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Student Researcher Will Travel to NIH to Take Part in Biomedical Research Program

June 12, 2008

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Rell Parker, Class of 2010, has been selected one of the first veterinary students to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-National Institutes of Health Research Scholars Program.

The Institute announced June 5 that 42 students from health professional schools had been selected to conduct biomedical research full time for a year. Four of this year's participants come from veterinary schools, the first time that veterinary students have been invited to apply. Parker and the other scholars will travel to the National Institutes of Health campus to participate in hands-on biomedical research. Students in this program are also known as Cloister Scholars because they live in apartments and dormitory-style rooms at a refurbished cloister on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, during their training. They visit several NIH labs before choosing the research project they will pursue with an NIH mentor. Parker will travel in July and return in 2009 to continue her veterinary studies.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute announced awards totaling $11.1 million this year supporting several programs to encourage students to become physician-scientists--and now, veterinarian-scientists.

“These students will one day be on the front lines between biomedical research and the public,” said Peter J. Bruns, HHMI's vice president for grants and special programs. “We want them to have a strong background in research and then pursue it as a career.”

Veterinary students bring a unique approach to biomedical research that complements that of physician-scientists, said Chand Khanna, a veterinarian and pediatric cancer researcher at the National Cancer Institute. “Veterinary students receive training across species and training that embraces diversity in biology,” said Khanna,  one of few veterinarians working in the NIH. “This results in students who are comfortable moving not only between different species but between different models and different questions.”

Khanna has mentored students in the HHMI-NIH program before and knows the enthusiasm for research that is sparked during their time in the lab. “The importance of what HHMI is doing is recognizing that different perspective of veterinary students and providing opportunities for them to learn early on how a vet's perspective is valued in medicine,” he said.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a non-profit medical research organization that ranks as one of the nation's largest philanthropies, plays a powerful role in advancing biomedical research and science education in the U.S. Since the mid-1980s, the organization has made investments of more than $10 billion for the support, training, and education of the nation's most creative and promising scientists. This is the 24th year that HHMI has supported  student research.

Rell Parker participated in the 2007 Students Training in Advanced Research program, where she worked with Professor Isaac Pessah on a project dealing with ryanodine receptors, which play a key role in the processes that regulate calcium in the cell. Calcium release is required for muscles to contract. Parker is interested in horses, small animals and laboratory animals as well as research. She has also served as an officer in the Equine Medicine Club.


For a news release announcing the new HHMI-NIH Research Scholars and  HHMI Research Fellows awardees, go to: