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MEnTOR

Medical Enrichment Through Opportunities in Research

Why a summer research experience for medical students? First, the experience can begin to prepare students for a career in academic medicine, through which physicians can combine scientific discovery with clinical insight to drive medicine forward. Studies have demonstrated that medical students who participated in an NIH-funded summer research-training program demonstrated a significant increase in their self-efficacy ("a person’s belief in her or his own capability to achieve a specific goal") for research (Clin Transl Sci 6:487-9, 2013). However, even if research is not a long-term career goal, understanding research methodology and instrumentation will enhance a future physician’s ability to critically analyze scientific advances. The experience will prepare the medical students to better understand the nuances of published research and more readily discern the strengths and weaknesses of journal articles. Thus, clinicians with a research experience will have an advantage when working and communicating with research scientists.

Why EPIC? We believe that EPIC will provide an outstanding environment for a T35 training program. The overarching theme of the Center is the multidisciplinary study of globally important eukaryotic pathogens, which are the causative agents of some of the most devastating and intractable diseases of humans including malaria, amoebic dysentery, African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, toxoplasmosis and fungal meningitis. Globalization has resulted in an increase in such infections in the US and many eukaryotic pathogens are also classified as bioterrorism agents and/or neglected tropical diseases. The magnitude of these diseases is immense: one child dies every 30 seconds from malaria, approximately 1/3 of the world’s population is chronically infected by other protozoans and parasitic worms, and over a billion people each year are estimated to suffer from fungal infections.

Although the global impact of these diseases is high, these microbes have a local impact in the Southeastern US as well. Children die from amebic meningitis after swimming in lakes (see recent story - http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-case-of-rare-brain-eating-amoeba-naeglaria-fowleri-in-south-carolina/). Chagas disease, no longer limited to Central and South America, is causing increased disease burden (primarily cardiac disease) in the southeastern United States (http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/13/health/america-tropical-disease/). In 2012, 257 patients in fifteen states including South Carolina suffering from back pain contracted a fatal fungal meningitis from contaminated steroid injections (https://www.cdc.gov/hai/outbreaks/meningitis.html). Thus, work on eukaryotic microbial pathogens is significant and important, having both a local and global impact on the health and well being of people and animals.

EPIC's ideas are getting funded. EPIC faculty investigators have generated nearly $18 million in external funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the American Heart Association. EPIC research is being published in high profile peer-reviewed journals and is being presented at prominent national and international meetings.

EPIC is creating a legacy of scientific inquiry by training the next generation of scientists. Nearly seventy graduate and undergraduate researchers are currently being trained in EPIC labs. Former undergraduate researchers have matriculated to distinguished medical/graduate schools such as have go on Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern University School of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, etc. Students who have earned PhD's in EPIC labs are now post-doctoral research associates in leading biomedical research labs in the US.

EPIC has state-of-the-art facilities. Eight EPIC faculty are in wall-less laboratory suites that occupy most of the second floor of the 100,000 square foot Life Sciences Facility. The EPIC suites are well equipped with all of the apparata and resources needed for cutting-edge molecular, cellular, biochemical, genetic, and genomics approaches to study important eukaryotic pathogens.