Left-Right: Rob Vander Broek, Kelly Kimiko Leong, Kyle Holmberg, NIDCR Director Martha Somerman and Nic Snider.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP) is a year-long research enrichment program designed to attract creative, research-oriented medical, dental and veterinary students to the NIH intramural campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The MRSP is designed for rising fourth-year students (initial clinical rotations completed), but does not exclude other students with strong research interests from applying.
The 2012-2013 MRSP class consists of 45 talented and diverse students from 34 different accredited medical, dental and veterinary schools. Four dental students were accepted into the 2012-2013 MRSP: Kyle Holmberg, Kelly Kimiko Leong, Nic Snider, and Rob vander Broek. Holmberg, Leong and Vander Broek have all completed their third year of dental school and after participating in the MRSP, will return to their respective schools to complete their fourth year. Snider has completed dental school and has deferred his graduation for a year to participate in the MRSP. On September 21, AADR staff had an opportunity to interview the four dental MRSP students and learn about their experiences in the program. This month, the Strides in Science features these four students.
Institution: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
MRSP Mentor: Dr. Matt Hoffman
Project: Expansion and Culture of Submandibular Gland Progenitor Cells in Ex Vivo Assays.
Dental School Research Mentor: Dr. Conrado Aparicio, Minnesota Dental Research Center for Biomaterials and Biomechanics, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Project: Fabrication and Characterization of an Antimicrobial Titanium Surface for Dental Implants
Undergraduate Research Mentor: Dr. Phillip Messersmith, Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois
Project: Bio-inspired Surface Chemistry and Hydrogel Chemistry
Kelly Kimiko Leong
Institution: Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts
MRSP Mentor: Dr. James Blair
Project: Neural Correlates of Conventional and Care-Based Moral Decision-Making
Dental School Research Mentor: Dr. John Morgan, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts
Project: Fluoride and Restoration Experience in Adults with Intellectual / Developmental Disabilities
Undergraduate Research Mentor: Dr. Peter Loomer, Dr. Grayson Marshall and Dr. Venu Varanasi, University of California, San Francisco, California
Project: Improving Silica-based Biomaterials from a Cellular Perspective
Institution: Boston University, Massachusetts
MRSP Mentor: Dr. Martha Somerman
Project: Failure of Molar Tooth Formation and Eruption in MT1-MMP KO Mice
Rob Vander Broek:
Institution: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
MRSP Mentor: Dr. Carter Van Waes
Project: PI3K/mTOR Inhibitors in Head and Neck Cancer
What motivated you to apply to be part of the MRSP?
Holmberg: When I signed up to do the program, it was at the encouragement of my dean of research, Dr. Sven Gorr. He is the one who told me about it and that’s how I even thought about applying to the program. I wanted more research experience and I didn’t really know what it meant to come to the NIH for a year, but I knew it would be a transformative decision that would carry weight in different paths. I was excited to what that might lead to in the future.
When you applied to be part of the program, what were some of your expectations and what did you hope to learn?
Vander Broek: I expected that having a year to devote time exclusively to research without the pulls of class and clinic would be both productive and refreshing. The NIH, in particular, has an advantage over other academic health research centers in that it houses the largest clinical research hospital in the country. Personally, I was interested in getting more exposure to clinical research protocols in patients with complex medical histories and disease processes, and it seemed logical that the NIH would be the place to do it. My hope was that my clinical experiences here would help drive my scientific inquiry and motivation in the lab, which has to this point been fulfilled.
What would you say to other students to get them excited about research?
Leong: I am asked a lot of questions by people who are puzzled as to why I would choose to defer graduation for a year to do research. I think it’s a mindset that we have to change early on in dental school. Perhaps incorporating research rotations into our curriculum will help students recognize what an amazing opportunity they have to contribute to science. Research can seem so foreign. If a student sees you working on an Excel sheet they might say “oh that’s data interpretation.” However, having the chance to take ownership over a project from creating a specific protocol, to answering a novel question through experimentation, to finally seeing the results produced could generate a better understanding of research as a whole and a real interest in this sort of work.
In your time at the NIH, what have been some of the highlights of the program?
Snider: I’ve enjoyed meeting everyone and getting to know them, and learning about their research interests. It’s nice to be around like-minded people who love science. That has been one of the biggest benefits. Also, I have a really great mentor in Dr. Martha Somerman and the post-doc I’m working with, Dr. Brian Foster, has been really phenomenal and he has helped me so much. I feel as though I am lucky by how everything has fallen into place here.
Vander Broek: I have really enjoyed networking with the other students—there are 40 medical students, four dental students and a veterinary student. Everyone has their own expertise and experiences, and it’s really interesting to see how people react to different dilemmas presented in our journal clubs, for example. The notion of this program being interdisciplinary, drawing on the insights of medical, dental and veterinary students alike has been enlightening in many respects. Though we learn a lot from each other as peers, we are also inundated with incredible educational activities through the MRSP and the NIH as a whole. On a daily basis, we have access to some of the most interesting and novel presentations in science, policy, ethics, and technology that I have ever seen.
What are three main benefits of participating in the MRSP?
Holmberg: One of the benefits is mentoring from the PI’s and post-docs. There are a lot of different levels of mentoring. Dr. Bruce Baum brings in many people to speak to us and provide insight. Another benefit is research training—all of the investigators here are very good at science and what they do, and many are also clinicians. I don’t think there is a better place to learn to be a good clinician-scientist. Third, this is a time to explore your interests in biomedical research.
Why was it important for you to be part of this program?
Snider: The most important reason for me to be part of this program is I want to get a Ph.D. and I wanted to make sure that I was getting it in an area that was going to be really relevant and utilize my background to the maximum potential. There were several great research opportunities available at Boston University but I feel that here you get the full spectrum of research as it is currently. I want to get a feel for what good research and good science are, and get my fingers on the pulse of the most current, hard-hitting science that exists. That’s why I came here and so far it’s working out.
Why is it important for more dental students to apply to be part of the MRSP?
Leong: It’s important for students to apply to this program because it’s unique. You’re not going to get a chance to do this at any other point in your career and the NIH is the premier place to do it. Having more people from the dental field go into research is what we need to advance technology and that is one of the most important messages we need to put out to the next group of students going through dental school or even current dentists. It’s not an easy road. It’s hard to take time away from clinic to devote the proper amount of time and effort to research, but it’s incredibly important for our field.
Note: Applications for the 2013-2014 MRSP class are being accepted through January 15, 2013. Eligible students may apply online at www.cc.nih.gov/training/mrsp/application.html. MRSP students engage in a mentored basic, clinical or translational research project that matches their professional interests and goals. The MRSP also provides an academic curriculum with lectures highlighting the process of discovery, training in clinical protocol development and human subjects research, clinical rounds with research patients, and academic leadership training.
The MRSP is made possible through a public-private partnership supported jointly by the NIH and generous contributions to the Foundation for the NIH from Pfizer Inc, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, as well as other private donors. For a complete list, please visit the Foundation’s website.