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Keeping the Future Bright
CHORI Holds Annual Summer Student Research Symposium
Although CHORI is a stand-alone research institute unaffiliated with any university, fostering the next generation of scientists is one of CHORI's core values, and no small part of what makes this institute so special. A hallmark of CHORI's deep commitment to education and mentoring young scientists-to-be, this year's Summer Student Research Program culminated on August 13, 2010, with the annual Research Symposium.

"This year was an overwhelming success. The students' presentations were spectacular, the sessions for oral and poster presentations were so well attended by both CHORI and non-CHORI scientists that we are looking to expand to a larger venue next year," says CHORI scientist and co-director Vasanthy Narayanaswami, PhD.

“This year was an over-
whelming success. The students' presentations were spectacular!”

Now in its 29th year of funding, the CHORI Summer Research Program provides the unique opportunity for high school students, college students, and graduate and medical students to immerse themselves in scientific research for nine weeks during the summer. Students are paired with CHORI clinical, translational or basic scientists who serve as their mentors and help shepherd them through the process of identifying a hypothesis, developing a research proposal, and conducting research. The rigorous nine weeks conclude with the CHORI Research Symposium – a chance for students to publically disseminate the fruits of their research labor in a professional format.
“We are trying to light the research spark in these students ... to instill in them a love of research so that they continue to choose research in the future.”
"We are trying to light the research spark in these students. In nine weeks' time we don't expect students to solve big problems. Rather, the point is to instill in them a love of research so that they continue to choose research as a career in the future," says Dr. Narayanaswami.

Forty-five students participated this year, working one-on-one with one of 34 CHORI mentors, to explore a wide variety of research topics, from vaccine development to stem cells. Robina Ahmad, a senior from the University of California, Berkeley, investigated whether or not consuming a high or low glycemic load diet impacted endogenous glucose production in obese pregnant women, while Manjit Bhandal, a sophomore from Contra Costa College, undertook creating a descriptive overview of a relatively new autoimmune disorder – anti-N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDAR) encephalitis – by conducting a systematic review of cases in children, the first of its kind.
In a completely different research area from either nutrition or neurology, Mohammad Hajighasemi, a senior at St. Mary's College of California, investigated the characteristics of the regulation of the hydrogen voltage-gated channel 1 (HVCN1) proton channel, the proper function of which is key to normal airway function and is hampered in patients with cystic fibrosis, a debilitating disease in which the airways cannot properly clear mucus.

While these students represent just a sampling of the diversity and depth of the research undertaken by young scientists and their mentors throughout the summer, their experience of research is exactly what CHORI hopes to achieve with the program for every student.

“I have discovered my passion for research,” says Mr. Hajighasemi. “I now understand the connection between basic science research and the practice of clinical medicine, and it is gratifying to know that my research is making a contribution.”

As Dr. Narayanaswami says, "It's the enthusiasm and dedication of students like these that tell us, yes, we are doing our job, they are going to go places with their research, this is what we are trying to achieve."

The success of a program like this, however, rests firmly upon the shoulders of the mentors who usher students like Ms. Ahmad and Bhandal and Mr. Hajighasemi through their research projects, and provide them with insight, inspiration, and, most importantly – time.

"We cannot underestimate the contribution of the mentors, especially now, when funding is so critical," says Dr. Narayanaswami. "When scientists take the time to accommodate a student in their lab or clinic in spite of all the grant deadlines and publications that are required to maintain funding, it shows that they find it important enough to give their time in mentoring our future scientists - you just can't put a price on that."

"Our hope and our plan is to continue to do this every year with equal rigor and enthusiasm," says Dr. Narayanaswami. "If we want excellence in scientific inquiry to continue on after us, we have to make sure that we train the next generation of scientists. It may be clichéd, but that is because it is true."

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM

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