Yale’s SUMR program welcomes undergraduate students interested in research

The 2022 Yale Summer Undergraduate Medical Research (SUMR) term is officially underway; Yale School of Medicine (YSM) faculty have opened their lab doors to students from across the United States who want to develop careers in kidney, urology, and hematology research.

Through the Yale SUMR program, undergraduates have the opportunity to engage in hands-on research in the laboratory and clinical settings, attend a wide range of didactic teaching sessions led by faculty mentors from across the program, participate in various social activities, and present their work to faculty and peers at the end of the ten-week rotation.

YSM is one of eight institutions funded by the NIH-NIDDK/KUH R25 grant, which aims to introduce young learners to modern methods of kidney, urology, and hematology research and to spark greater interest in these areas. The Yale SUMR program is led by Shuta Ishibe, MD, Professor of Medicine (Nephrology), who has served as program director since its inception in 2014.

“It’s always been part of Yale’s DNA to mentor and advocate for students at a young age,” Ishibe said. “It’s great to be able to give back to undergraduate students who want to do research and eventually make a difference in their careers.”

As SUMR Program Director, Ishibe pairs each student with a senior postdoctoral fellow from YSM departments, such as Internal Medicine, Urology, Genetics, Cell Biology, Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Epidemiology, and Health. public at the Yale School of Public Health. Under the supervision of these accomplished and dedicated mentors, students will join an established research team to address fundamental scientific questions and practice a range of research techniques.

Michael Caplan, CNH Long Professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology and Chair of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, joined the SUMR program in its very first year as a faculty mentor. This summer, the student working in Caplan’s lab is using molecular biology techniques in cultured cell lines to help identify a small part of the polycystin-1 protein that could be an effective therapy for polycystic kidney disease.

According to Caplan, “students usually come with a modest background in research, so I often meet with them in the early summer to find out what interests them and what their experience is. Then I assign them to someone in my lab who can serve as a lab bench mentor. I contact them regularly to see what kind of progress they are making and to see how well they understand their project, both theoretically and technically.

Elena Wilson, a first-year MD student at YSM and former SUMR participant, said she received exceptional mentorship during her summer research experience at Yale. Wilson worked with Whitney Besse, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Nephrology), Stefan Somlo, MD, CNH Long Professor of Medicine (Nephrology), and their cohort of patients with polycystic kidney disease to examine the effect of variations in the number of copies in certain genes that are linked to disease.

“Dr. Besse and Dr. Somlo have been incredibly supportive. Whitney in particular was an incredible role model as a female scientist and what it looks like to be a medical scientist. I hadn’t really thought more seriously about nephrology as a career until I took this program,” Wilson said.

Outside of their research projects, undergraduate students also participate in a formal series of 10-week didactic sessions led by faculty mentors, who introduce their respective research topics, the techniques they use, and why they have decided to be physician-researchers.

To conclude the summer, students write an abstract and create a poster to summarize their research projects and present their work at one of the various institutions funded by the R25 program. According to Wilson, “It was great fun presenting and getting feedback. Mentors from Yale and other institutions were very supportive and treated us like colleagues, like scientists. It was cool to be asked questions and to have something to show for our work over the summer.

Throughout the SUMR program, participants are also offered a wide variety of social activities such as laser tag, paint parties and ice cream parties. At the end of the summer, students are invited to the Yale Outdoor Education Center to enjoy a weekend of paddle boarding, kayaking, and barbecue.

No social programming would be possible without the help of Anne Prodoti, senior administrative assistant in nephrology. Not only is Prodoti responsible for all the behind-the-scenes work of processing student applications, arranging travel, arranging conferences and arranging social events, but is also the first point of contact for students throughout. throughout the summer.

“Students will email me all the time with questions and issues,” she said. “I tell them if they need anything during the work day or outside of the work day to contact me because most of the kids are from out of state and have no family. nor friends in the area. So I try to always be available for them.

“Anne is the mom of the program,” Wilson added. “She cares so much about all of us and she keeps the program going 100%. Whenever we needed anything, whether it was just to talk and hang out, or a candy, we could go to her and she was always so helpful.

Overall, Ishibe and his team of mentors hope that the SUMR program will inspire young learners to pursue graduate or medical education at research-intensive institutions focused on renal, hematology, or urology research, and equip them with skills needed for successful research careers.

“My job as a mentor is to serve as a role model for how you think about science issues,” Caplan said. “In science, the intuition that you have to develop is how to take a set of information, recognize a question in it, extract that question and formulate it in the form of a responsible interrogative. That’s what I try to show my mentees and train them to do.

“I’m trying to convey something that hopefully will interest them in kidney research,” Ishibe said. “It is satisfying to see extremely bright and motivated young students, knowing that this is our pool of people who want to pursue a career in research. My colleagues and I have a limited time in which we are going to be here to do research. So when we retire, we’ll know our work is in good hands.

Wilson, a former undergraduate and current MD-PhD student, can attest to the impact Yale’s SUMR program can have on young scholars. “I credit my summer experience with preparing me exceptionally well for my medical school applications. I also think it was a good way to get my feet wet and do some full-time research to see if I really liked it before committing to a program. Although I’m not heading into nephrology as a career path, I think I will have a much broader appreciation of the discipline and what nephrologists are responsible for, and their importance as part of the team of care for patients and the conditions they manage.