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Release: June 24, 2002

Students participate in UI infectious diseases summer research program

Three visiting undergraduate students are participating in the Infectious Diseases Summer Undergraduate Research Program at the University of Iowa, which started June 10. The program, which was initiated by the infectious diseases division in the UI department of internal medicine, was formally launched in 1999. Its goal is to interest students in biomedical research in the broad field of infectious diseases.

Stephen Thompson from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Tara Miller from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and Heba Iskandar from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., were selected from a pool of approximately 50 applicants. They will work with UI researchers in the infectious diseases division: David Kusner, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor; William Nauseef, M.D., professor; Dan Diekema, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor (clinical); Larry Schlesinger, M.D., associate professor, and Jerrold Weiss, Ph.D., professor, on a variety of research projects.

The students are studying the molecular mechanisms that regulate oxidative antimicrobial defenses of white blood cells; the factors that allow staphylococcal bacteria to resist killing by antibiotics and how those antibiotic-resistant bacteria spread to people in Iowa; and the regulation of toxic antimicrobial enzymes by proteins produced in the lung during inflammation.

The program was begun informally by members of the infectious diseases division when students expressed the desire for such a program, said Bradley Britigan, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine and division director.

"The program started when students from outside the UI began approaching faculty about doing research or working in their laboratories. Initially, we used internal funds to create the undergraduate research program, and by this mechanism provided two students with a means to travel to and reside in Iowa City while they participated in a research project," Britigan said.

Approximately 50 students apply annually for the program. Most are out-of-state students, although some are from within the state of Iowa. The two previous summers two students were accepted for the program, with funding coming from within the division. However, this summer, Pfizer, Inc. is fully funding the program, which allows a third student to participate.

"I thought this program would be something different to do," Miller said. "I thought it would give me great exposure to a laboratory setting rather than a clinical setting."

Lee-Ann Allen, Ph.D., UI assistant professor of internal medicine and director of the undergraduate research program, said that though college students of all levels may apply, the program primarily accepts juniors and seniors.

"We prefer juniors and seniors because they have taken a broader array of science courses than younger students," Allen said.

The students begin the program by stepping into already existing research projects. The program lasts for eight weeks and runs in conjunction with the 16 other UI Biosciences Summer Research Programs. A special seminar series and various social events further enhance the students' experience.

"It has been a wonderful educational opportunity for both students and faculty," Kusner said. "Several students have reported that these summer research experiences were critical to their decisions to pursue further training in the biomedical sciences."

For more information about the Infectious Diseases summer research program or any other Bioscience research program, visit www.medicine.uiowa.edu/biosciences/summerprograms.htm.

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