For my first year summer I chose to do some research work. Not only did I want to strengthen my CV, but, more importantly, I wanted to explore if academic medicine was the right fit for me. I initially applied to 3 programs across the country including UT's NIH funded research projects. Luckily I was accepted into my first choice, a program at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital called the Pediatric Oncology Experience (POE) and decided to forego my application to the others.
St. Jude was initially my first choice, but I wanted to have my options open just in case everything does not flow as planned, which in hindsight I am glad I did and would recommend to future research-oriented students. Also, while on this aspect, I would mention the importance of applying early to programs. Even if you are just starting in August and the deadline is the following March I would still urge you to complete the application and submit it asap! Now, to expand on my experience at St. Jude, I would like to say that it was pivotal in my shaping my career (in the near future). Not only has it expanded my views on pediatric medicine, but also that Memphis would be a great place to do a residency program. For the POE program you rank your choices sort of like a 'match list' and the people in charge see where you fit best and place you accordingly.
My project at St. Jude was in Neuroradiology and it dealt with a rare, but devastating type of tumor called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG). DIPGs are actually the most incident type of brainstem tumor, but the prognosis, as of yet, is very dismal. Median survival is around 9-12 months with only a few patients living past 2 years of age.
My work focused on a treatment protocol at St. Jude that included 35 DIPG patients that were all administered an anti-VEGF treatment (Vandetanib) and conformal radiation. There may also have been adjuvant steroid treatments given, but I will not go into detail on that. My objective was to analyze magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans from different time points from that particular cohort and segment out and calculate the volumes of the supratentorial brain and tumor for comparison. We did this by using an MRI segmentation program called Analyze 10.0 and made a method of processing for analysis of each study for each patient we chose.
Previous work had showed that on MR imaging the patient showed drastic improvements but the tumor soon relapsed. So, we there was something about the treatment that was not actually treating the tumor but side effects of the cancer like edema. It is known that the cRT targets mostly the tumor, whereas the anti-VEGF and steroid treatments can affect the tumor and normal brain parenchyma (supratentorial brain). Our hypothesis was to see if these pseudoimprovements were being caused by the treatments given to these patients. Preliminary results from 5 patients showed that there was actual close trend followed by white matter (correlates to supratentorial brain) and the tumor volume changes over the treatment period. We are hopeful that after the complete analysis of this patient cohort we can uncover some sort of trend and prove that the treatments being administered are the culprits of the 'psuedoimprovements' seen on imaging.
Overall, I would rate my experience at St. Jude as nothing short of incredible. However, if I were to redo this entire process and have to reapply to programs I would still include all of the other programs as backups. It is always better to have a choice than none at all. If you are first year student and would like to know more about the research experience, St. Jude, or other programs offered here at UT shoot me an email and I will respond asap.