Geisel Student Named Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellow

Second-year Geisel medical student Jose “Tito” Porras is among 68 top medical and veterinary students from 37 schools in the United States selected to conduct full-time biomedical research through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Medical Research Fellows Program. The year-long program is designed to develop the next generation of physician-scientists by giving students a full year of mentored research training with some of the nation’s top biomedical scientists.

“The HHMI Medical Research Fellows Program is an exciting opportunity to explore and contribute to the research that will one day impact my career in medicine,” said Porras. “Spending a year dedicated to research alongside a HHMI investigator will no doubt shape me as both a physician and a person. I know that as a physician I will always be asking how I can improve the health of my patients—the Medical Fellows Program will help me decide the role of research in answering those questions.”

The HHMI Medical Research Fellows Program allows medical, dental, and veterinary students to pursue biomedical research at academic or nonprofit research institutions anywhere in the United States, except the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland or other federal agencies. The fellows put their medical school coursework on hold to spend a year immersed in basic, translational or applied biomedical research. This year, 187 students from 76 institutions applied to the program. Each student applied with a mentor of his/her choice and submitted a research proposal.

During his fellowship year, Porras will be working at the John Hopkins School of Medicine in the laboratory of Alex Kolodkin, PhD, investigating signaling molecules in the neocortex and how they impact brain development. He believes that understanding how the nervous system develops is both interesting and important because it may reveal targets for reestablishing or even generating new axonal connections in the context of injury or disease.

“I am interested in the idea that within our brains are individual neurons communicating with one another to yield complex phenomena such as walking or thinking,” said Porras. “It is amazing to think that seemingly minor disturbances to this system can yield devastating diseases that rob a person of both their livelihood and personality.”

Taking advantage of available opportunities to conduct research at Geisel, Porras is working on a number of projects with Robert Singer, MD, assistant professor of Surgery and of Radiology.

“Our team has piloted a project testing the viability of Google Glass within the neurosurgical operating room,” said Porras. “Now we are exploring the role of telemedicine in neurosurgery and how it can be used to educate residents and medical students both in and out of the operating room. We are hoping that lessons from these projects might be applied to avenues such as global health.”

The Medical Research Fellows Program has funded more than 1,600 students since it was established by HHMI 26 years ago.