A $780,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute will fund a hands-on summer cancer research experience for medical students at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

“Partnership in Cancer Research will provide focused and innovative research experiences in laboratories, community outreach programs and clinics for selected first- and second-year students in the UAMS College of Medicine,” said Thomas Kelly, Ph.D., who, together with Richard Nicholas, M.D., will lead the program and are co-principal investigators for the grant.

The program’s first session is scheduled for summer 2021 and will run through summer 2025. It is designed to encourage medical students to pursue careers as cancer specialists and researchers.

“Our hope is that by showing students how they can impact the future of public health and develop new cancer therapies, we will ultimately improve access to care and increase the quality of life for all Arkansans,” said Kelly, a breast cancer researcher and associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Pathology.

The program, which is centered on a research experience, will include broad exposure to areas of cancer patient care.

Based on their personal interest, students will select a faculty mentor who is engaged in either laboratory, clinical or community-based research. Under their mentor’s leadership, they will perform a research project and integrate their experiences with a team of fellow students. Together, the teams will develop a marketable concept design to solve a cancer-related problem.

Each 10-week class of 12 students will include team-based learning on the molecular and cellular biology of cancer, as well as patient-oriented simulations and experiences related to cancer screening, treatment and palliative care.

Palliative care is a medical practice that helps chronically ill patients live as comfortably as possible by addressing their physical, spiritual and mental needs.

“Visiting a clinic will introduce students to issues related to the ongoing care of cancer patients, which can then be turned into research questions and possible solutions,” said Nicholas, professor in the UAMS Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and director of the Center for Bone and Soft Tissue Tumors at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

The students also will participate in weekly team-based learning sessions on the biology of cancer, as well as the principles of community-based research. The clinical program will include medical simulations and social media interactions with a moderated patient-support group.

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