Carle Illinois College of Medicine students are setting a course to change the future of human health through the college’s unique Discovery Learning program, contributing to everything from brain tumor research to emergency medical care for diverse populations.

In the summer 2021 Discovery Learning program, 26 Carle Illinois students are partnering with and learning from expert clinicians, scientists, and industry leaders. First-year students enrolled in the Discovery Learning program spend six weeks immersed in clinical and research experiences that advance their medical and engineering interests while benefiting patients and health care locally and globally. Medical students deliver rapid-fire presentations of their work to a live, virtual audience at the conclusion of the course.

David Krist
David Krist prepares to observe resection of glioblastoma multiforme at Carle Foundation Hospital.

Student David Krist is preparing to play a part in developing revolutionary new treatments for malignant brain tumors – some of the deadliest neurological conditions. Krist is involved in clinical research to analyze a technique that uses fluorescent molecules to clearly differentiate tumors from healthy tissue, resulting in safer surgical removal.

Krist’s clinical research project through Carle Neurosurgery allowed him to observe the technique in action. “I will never forget watching Carle neurosurgeon Dr. Wael Mostafa access and remove a glowing, fluorescein-infused glioblastoma (GBM) brain tumor,” said Krist. With no known cure for GBM, current treatments such as surgical removal are life-lengthening measures. Tumor recurrence following surgery is common.

Krist hopes to help change the paradigm, with research that lays the groundwork toward developing a ‘molecular toolkit’ to fight brain cancer in the future. “I will use this experience along with my previous training in chemical biology to partner with others in advancing the current revolution of molecular and genetic therapies,” said Krist. “Hopefully, we can extend new technology to target glioblastoma and other intractable cancers.”

Priya Shankarappa
Priya Shankarappa

Other students, like Priya Shankarappa, choose to focus on clinical immersion. Working alongside Dr. Audra Thomas at Carle Foundation Hospital, Shankarappa is learning the art of practicing emergency medicine, caring for diverse patient populations. “The patients are young, old, and pregnant; their pain presents in different patterns, and their ability to receive follow-up care varies,” said Shankarappa.

Shankarappa is working to develop the clinical skills she will need to care for her future patients. “It takes attentiveness, decisiveness, and efficiency to provide thorough care to all these patients at once.”

Discovery Program Director Dr. Olivia Coiado launched the program in 2018, with 69 students participating in different types of immersions since then. The Discovery Learning program has also included a global immersion program in past years. Global travel has been suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions but is expected to return and expand in the future. “This is a unique opportunity, exposing students to local and global learning experiences. The end goal for students, besides applying inquiry-based learning and developing technical competency, is to foster strong bonds of friendship and camaraderie among students and faculty,” Coiado said.

The 2021 Discovery Talk and virtual competition will be held Friday, July 30, 2021.

Editor’s note: For more information about Discovery Learning, contact Dr. Olivia Coiado.