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Summer program teaches medical students to apply research findings to patient care

July 18th, 2007

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Second-year medical student Jim Bell uses an infrared spectrometer to analyze secretions collected from the inner eyelids of patients who suffer from dry eye syndrome. Researchers believe the viscosity of those secretions may play a role in why some people develop dry eyes.

Second-year University of Louisville medical student Jim Bell wants to know what is causing a group of patients to suffer from dry eyes. Is it a problem with the patients’ tear ducts, or something else?

One of 56 students in the 2007 Summer Research Scholars Program (SRSP), Bell may have the opportunity not only to find the cause of his patients’ dry eyes, but also to use his findings in their care. Moving across the spectrum from the lab to patients is called translational research.

All of the students in the program take a summer course called Bench to Bedside, and they work with faculty research and clinical mentors.

Bell works in the laboratory with Douglas Borchman, a UofL professor of ophthalmology who specializes in research related to dry eye.

“I really like this study because instead of describing it as a project on how a system in the body works, [Borchman] described how we would use the information we discovered to help people with this disorder,” Bell said.

He also spends at least three days a week seeing patients with Gary Foulks, a UofL professor in the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences.

“When I am in the clinic with Dr. Foulks,” Bell said, “I get to see how this disorder affects patients’ eyes and their daily life.”

“I go with him to see all of his patients, and it has really educated me about the practice of ophthalmology,” he said. “Probably more importantly, from watching him, I can see that his patients really do like him and trust him and I have been able to learn how to treat patients well.”

Apparently, students aren’t the only ones learning from the scholars program.

“I find it gratifying to share perspectives on patient care and translational research,” Foulks said. “The student’s enthusiasm for learning new research techniques and applying them to improved patient care is invigorating and rewarding.”

In addition to dry eyes, this summer’s SRSP students and faculty members intend to examine the effects of certain drugs in anesthesia, explore the connection between genetics and disease, search for the origins of birth defects and gather data on newly-invented heart devices.

The students receive a stipend for their work, but most say it is the chance to see how medical research is translated to patient care that is most rewarding.

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