The idea of seeking out a mentor and embarking on a research project was a somewhat frightening experience for Sayra Nieto Gomez when she got started.
But with the support of a program for students underrepresented in the health professions and a willing faculty mentor, the fifth-year UMKC School of Medicine student was one of nearly 70 students who presented a research project at the 2023 UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit.
The event took place on March 22 at the Children’s Mercy Kansas City Research Institute, returning the summit UMKC’s Health Sciences Campus after being held at the Student Union on the UMKC Volker Campus for the past several years.
The annual summit provides an avenue for health sciences students to display their research, while also fostering collaborations across disciplines and schools that will provide economic, health, education and quality-of-life benefits for the community.
Students from the schools of medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, education, computing and engineering and psychological sciences presented posters that displayed a vast array of research on medical science topics to community health programs.
Faculty members from the health sciences schools judged and scored the presentations based on overall quality and aspects of the presentations, including the research hypothesis, background, methodology and conclusions. The top three scores were announced in three categories: overall, graduate students (residents, post-doc, fellows), and undergraduate students.
Nieto Gomez’s presentation placed second in the overall division. She worked with her mentor, Karl Kador, Ph.D., a scientist at the School of Medicine who focuses on retinal research, to produce an abstract that looked at how early stage retinal ganglion cells are formed.
“Hopefully we can take this information and one day apply it to find cures for blindness,” she said.
School of Medicine student Josephine Nwankwo had the top-scoring presentation in the overall division, while medical student Keerti Ivaturi had the top poster presentation in the undergraduate division and pharmacy resident Rachel Askew earned the top score in the graduate division.
Nieto Gomez is member of STAHR (Student Training in Academia, Health, and Research), a collaborative of the UMKC schools of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy designed to increase the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering health care programs and better prepare them for success academically and professionally.
She said participating in the STAHR program and meeting with other underrepresented minority students provided her with the encouragement she needed to embark on a research project.
“The conversations we had in the STAHR program with other students, and hearing about how they were doing research and how they got involved helped,” she said. “It made me feel that if I can see other students in the program doing research, then I can do it.”
Kristen Mize, Pharm.D., a UMKC pharmacy resident who works with ambulatory care patients at a KC CARE Health Center clinic, was another student who presented a poster at the Research Summit. Hers described her efforts to provide early, preventive eye exams for patients with diabetes.
Mize explained how she is trained to perform simple eye exams using a retina imaging machine to look for early signs of diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of adult blindness and vision loss. It occurs when a diabetic’s blood sugar level rises too high, causing small blood vessels in the retina to break and leak blood or fluid into the eye, damaging the retina.
The project also looked at the effect her service has had on patients keeping current on eye exams.
“The purpose is to catch things early before the patient knows they have that issue,” Mize said of the exam.
Mize also planned to present her poster at a pharmacy conference later in the week with a broader message for pharmacists and other health care providers.
“For pharmacists, I want to show that we can do this,” she said. “I got trained on this machine and I’m the only person at KC CARE offering the exam right now. Next month I’m going to be training nurse practitioners, and they’ll be able to do it. Our message to those who aren’t ophthalmologists is, you can make a difference in this, too.”
2023 UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit
Top Scoring Posters and Presentations
- 1st Place – Josephine Nwankwo, School of Medicine: Relationship between SES and Utilization of a Hospital Based Food Pantry
- 2nd Place – Sayra Nieto Gomez, School of Medicine: Early Stage Retinal Ganglion Cells Have Increased Axon Growth
Mentor: Dr. Karl Kador
- 3rd Place – Vijay Dimri, Shruti Mishra, Mauli Patel, School of Medicine: Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome in a Trauma Patient with Multiple Gunshot Wounds
Mentor: Dr. Binod Wagle
- 1st Place – Keerti Ivaturi, School of Medicine: Effects of Placenta Glucocorticoid Receptor Knockout on Gene Expression and Fetal Survival
Mentor: Dr. Dave Bridges
- 2nd Place – Samuel Brown, School of Medicine: Pericyte Recruitment and von Willebrand Factor Expression are Associated with Blood-Brain Barrier Tight Junction Formation During Embryonic Development in Mice
Mentor: Dr. Nihar Nayak
- 3rd Place – Paris Yates, School of Medicine: Is Ciclesonide a safer glucocorticoid alternative in the developing brain for preterm birth?
Mentor: Dr. Paula Monaghan-Nichols
- 1st Place – Rachel Askew, School of Pharmacy: Impact of pharmacist-led intervention of dispensing naloxone to an at risk of overdose patient population
Mentor: Dr. Yifei Liu
- 2nd Place – Dr. Soumya Rao, School of Dentistry: Loss of Function Mutations in SF3B2, A Regulator of mRNA Splicing, as a Cause of Oculo-Auriculo-Vertebral Spectrum
Mentor: Dr. Timothy Cox
- 3rd Place – Roland Klar, School of Dentistry: 3D printed multi-gradient microsphere scaffolds for guided osteochondral tissue engineering
Mentor: Dr. Stefan Lohfeld