactivate genes in the fish’s head to determine whether they develop really moveable or jaws or jaws capable of only limited motion,” Cooper said. “There are also a large number of human birth defects associated with abnormal thyroid hormone production that causes malformation of the skull. The research can therefore answer both evolutionary questions and medical questions.”

Verderber said her students were very receptive to both what she learned in the lab, as well as what she brought in to the classroom through her teaching. She said she hopes to raise zebrafish in her classroom this year so the students receive that additional hands-on, real-world application.

WSU Tri-Cities professor Jim Cooper (left) chats with Amy Verderber about their research on the impact on varying amounts of thyroid hormone in zebrafish

WSU Tri-Cities professor Jim Cooper (left) chats with Amy Verderber about their research on the impact on varying amounts of thyroid hormone in zebrafish. The research could lead to advancements in medicine.

“My students are learning something outside of a textbook,” she said. “It’s been really rewarding seeing not only how I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned for their benefit, but in seeing how they’ve reacted to that material.”

Sweet said she is excited about how Verderber’s experience in the WSU Tri-Cities lab will open the eyes of students to the possibilities of careers in the biological sciences, as well as project upward what high school students are learning today.

“Not only will it help with the research aspect of things, it will also be helpful to know what students are currently learning about in high school, be able to have some input into the possibilities of projects they could work on, as well as have the opportunity for us to come into the high school classrooms to give presentations,” she said. “Even though many students majoring in the biological sciences are interested in pre-health, there are many other career options out there. This provides a great partnership on that end.”

Included in the Partners in Science program is the option of applying for a supplemental grant, of which the funds go toward classroom equipment like microscopes, pipettes and other supplies. Verderber said she plans on applying and that it will provide a great resource for her students if she receives the grant.

“I hope other professors see the value of this program and the many benefits that come out of it,” she said.

Cooper and Sweet agreed.

“The amount of time that we have invested in collaborating with Amy we have gotten back many times,” Cooper said. “It’s a gain in resources and a huge win for both the lab at the university.”

By Maegan Murray

Jamie Silva hadn’t considered a career in the medical profession until he saw directly how he could use research and patient interaction to better medical care for all citizens, regardless of demographic.

The recent nursing graduate of Washington State University Tri-Cities said it was through the research experiences he observed through both as a community college student, as well as in his undergraduate experience through WSU Tri-Cities, that opened his eyes to the possibilities of medicine.

As a community college student in Wenatchee, Silva participated in a research experience where he completed research on algae that they used to replicate the behavior of cancer cells and observe treatment effectiveness. The effort tied directly in with what friends and family had experienced in their battles with cancer. It propelled Silva’s interest in the medical field.

“I’ve seen family and friends pressured into certain types of treatments and this made me realize that I could have an impact on how patients are consulted about treatment,” he said. “My aunt, for example, was pressured into chemotherapy right away. Since she didn’t really understand English, so she assumed that was the best route for her. I want patients to be able to better understand their options.”

Silva began focusing on how he could take his newfound passion for medical research and patient care to the next level and applied to WSU Tri-Cities’ competitive nursing program. The school, he said, provided a perfect blend of medical research and implementation of innovative patient medical care that he had sought for a future in the profession.

This year, he was named the undergraduate nursing student of the year for WSU Tri-Cities.

“I feel that the nursing program is really impactful,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in a lab all day. I wanted that patient interaction. I wanted to see how the research applies directly to and affects the patient. WSU Tri-Cities ended up being a perfect fit for that.”

Real-world experiences

Through his hands-on courses at WSU Tri-Cities, Silva learned about how cancer and other diseases impacted the human body, how to treat those ailments, about different medicines, as well as how to approach patients about possible treatment options.

Silva said his courses utilized innovative tools such as advanced medical mannequins that mimicked individuals with various ailments and allowed students to practice their medical procedures. Additionally, he learned from world-class nursing faculty that tied what the students were learning in the classroom to extracurricular opportunities outside the classroom.

“Some of my biggest highlights were actually the professors,” he said. “They really care about us and really want to make sure that we succeed, and in turn, that our patients succeed.”

Silva’s professors at WSU Tri-Cities helped pair him up with a practicum experience at the Kadlec Regional Medical Center where his work focused specifically in research and administration. Through the experience, Silva attended meetings with physicians, nurse navigators and dietitians where they discussed cases, what worked best for individual patient cases, as well as what needed some changes. They then applied those strategies directly to their patient care.

Through the practicum, Silva also completed a research project that detailed how the hospital could reduce the time that patients suffer from neutropenia — a condition where the patient has an abnormally low count of a type of white blood cell, causing their immune system to be weak and creating a higher risk of infection. Neutropenia occurs in about half of people who receive chemotherapy. It is also a common side effect for people with leukemia.

“We compiled data on the time from when the patient walked in, to when they received antibiotics, the type of antibiotics they used and when those particular antibiotics were administered,” he said. “I compiled all of that data and showed it to the chief of nursing. It was a pretty informative experience and I hope it helps to make a difference in the lives of future patients.”

During his time at WSU Tri-Cities, Silva also gained admittance into a highly competitive summer internship through the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. Through the experience, Silva studied the latest and greatest methods for combatting cancer using the patient’s immune system.

“I would get to the laboratory and would have a research experiment in mind and I would write a protocol and conduct that experiment,” he said. “Some of those experiments involved observing how certain treatments would impact rats with cancer. I would also examine all the organs within the rat and see how effective the treatment was.”

Silva said he didn’t really realize it at the time, but he got the opportunity to work with some of the nation’s leading scientists and medical researchers.

“It was a pretty extraordinary experience,” he said.

Silva’s future in medical care

Silva said he hopes to take the experience he has had through WSU Tri-Cities, his experience at Kadlec, as well as his experience through the National Institute of Health to further improve the standard for patient care, as well as create and improve upon current and future cancer treatments.

“My friends and family who have had cancer have been the driving force with where I want to go and the influence I hope to have in the medical field,” he said. “It’s why I went into nursing.”

His end goal, he said, is to one-day become a physician focusing on cancer immunology. Because of his experience at WSU Tri-Cities, the WSU medical school is on his list of potential medical schools he hopes to gain acceptance to into the future.

“The nursing program at WSU Tri-Cities was more than impactful,” he said. “I learned how I could advocate for people with these diseases, the research behind those diseases, as well as how to combat those diseases through research into different treatment options.”

“I want to take a little bit of time working as a nurse and then apply what I’ve learned through my undergraduate courses, my experience as a nurse, as well as what I am going to learn through medical school in my future as a physician,” he said.

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.