P&S Student Wins AMA Research Award

At the last meeting of the American Medical Association’s Medical Student Section, second-year P&S student Nikita Consul won the best poster prize in the surgery/biomedical engineering category. Ms. Consul conducted her prize-winning research—on using nanoparticles to deliver drugs—at MIT, where she majored in chemical engineering before entering P&S. The CUMC Newsroom talked with Ms. Consul about doing research, becoming a doctor, and life at P&S.

Becoming a Doctor

When I was in second or third grade, my grandfather on my mom’s side had a heart attack. I realized I wanted to fix people with those types of problems, so I told my parents I was going to be a heart surgeon. Ever since then I’ve always been interested in medical science.

In medical school, I plan to improve my confidence in comforting people in any situation and use that in my career to help people. I spent a month shadowing a teacher in the Teach for America program, and from that I realized finding the right words to make someone feel better or more confortable is a big challenge.

Becoming a Researcher

In the summer before my junior year of high school, I was in a science program and spent eight weeks in a lab at Michigan State University. The scientific method had been drilled into our heads in science class every year, but it meant nothing to me until that summer. I was fascinated with the process. We were doing research in diabetic retinopathy, not necessarily something I was interested in, but the project involved microscopy, looking at cells using fluorescent imaging, which was pretty new at the time.

The Potential of Nanoparticles in Medicine

Some drugs have a very narrow range of safe doses. The most well-known example is insulin. People with diabetes must constantly monitor their glucose so they don’t administer too much insulin, which can be deadly. If you could have nanoparticles that release insulin in the bloodstream only as needed, you would eliminate the need to constantly monitor.

The research I did at MIT, which I presented in the poster, developed nanoparticles that deliver heparin, a drug that’s used to prevent clots from forming during surgery or in people with certain cardiovascular conditions. We basically developed a safer form of heparin; the nanoparticles release heparin depending on the level of thrombin activity, an indicator of clotting severity. The more thrombin is present, the more heparin is released.

Most Memorable Moment in Medical School (during pre-clinical years)

Before we start clinical rotations, we have classes in which we learn, with real patients, how to take a history and perform physical exams. One day—I think I was asking about family history of cancer—my patient just started crying. She had pancreatic cancer, there was a lot of cancer in her family, and she just felt really unlucky.  I don’t think she expected to become emotional.

I didn’t know what to say, so I gave her some tissues and put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. I wanted to let her know that even though I didn’t know what to say, I was listening to her. And in that brief moment, it seemed like she just trusted me even more. It was really powerful and transformative. I’ve seen many patients since that, but she’s the one I can’t forget.

Living in the Moment

I shadow in the ER a lot, even though I haven’t committed to become an emergency physician; I love it. I’m really involved, to the extent I can be as a student, in health policy. I was elected as a medical student delegate to the AMA House of Delegates at the last AMA MSS meeting and I would like to help inform policy about how research is incorporated into medical decision-making. And I spent some time last year getting my feet wet in clinical research. With Swarnali Acharyya, PhD, in the cancer center, I’m looking at patient records for data on cachexia [weight loss and wasting disease], which is a big problem for some cancer patients but isn’t very well investigated.

Right now, I’m more in the moment; I dabble in lots of different things to see what I like. Eventually I’ll find the most ideal way to combine all my interests and allow me to contribute.