High School Students Participate in UA Institute on 'Medical Ignorance'
The “Summers in Children’s Research for Diverse High School Students” grant gives students hands-on basic science research experience working with physicians and scientists throughout the UA College of Medicine.

By Darci Staten, University Communications
July 25, 2013

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Thy Tran works in a lab at the UA Steele Children's Research Center with her mentor, Dr. Hua Xu.
Thy Tran works in a lab at the UA Steele Children's Research Center with her mentor, Dr. Hua Xu.


High school students from around Arizona are learning about the medical field and research through a summer institute at the University of Arizona, thanks to a National Institutes of Health grant.

The UA Steele Children's Research Center received a five-year research education grant, the Summers in Children's Research for Diverse High School Students, funded by the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

The funding enables students to participate in the Summer Institute on Medical Ignorance program at the UA College of Medicine, expanding their general health literacy.

Through the program, students gain basic hands-on science research experience working as paid scientists with physicians and researchers throughout the college. Students are paired with a mentor in the lab who guides their research projects.

"This program is a wonderful opportunity for high school students to explore science in a working lab," said co-principal investigator Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, professor and head of the UA Department of Pediatrics and the Steele Center director.

Other co-principal investigators are Dr. Marlys Witte, UA Department of Surgery professor, and Dr. Francisco A. Garcia, an adjunct professor in the UA Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

"We want them to discover firsthand the exciting world of research and discovery," Ghishan said.

The Arizona high school students studying with the Steele Center, and their mentors, are:

  • Thy Tran of Central High School (Phoenix), works with Dr. Hua Xu, an associate professor of pediatrics
  • Kara Gilchrist of Valley High School (Sanders), works with Dr. Melissa Halpern, an associate professor of  pediatrics
  • Kiana Adams-Baker of Sunnyside High School (Tucson) works with Dr. Melissa Halpern, an associate professor of pediatrics
  • Rowe "Rowdy" Kruger of the St. Gregory College Preparatory School (Tucson) works with Dr. Robert Erickson, the Holsclaw Family Professor of Human Genetics and Inherited Diseases and a professor of pediatrics
  • Diana Pham of University High School (Tucson) and Melissa Vasquez of San Miguel High School both work with Dr. Pawel Kiela, an associate professor of pediatrics

Tran and Xu are exploring the roles that sodium-hydrogen exchanger NHE8 plays in mucosal protection throughout the gastrointestinal tract.

Recently, Steele Center investigators discovered that bile acid, an important molecule for fat absorption, could inhibit NHE8 expression Tran's project is to clone the region of the NHE8 gene promoter that is responsible for bile acid regulation of NHE8 gene expression.

"This program gives us a rare opportunity to interact with high school students and show them what is biomedical research and how such research is benefitting human health," Xu said. "Through programs like this, we hope to stimulate students' interest in pursuing a career in biomedical research."

Tran said she appreciated being involved the program.

"My summer experience was truly fascinating, because everything I've learned was altogether divergent from the textbook approach," Tran said. 

"Observing and working towards a process so complex such as molecular cloning is definitely different in a lab setting than at a school desk," she also said. "This program has helped me accept my ignorance within the realms of medical science, stimulated my curiosity and furthered my quest for answers."

Extra info

The program, “Summers in Children’s Research for Diverse High School Students,” is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, grant number 1R25HD070811-01A1.

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Media Contact:

Darci Slaten

Arizona Health Sciences Center

520-626-7217

darci@peds.arizona.edu