Published August 22, 2016
Two UB medical students are participating in a prestigious yearlong residential program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Maryland, that introduces students to innovative research in areas matching their career interests and goals.
Dan Kuhr and Gregory Roloff are among the 50 medical students and two dental students comprising the fifth class of the Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP), which serves as a fellowship between the third and fourth years of medical school.
They mark the third and fourth UB medical students to have been selected to the highly competitive program. Elizabeth Heller, MD ’15, and Alex Dinh, MD ’16, were accepted into the MRSP’s second and third classes, respectively.
“Participation in this highly selective program presents our students with a unique opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge and understanding of academic medicine, leading to successful careers as physicians and researchers,” says David A. Milling, MD, senior associate dean for student and academic affairs. “We are thrilled to have outstanding UB medical students continuously accepted to the MRSP.”
In addition to a rigorous research agenda, MRSP scholars experience the full spectrum of medical research by attending lectures, seminars, clinical teaching rounds and other courses. They also highlight their research in formal presentations to the NIH community and at professional conferences.
Scholars select a program mentor and create a career-development plan under the guidance of an assigned adviser. Mentors are full-time NIH investigators with established research programs.
Kuhr will focus his research efforts on the effects of adiposity and inflammation on reproduction. The native of Elwood, New York, will assist in a pilot study that stems from the completed Effects of Aspirin on Gestation and Reproduction (EAGeR) trial.
The EAGeR trial investigated the effects of low-dose aspirin and folic acid supplementation on fertility, pregnancy and gestation. Inflammatory factors can impair conception and the ability to carry a pregnancy to term for some women. Researchers theorized that preconception low-dose aspirin, an anti-inflammatory agent, could improve outcomes for women with a history of pregnancy loss.
Results from the EAGeR trial show that sub-fertile women at a healthy weight with high inflammation benefited from low-dose aspirin, but overweight or obese women did not. The pilot study Kuhr will assist on aims to evaluate if higher levels of inflammation in adipose women can be overcome with low-dose aspirin and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
“I’ve always been attracted to the academic side of medicine and also have been interested in the intersection of nutrition, supplementation and infertility for quite some time,” Kuhr says. “I’m excited that I’ll be spending a year to take a ‘deep dive’ into the field while exploring the life of an academic physician.”
Kuhr will work under Enrique F. Schisterman, PhD, MA, chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the Division of Intramural Population Health Research in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Schisterman received a master’s degree in statistics and a doctoral degree in epidemiology from UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.
Roloff, a native of Buffalo, will concentrate his research on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive form of blood cancer with a high mortality rate. Close to 75 percent of newly diagnosed patients achieve remission after a chemotherapy regimen, but many experience relapse.
The lab Roloff will work in strives to identify AML-specific antigens that could serve as the target for immunotherapy, which reprograms the immune system so the tumor is the subject of an immune response.
“It’s a lot like the way your immune system fights off a bacteria or virus,” he says. “The difference is that bacteria and viruses are easily recognized as foreign and defeated. But cancer cells are actually not foreign — they are our own self tissues, behaving like renegades due to uncontrolled genetic activity.”
Roloff will assist in patient care on clinical trials, and his laboratory-based project incorporates immunotherapy research in more detail. He will focus on developing a screening test to find the disease hiding below the level of detection in patients who achieve an initial remission but later experience relapse. The test will ultimately predict which patients will relapse, leading to more successful treatment decisions.
“NIH is truly an electrifying place,” says Roloff, who previously worked at NIH in the National Cancer Institute. “It is a critical mass of the brightest and most innovative minds in the world. Having the opportunity not just to learn from these individuals, but to partner with them to forward human health, is deeply humbling and inspiring.”