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Tomorrow's discoveries come to light at annual Student Research Forum

Image of Student Research Forum registrationBone density studies in elderly men, dendritic growth and a dose of skepticism were just some of the subjects on offer at the 28th Student Research Forum, held May 12 and 13 at the Old Library Building. All together, there were 48 oral presentations and 43 poster presentations representing the breadth of research at OHSU.

Elizabeth Martin, MD/MPH candidate, was one of 12 first-place winners in the oral presentation sessions, which attracted a field of 48 presenters from across OHSU. Her research, titled Femoral Volumetric Bone Density and Dimensions in Relation to Serum 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D Levels Among Elderly Men, evaluated variation in femoral neck volumetric bone mineral density (vBMD) and size in 888 men ages 65 years and older. Her study found positive associations of femoral neck cortical and trabecular vBMD and percent cortical bone volume to serum 25 hydroxyvitamin D among the participants, suggesting that higher serum vitamin D levels may inhibit endosteal resorption.

"Our findings of associations between vitamin D levels and specific areas of the bone are important because other studies using Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study data have found different hip fracture risks in men depending on what area of the bone is changing in size," she said. "Usually with aging, the inner part of the bone expands, and the outer layer thins. If future studies can show that vitamin D acts to prevent these changes, it would provide more information on how vitamin D might prevent fractures."

Stephen Magill, MD/PhD candidate, was also a first-place winner for his presentation, microRNA-132 regulates dendritic growth and arborization of newborn neurons in the adult hippocampus. A paper describing the research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and his presentation addressed the identification of a microRNA that is critical to neural plasticity. He selectively deleted one genetic region coding four microRNAs in adult mice by precisely injecting a retrovirus that excises the gene in a specific region of the brain. Deleting these microRNAs dramatically decreased dendrite length, branching and spine formation in vivo. Then, in collaboration with Lulu Cambronne, PhD, post-doctoral fellow, Vollum Institute, he used a fluorescent reporter system to show that one of the four microRNAs, miR-132, is the specific microRNA responsible.

"Our results are interesting because they are the first example showing that a microRNA that can regulate structural changes in the dendritic arbors of newborn neurons in vivo – changes that others have shown to be directly correlated with performance on learning tasks," he said.

The keynote speaker was Harriet Hall, MD. Dr. Hall has a regular column in Skeptic magazine, is a contributing editor to Skeptical Inquirer, and is one of the five founding physicians of the multi-author Science-Based Medicine blog.

"The Student Research Forum is an important mechanism to help faculty and students find future scientific partnerships," said Dean Mark Richardson, MD, MBA, speaking at the awards reception. "Throughout these last two days, I'll bet that new scientific connections have been made – perhaps a new question has been raised, or a solution to a problem that faculty have been thinking about has appeared. Human health – literally – depends on these connections and our ability to collaborate."

Click here to see a video of PhD candidate Kyle Ambert discussing his poster on the OHSU
StudentSpeak blog.

A plenary session featured first-hand accounts of support provided to survivors of the March 11 Japan earthquake and tsunami by two OHSU physicians. Click here to read about the experiences of Dr. Daisuke Yamashita and Dr. Taketo Watase.

here to see more photos from the Forum.

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