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Endless Possibilities

Endless Possibilities Thanks to the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute, two Tufts professional school students will be spending a year engaged in research with the National Institutes of Health.

Boston [07.10.08] Tufts School of Dental Medicine second-year student Samantha Jordan and Tufts School of Medicine second-year student Cedar Fowler will temporarily trade the classroom for the laboratory as they join 40 other medical, dental, veterinary and osteopathic students from around the country this month for an intense year of research.

The two were recently named Research Scholars as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (HHMI-NIH). HHMI is a non-profit medical research organization that is one of the nation's largest philanthropies. The goal of the HHMI-NIH Research Scholars program is to help bridge the gap between basic research and clinical medicine and help to make discoveries that will improve human health.

Recipients of the HHMI-NIH Research Scholar Award are top students chosen from schools around the country, and beginning this month, they will head to the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., to visit various biomedical labs there before choosing a research project. Unlike other research grants, applicants are not expected to have a set research plan in mind, leaving the possibilities almost endless.

For Jordan, the HHMI-NIH grant is her opportunity to branch out into interests beyond what she has done as a dental student.

"I am thinking of doing a public health program once I graduate, so I would like to work in an epidemiology lab," says Jordan, the only dental student in the country to be chosen for the HHMI-NIH program. "One of the great things about HHMI-NIH research program is that you can do almost anything that interests you."

Upon graduation from the dental school, Jordan will become a double Jumbo, having also graduated from Tufts in 2006 with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry.

As an undergraduate, Jordan worked in the biochemistry lab of Larry Feig, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry at Tufts University School of Medicine and director of the biochemistry program at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. Jordan researched the Ras protein and its relation to cancer progression, looking specifically at the conversion from pre-cancerous cells to malignant, invasive cancer cells. Jordan says her work with Feig continued into last summer in collaboration with Jonathan Garlick, D.D.S., Ph.D.,director of the Center for Integrated Tissue Engineering and professor of oral and maxillofacial pathology at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and member of the cell, molecular and developmental biology program faculty at the Sackler School of Graduate and Biomedical Sciences.

"Garlick's lab had developed a 3-D tissue model that allowed us to study the Ras protein in 3-D, letting us look at the protein from a whole new perspective," Jordan says. "Throughout my studies I became interested in tissue engineering and I was really interested in working in Garlick's lab, so this was just a big coincidence that the two labs combined [on this project]."

Like Jordan, Fowler says he is also looking forward to having an array of research choices to pick from, and is currently leaning towards choosing a lab dealing with oncology or infectious diseases.

"In a lot of ways it is a carte blanche offer; you apply and if you're accepted, you walk into a lab with your own funding and say, ‘All right, I want to do this,'" Fowler says. "It's a wonderful opportunity. It kind of makes you feel giddy."

Originally from Montana, Fowler received a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Reed College in Portland, Ore. Fowler then took a four year hiatus from school, spending two of those years in a laboratory and two years working in clinical research oncology before deciding on medical school.

"When I was applying to schools, I really liked what Tufts had to offer," Fowler says. "And it was in Boston, the ‘medical Mecca.'"

Fowler says he has been interested in the HHMI-NIH program for a while now, having learned about it after spending a summer working in the NIH's Rocky Mountain National Laboratory in Montana.

"When I originally heard about it, I thought, if I ever go to medical school what a wonderful opportunity it would be to apply," Fowler says. "When they made me the offer, I was surprised and honored."

"There are very few opportunities out there to go and work on some really intriguing projects at such a high profile institution."

Aside from having the ability to choose from a wide range of research projects, Jordan says that the program will also be beneficial as they continue on in their careers.

Both students look forward to learning more about research work to supplement their professional degree work, which they both plan to continue upon the completion of the program.

Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications

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