Published September 13, 2016
Vinny Polsinelli — who first began conducting research in Haiti following his first year of medical school — was one of only 11 students nationwide selected for a 2016-17 fellowship from the Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Foundation.
Polsinelli, who recently completed his third year of medical school, was chosen for his intellectual and academic achievements, as well as his leadership abilities.
As a Sarnoff fellow, he receives a $30,000 stipend for a one-year mentored research experience with preeminent cardiovascular scientists of his choosing.
Polsinelli says the program’s unique qualities and focus on cardiovascular research appealed to him.
“The Sarnoff program is a close, intimate community of world-class people in the field. Its cornerstone is closely guided mentoring that extends well beyond your fellowship year,” he says.
After completing their year of research, fellows have opportunities to remain involved in the Sarnoff community.
They are encouraged to participate in annual scientific meetings and other Sarnoff-sponsored gatherings, where they can receive career development advice from Sarnoff alumni and reconnect with colleagues.
Fellows are provided with an allowance for travel expenses related to finding a preceptor and laboratory.
“I had the freedom to explore any lab in the country to find the best fit and the strongest program to achieve my goals,” Polsinelli says.
After visiting labs at five universities — Harvard; Duke; University of California, San Francisco; Vanderbilt and Northwestern — he chose to work with Sanjiv J. Shah, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Northwestern University.
“I chose Dr. Shah because I felt excited about the projects in his lab, was very impressed with him as a mentor and felt like he would take ownership of me while I was there and ensure I would be successful,” Polsinelli says.
He will study the hemodynamics and physiology of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (diastolic heart failure). More specifically, he will be studying a subset of these patients who suffer from pulmonary hypertension, an elevated blood pressure in the blood vessels of their lungs.
“These patients are usually extremely ill, very challenging to treat and face a very poor prognosis,” Polsinelli says.
Tools such as sophisticated catheters, echocardiography and 4D MRI will be used to better characterize the disease process in these individuals. Animal models may also be utilized to further understand the mechanisms of the disease.
Much of Polsinelli’s activities in medical school have been centered around his work in Haiti, a project he was involved in as an undergraduate at Siena College.
Working with David M. Holmes, MD, clinical associate professor of family medicine and director of global health education, Polsinelli organized a team of medical students and faculty for a trip to a small rural village called Fontaine during spring break of his first year of medical school.
The UB medical trainees return to Fontaine twice a year and have essentially become the primary care physicians for the residents of the poor, medically underserved village.
During the summer between his first and second year of medical school, Polsinelli spent two months conducting a cross-sectional survey investigating hypertension in rural Haiti.
When he returned to Buffalo, he was put in touch with Joseph L. Izzo, MD, professor of medicine and chief of clinical pharmacology at UB, chief of medicine at Erie County Medical Center and an internationally known hypertension expert.
“Working with him inspired me to pursue research. He taught me how to ask questions, examine data and think critically as we relate the large epidemiological data to the underlying mechanisms and pathophysiology,” Polsinelli says.
Izzo has continued to mentor Polsinelli and helped him take his project for presentation at the European Society of Hypertension conference in Milan, Italy.
Polsinelli was first author of the article “Hypertension and Aging in Rural Haiti: Results From a Preliminary Survey,” which was published in the Journal of Human Hypertension in July. Izzo was senior author.
“Dr. Cain sponsored me, met with me to discuss what the Sarnoff program was all about and supported my decision to apply,” he says. “He even sat down with me a few times to help me with my application, and he continues to be a great mentor to me as I begin my career in cardiovascular research.”
“Vinny’s intellectual curiosity and passion for helping extremely ill patients through medical research earned him the honor of being named a Sarnoff fellow,” Cain says. “He will benefit now from the program’s fine mentorship, but he will also have the advantage of lifelong mentorship throughout his career in cardiovascular medicine as a member of the Sarnoff community.”