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Release: May 3, 1999

UI medical student wins national fellowship

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Eduardo Avila, a third-year medical student at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, is one of 26 medical students nationwide to earn a 1999 Bristol-Myers Squibb Academic Medicine Fellowship.

The award is designed for minority medical students who show potential for careers in research and academic medicine. Recipients must participate in research projects under the direction of a faculty mentor at their respective institutions. Each fellowship award is $6,000.

Avila, who wants to pursue a career in plastic and reconstructive surgery, plans to focus his project on "Histochemical and molecular studies of muscle cell function in cleft palate tissue samples." Avila's mentor is John W. Canady, M.D., UI associate professor of otolaryngology, surgery and orthopaedic surgery, and director of the UI Cleft Lip and Palate Service. Avila and Canady will investigate the palate muscle function at the cellular level. They hope to explain why patients who have had their cleft palates repaired still experience poor speech.

"This information can assist with more effective management of the cleft palate patient during critical stages of speech development," said Avila, whose project responsibilities will include obtaining tissue samples from cleft palate surgeries.

Avila is looking forward to the experience, which will allow him to observe multiple cleft palate surgeries and gain research experience in electron microscopy and histochemistry.

Avila's interest in medicine, and more specifically plastic and reconstructive surgery, developed when he was an undergraduate at Brigham Young University. It was then that he first heard of Operation Smile — a private, international, not-for-profit, volunteer medical service organization that provides reconstructive surgery and related health care to indigent children and young adults in developing countries and the United States. Having previously spent two years as a church missionary in Chile, he knew how desperately the services were needed.

"I thought, 'I want to be able to help with Operation Smile someday,'" Avila said. "I saw the effect that cleft palates and other deformities have when people can't get these problems fix. I cannot imagine anything more meaningful than to go back to those little towns and do a surgical clinic for them."

Avila has already applied for Operation Smile service and is waiting to hear back from the organization.

Throughout his academic career at the UI, Avila has been dedicated to both service and leadership. He volunteers at the Free Medical Clinic in Iowa City as a Spanish translator. He organized the Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Club at UI. Avila also served as the secretary for Los Curanderos (The Healers), a Mexican-American and Native American medical student service organization.

Avila eventually wants to become a professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery at a cutting-edge university hospital. Avila's mentor, Canady, does not believe his student will have trouble fulfilling his dream.

"Eduardo is a great example of a medical student who is interested in combining clinical care and research," Canady said. "He is intelligent and inquisitive and very deserving of his fellowship award. I look for him to contribute much to both the care of his future patients and the science of medicine."