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Five Students Complete CPDR Summer Student Professional Development Program

August 10, 2012

On August 10, 2012, five students from the Center for Prostate Disease Research (CPDR) Department of Surgery, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) Summer Student Professional Development Program completed their research projects and presented their data and results to CPDR staff and senior USUHS leadership. Their research efforts will contribute to a multitude of ongoing projects within CPDR and their results and data were well received by all in attendance.

The goal of the Summer Student Professional Development Program is to immerse students in prostate cancer research within the framework of a structured, summer training program. The students are paired with mentors to develop a basic science project and perform laboratory experiments. The program provides unique, focused opportunities that students can not receive in a classroom. The one-on-one training with a CPDR staff member creates a learning environment that allows the student to learn and thrive in the laboratory and in the field of cancer biology.

Ahmed Hussein participated in the program from June through August and was mentored by Dr. Ahmed Mohamed. Mr. Hussein's goals for the program were to increase his own ability in the laboratory by performing various types of cancer biology experiments and techniques, and to develop data for an upcoming manuscript addressing the function of ERG oncogene, the most common oncogenic activation in prostate cancer. Mr. Hussein accomplished these goals by learning scientific criteria for conducting and documenting experiments, and by addressing questions geared toward the scientific and experimental approaches.

Mr. Hussein really enjoyed the dynamics of the program. He noted that there is constant support from everyone at CPDR; you not only work with your mentor, but also with other scientists at the CPDR lab. Everyone is available to help out.

Mr. Hussein plans on attending medical school and really feels that the laboratory background and understanding of basic science techniques he received at CPDR will be crucial in his application process. He would like to work with CPDR again in the future.

Wendy Wu also worked with Dr. Ahmed Mohamed from June through August and worked on a similar project as Mr. Hussein that addressed the function of ERG oncogene. She wanted to take this summer to learn more about prostate cancer and the gene interactions that cause it, to practice using lab equipment such as micropipetts and Western blot developers, and to learn proper laboratory procedures – particularly the detection of proteins. She achieved all her goals because she was prepared with literature about prostate cancer and its gene interactions, and she was given multiple opportunities to practice laboratory techniques to achieve research goals, which included using gel electrophoresis, transfering to the membranes, and using sophisticated instruments.

Ms. Wu would like to work with Dr. Mohamed again because he patiently taught her a lot about what they were studying, which included the function of ERG oncogene and the regulation of genes. She was also able to work with Dr. Mohamed's other intern, Mr. Hussein, to learn the procedures of specific protein detection techniques.

Ms. Wu is enrolled in DNA classes next year where she will learn to use a lot of scientific equipment. She feels this experience has put her ahead of the game and this was a great first experience.

Daniel Heidenberg was enrolled in the program for two months where he initiated a project of his own while collaborating close with his mentor, Dr. Hua Li, and another summer intern, Neel S. Madhukar. Mr. Heidenberg studied the laboratory technicians' work and their delicate techniques and was able to learn a lot of different concepts of basic science including procedures that he did not know before coming to CPDR. He was also a secondary contributor to a second project.

Mr. Heidenberg is applying to medical school and believes this CPDR program has greatly enhanced his application by providing scientific training and interest. Because of his experience at CPDR, he is also now considering the possibility of an MD/PhD program. Once in medical school, Mr. Heidenberg would like to continue to collaborate with CPDR.

Neel S. Madhukar really wanted to learn more about the inner workings of a cancer biology lab – specifically how state-of-the-art bioinformatics is used in cancer biology. He accomplished this goal by working hard on a daily basis under the guidance of his mentors, Dr. Albert Dobi and Ms. Shilpa Katta. Mr. Madhukar completed a project titled Bioinformatic Analysis of Next-Gen Databases: RNA-Seq and AIPC Data Sets. His future goal is to contribute to a scientific publication, which is extremely difficult to do in three months; However, the results from his experiments could be used in a future publication.

Mr. Madhukar really enjoyed working with Dr. Dobi, Associate Director of the Basic Science Research Program at CPDR, and Ms. Shilpa Katta, a Bioinformatician at CPDR. Mr. Madhukar would like to work with the CPDR bioinformatics team again in the future. He felt CPDR was a home of incredible scientists providing an extremely supportive environment. Dr. Dobi and Ms. Katta were always willing to answer questions and helped Mr. Madhukar forumlate his own projects and ideas.

Mr. Madhukar feels his work and experience at CPDR regarding medicine and research are invaluable, and he plans to use the knowledge he gained to further his academic future in an MD/PhD program.

Avin Khera worked with Dr. Shashwat Sharad in the summer program. Mr Khera's goals for the summer were to apply his previous knowledge of biology to a new project, learn proper laboratory techniques, and get a better understanding of prostate cancer and prostate disease. He worked with great enthusiasm to accomplish these goals by studying about laboratory techniques and prostate cancer before coming to CPDR, by working with his mentor in and out of the lab, and by studying during his downtime. The project he worked on and completed was titled Loss of AR Regulated gene PMEPA1in Prostate Cancer and its Role in Disease Progression.

Mr. Khera is interested in the research Dr. Sharad is conducting and would like to work with him again to develop more experiments and results for his project.

This summer, Mr. Khera developed a better technical understanding of cancer biology and feels his experience at CPDR will be very beneficial to him in his future laboratory classes.

Comments from the Basic Science Research Program Leadership:

Dr. Shiv Srivastava, CPDR Co-Director, has been involved in training students in cancer molecular biology since he started his own academic and research career. He said, "I strongly feel that this is how a scientist can give back his or her knowledge to the next generation of scientists and doctors." The researchers and scientists at CPDR have trained more than 100 summer students -college and high school – which, as Dr. Srivastava stated, is a testament to the dedication of CPDR's faculty and staff. Many of these students go on to academic pursuits in medical school, biomedical research, or related fields. Dr. Srivastava said that every year he feels that the quality of the students' performance is better than the previous ones; they are learning younger and faster. "It is inspiring and I hope I have played my role in inspiring these young, bright students who have been coming to CPDR year after year since our inception 20 years ago."

CPDR Associate Director Dr. Albert Dobi has been mentoring and advising students for 16 years and has been fortunate to work with some of the brightest students emerging from various levels to become great scientists and medical professionals. Speaking about the program, Dr. Dobi said, "There is no limit for students who develop creative ideas to answer difficult questions in unchartered territories of science. The CPDR, under the leadership of Dr. McLeod and Dr. Srivastava, continues to promote innovative thinking to try and answer these difficult questions. Novel ideas that move the prostate cancer research forward are well received and all of us at the CPDR team are promoting this concept." Dr. Dobi's teaching style is to help the students learn and agree on the evidence-based findings of cancer research. He then helps the students make a 180-degree turn to think outside of the box in order to facilitate creative learning and research. His favorite part of mentoring is when he and the students look at questions relevant to the care of patients and he can help the students come up with an idea that no one has thought of before. "This is team work and I can't emphasize enough the importance of the commitment of the leadership, colleagues, and research collaborators from all around the world, as well as the commitment of the administrative staff and the organization."

The CPDR mission is fulfilled primarily through its three principal programs – the Clinical Research Center, the Basic Science Research Program and the National Multicenter Prostate Cancer Database– and through a robust education and training program that operates out of its Headquarters location, the Clinical Research Center, and the original laboratories at USUHS. CPDR is also committed to patient outreach, primarily through its affiliation with the WRNMMC US TOO! organization and through a heavy schedule of health fairs in which it participates.