Grant supports medical student’s summer research

Kamala Nelson among first to be an Ohio State Medical Association Summer Scholar

Medical research can seem “surreal,” second-year medical student Kamala Nelson says. But spending this summer in the lab has given her better insights of its important role in health care.

“Major discoveries are lost as a citation amongst the surplus of already established information to master. This summer I was able to observe firsthand how dedication and hard work produces change and progress in illness and injury prevention, diagnosis, treatment and improves the health and safety of our society,” Nelson says.

Nelson was able to work all summer in the lab of Timothy Pritts, MD, PhD, professor in the Department of Surgery, thanks to an Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA) Foundation Summer Scholars grant. Nelson was one of six Ohio medical students selected by OSMA in the first cohort of the program.

Pritts praised Nelson for being a quick learner, curious, motivated, hardworking and eager to seek out new knowledge. He also says she made a substantial contribution to the research project.

Nelson helped investigate the release of markers of endothelial cell damage, such as p-selectin and Von Willebrand Factor (VWF), from cells treated with aged versus fresh blood. Transfusion with aged blood is known to be associated with adverse events, but the specific mechanism by which cells release these compounds and the potential to inhibit these pathways has not been explored.

“We investigated the role of specialized organelles called Weibel-Palade bodies in their release and performed several experiments to determine the time course of this process and the ability of specific inhibitors to mitigate its effect,” she explains. 

woman standing in front of trees

Second-year medical student Kamala Nelson's summer research was supported by an Ohio State Medical Association Summer Scholars grant. (Photo provided)

Pritts says the project Nelson worked on will increase knowledge of how stored packed red blood cells interact with endothelial cells. Specifically, she investigated the time course of the effect of various storage lengths of red blood cells on endothelial cells.

With the guidance of Pritts and Stephanie Sisak, MD, a resident in the department, Nelson was able to narrow down the time point within which they believe this process is occurring and gain additional insight into the mechanism by which Weibel-palade body-mediated release may be occurring.

“This has practical application for the care of critically ill trauma patients, who may receive a large amount of blood over a short period of time,” Pritts says. “She helped formulate a hypothesis, design experiments to test that hypothesis, perform experiments and analyze data.”

“We will continue to test inhibitors for pathways by which these organelles are thought to be recruited,” Nelson adds. “Another important next step is to remove platelets from the blood we have been treating the cells with as it may act as a confounding variable, given that platelets also release some of the same inflammatory markers we have been investigating.”

The lab work has given Nelson confidence in her abilities. She also has learned that different lines of thinking are needed as experiments are developed.

“I think understanding not only how to do something, but why you are doing it is a key tenet of research that invites innovation and investment in the projects that you choose to pursue,” she says.

Nelson is very thankful for the OSMA support. Throughout her undergraduate career at UC, she says, she had to support herself with jobs, which limited her opportunities to pursue research. The Summer Scholars funding allowed her to dedicate herself to research this summer and become a better researcher.

“Research experiences are very valuable for medical students,” Pritts notes. “It allows them the opportunity to learn the scientific method and put this into practice, problem solve and learn to interpret and present data. In addition, they become an expert in a specific area.”

Nelson, a Cincinnati native, has not yet decided what field of medicine she wants to pursue, but she plans on continuing to seek research opportunities to supplement and further explore fields that she is interested in, including surgery. She is continuing her research in the Pritts lab as she returns to her second year of medical studies and wants to follow the development of the projects she has been involved in and new ones yet to begin in the lab.

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