Summer Student Research Program Trains Next Generation of Cancer Scientists

January 26, 2022 by Katherine Strotmeyer

The UVM Cancer Center Summer Student Fellowships in Cancer Research provide $3,000 stipends to graduate and medical students for cancer-related research projects, overseen by senior faculty members affiliated with the center.

Larner College of Medicine medical student Joaquin Reategui '24. (Courtesy photo)

Last summer, when second-year medical student Joaquin Reategui was looking for a research project to complement and deepen his studies, options in the Covid-circumscribed world around him weren’t abundant.

Then a program highlighted in a Larner College of Medicine newsletter caught his eye.

The UVM Cancer Center Summer Student Fellowships in Cancer Research, Reategui read, provided $3,000 stipends to graduate and medical students for cancer-related research projects, overseen by senior faculty members affiliated with the center.

He promptly applied, was accepted, and spent the summer analyzing the effectiveness of youth anti-vaping campaigns, working with his mentor, Andrea Villanti, Ph.D., a former UVM associate professor of psychiatry whose research focuses on how young adults’ beliefs about nicotine influence their perceptions of tobacco product addictiveness and harm.

Training medical and graduate students—and eventually undergraduate students—to do cancer research is a key goal of the fellowship program. Doctors often make good researchers, says Randall Holcombe, M.D., M.B.A., the cancer center’s director, who is a physician with an active research portfolio.

“Since physicians have a lot of patient care experience, they have a keen perspective on how research will impact patient health,” he says.

The program has offered students a broad spectrum of cancer research opportunities in disciplines arranging from surgery, pharmacology, and radiation oncology to biochemistry, pathology, and psychiatry. Reategui’s vaping project—which required him to master a data analysis program called Stata and bring meaning to a mass of data points in the youth surveys— sparked an interest in incorporating research into his career.

“I’m interested in the pediatric population, and I’ve been looking into oncology as one of the main paths to investigate with that population,” he says.

In addition to Reategui, the other UVM Cancer Center Summer 2021 research awardees are: Alqassem Abuarqoub, Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences (CMB) graduate student (mentor: James Stafford, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurological sciences); Rachel Bombardier, Class of 2024 medical student (mentor: David Krag, M.D., S.D. Ireland Professor in Surgical Oncology); Amy Chang, Class of 2024 medical student (mentor: Alissa Thomas, M.D., associate professor of neurological sciences); Trevor Coles, Class of 2024 medical student (mentor: Gary Stein, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry); Linda Cui, Class of 2024 medical student (mentor: Nataniel Lester-Coll, M.D., assistant professor of radiology); Sean Lenahan, CMB graduate student (mentor: David Seward, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine); Kiera Malone, CMB graduate student (mentor: Karen Glass, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology); Mikaela Mohardt, Class of 2024 medical student (mentor: Brian Sprague, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery); Allison Morrissey, CMB graduate student (mentor: Andrea Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics); Kayla Sohl, graduate student in pharmacology (mentor: Frances Carr, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology); and Joshua Victor, CMB graduate student (mentor: Nimrat Chatterjee, Ph.D.,  assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics).

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