Third-year Geisel student Luca Valle is among 55 talented and diverse students selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to participate in the Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP). Now in its fourth year, the yearlong residential program represents NIH’s commitment to training the next generation of clinician-scientists and biomedical researchers.
“We are very excited about Luca's selection as one of the MRSP scholars for this upcoming academic year,” said Greg Ogrinc, MD, Geisel’s Interim Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education. “Geisel prides itself on developing students' interests in research and scholarly activities and this yearlong opportunity is one example. Luca will work those who are top in the field of research in radiobiology. We are proud that he has been selected for this.”
Valle, who is completing a family medicine rotation in the small fishing village of Ninilchik in rural Alaska, will begin the program in early July.
“This award represents a fantastic opportunity to apply what I have learned in my pre-clinical and clinical years at Geisel in a new context that has become very compelling to me - oncology research,” Valle says. “It is my hope that this experience will help set the stage for a career of translating laboratory discoveries to the patient’s bedside.”
Mentored research training is at the core of the program, which allows student researchers to carry out a rigorous research agenda across the full spectrum of science in the interest of improving public health. Mentors are full-time NIH investigators affiliated with established basic, clinical, or translational research programs. The MRSP places students in Washington, D.C.-based NIH laboratories and clinics, including the NIH Clinical Center, to conduct research in areas that match their career interests and research goals.
Although Valle entered medical school intent on pursuing a career in emergency medicine, his classroom and clinical experiences with cancer led him to embrace oncology. “I was amazed by the profundity of the physician-patient relationship in the cancer care setting,” he says. “I discovered an ease of interaction with cancer patients and I found their courage lent inspiration and energy to my work on the wards.
“I am very excited because this research experience will bring me closer to my ultimate goal comforting my patients not only with empathy and compassion,” Valle says. “But also with the knowledge that I am working diligently to better understand their cancer and advance new ways to treat it.”
As he begins the process of selecting a research mentor, Valle says he is looking forward to working alongside pioneers in oncology research at NIH, and to immersing himself in a field that he plans to remain in for the duration of his career as a physician. Of particular interest is the work being done in the radiobiology and radiation oncology branches of the National Cancer Institute.
“I hope to assume increased levels of responsibility in research design and implementation and develop some level of expertise in one sphere of oncology before I leap into residency,” he adds.
No stranger to research, Valle has been able to satisfy his interests in a range of projects while at Geisel. From basic science to epidemiology his projects include—working on a Dartmouth Atlas examining variation in prescription drug use across the U.S., studying the variation in definitive treatment for localized non-small cell cancer within the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, working with a team of emergency medicine physicians to study trends in neurological outcomes for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, and collaborating with the U.S. State Department examining morbidity and mortality in urban Indonesia.
Of his medical school research experiences, Valle says, “I have had fantastic mentors at Geisel every step of the way and I have no doubt that the critical thinking skills they helped me cultivate will be invaluable for my research undertakings at the NIH.”
The Medical Research Scholars Program is co-sponsored by the NIH and other partners, including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, American Association for Dental Research, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Colgate-Palmolive Company in addition to other private donors.