School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

Student Spotlights

Student Spotlight: Jannel Lee-Allen
Jul 1, 2013

Jannel Lee-Allen, 32, a married mother of two, spends the majority of her days and nights studying to become a doctor.

Nearly 10 months out of the year, her husband, a security officer at the Detroit Institute of Arts, drops her off at the Wayne State University School of Medicine no later than 8:30 a.m. on his way to work. He picks her up at 5 p.m., after a nearly 8-hour day of classes, exams, reading and studying. She spends the next two hours being mother – cooking dinner for her husband, 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, helping with homework, reading to the kids and more. At 7 p.m., she goes back to school, where she hits the books again, until at least 11 p.m., and often later.

“Then I get up to start the day again,” she said.

It’s a new normal for the Detroit-based family of four, one Lee-Allen admits her 6-year-old isn’t always keen on, especially when she has to say goodbye in the evening.

Her son, however, keeps things in perspective. Mom is going to be a doctor. And that’s pretty cool.

While she doesn’t have any classes to take until August, she isn’t sitting idle. She completed two one-week externships this summer – shadowing a gastroenterologist and a neurologist with St. John Providence Health System – and was one of only 13 first-year students picked to prepare cadavers this summer for the incoming Class of 2017’s general anatomy courses.

Associate Professor of anatomy and cell biology Michael Ireland, Ph.D., directs the Human Gross Anatomy course at the School of Medicine, from which students are accepted to pro-sect based on course performance.

“Jannel was chosen to pro-sect this summer from a pool of 30 or so applicants. The overall focus of the pro-secting program is to prepare anatomical dissections of particularly difficult regions in order to use them as teaching resources for the incoming medical class this fall. We only accept students who have successfully completed all of their first-year courses,” Dr. Ireland said. “Jannel obviously performed very well in her studies in order to be chosen. This is quite a significant accomplishment, since I just recently discovered that Jannel is also the mother of two young children. Getting through the first year of med school is tough enough, but with two children at home, I’m impressed with her effort and dedication to say the least. Currently, Jannel has been the only student willing to prepare specimens of the delicate facial nerve and the difficult-to-visualize suboccipital triangle (a neck region bounded by three muscles). Jannel has been extremely meticulous in her approaches to dissection and is only satisfied when the preparation of her specimens meets the highest standards. She has truly been a pleasure to direct this summer.”

Lee-Allen still finds time for family, including a weekend trip to a chess championship, where her son’s team, the Detroit City Chess Club, won third place. Despite the long days, she knows medical school is the right decision, a decade in the making.

“First, I truly love helping people. Specifically, I love helping people accomplish the goals that they deem very important, but for whatever reasons do not think they can accomplish. Second, I have always had a deep fascination with, curiosity for and utter love of science. Indeed, it is my recent return to science that has made it very clear that my love and hunger for science surpasses my love for any other field of study,” she said.

Lee-Allen was once a typical 20-something career professional, working for seven years in nonprofit and public housing development in Detroit after earning her master’s degree in urban planning from WSU. She was raised in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in upper Manhattan. Her mother, a state nursing aide, raised Lee-Allen on her own, and encouraged her to pursue medicine as an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, where Lee-Allen majored in neuroscience. After graduating 10 years ago, she moved to Detroit. She took the MCAT but did not get into the WSU School of Medicine on her first attempt. She decided on urban planning instead.

Years later, after funding to the Detroit nonprofit for which she worked was cut, she thought about starting a new career. She called the school’s admissions department to inquire about her 10-year-old medical school application.

“I began to soul search for a little bit,” she said. “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this for a long time.”

She participated in the Office of Diversity’s MCAT Prep Summer Program at a school advisor’s suggestion, took the MCAT, applied again, and was accepted.

“In my year of post-baccalaureate studies, learning how the human body contains so many systems that function in such an intricate way and without any human intervention has left me awestruck,” she said. “After shadowing a gastroenterologist in 2011, my eyes were opened to the fact that there are medical specialties that have the combination of being people-centered and anatomy driven.”

”Consequently, both my shadowing of the gastroenterologist and year of post-baccalaureate studies gave me confidence that my talents and love of both people and science do have a place in the medical profession.”

The MCAT Prep Summer Program is part of the pipeline of programs to increase the number of underrepresented students in medicine.

“We often utilize medical students in a work-study capacity for instruction and peer mentoring,” said De’Andrea Wiggins, interim director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Lee-Allen will be an instructor for the program this year.

She credits the time spent in her previous career for her steadfast work ethic.

“The same way I felt I could change local communities one program, policy, and/or house at a time, I now know I can achieve these same life goals via becoming a physician and changing local communities one patient, family and consultation/procedure at a time. Unlike any other career, becoming a physician is an ultimate way in which I can give back to the world and serve others in a way in which, like my clients, I never dreamed could turn into reality,” she said.

She will start her second of four years of medical school this fall, but she’s already earning accolades for her work as a medical student.

The Wayne County Medical Society of Southeast Michigan Foundation awarded Lee-Allen the Charles C. Vincent, M.D., Memorial Scholarship at the society’s 2013 annual meeting, held May 22 at the Detroit Athletic Club. She will use the $2,500 scholarship for summer living expenses.

The award is given annually to a WSU medical student who reflects the work of its namesake, a 1958 graduate and former associate dean of admissions for the School of Medicine.

“Her (urban planning) degree speaks to her interest in policies as it relates to urban issues, which is of particular interest if she is to be a culturally-competent physician,” Wiggins said.

Lee-Allen will serve as external vice president of the Black Medical Association for 2013-2014.

Courtney Moore
Feb 20, 2013
The Association for Prevention Teaching and Research will honor a Wayne State University School of Medicine student for her efforts to prevent heart disease in southeast Michigan.

Courtney Moore, a third-year medical student, will receive the APTR’s Special Recognition Award for her creation of Health Is Where the Heart Is, an organization that focuses on educating people about cardiac health through the dissemination of an easy-to-understand booklet containing easy-to-adopt practices, presentations on heart health and free hypertension screenings.

“I am deeply honored to have been selected for the 2013 APTR Special Recognition Award,” Moore said. “It is simply stunning that our relatively young program has garnered so much support in just two years, and receiving this national award is something we certainly never could have imagined.”

In addition to Health Is Where the Heart Is, the APTR is also recognizing Moore for two research abstracts written with Diane Levine, M.D., associate professor of Internal Medicine, "From Detroit to Your City: A Public Health Solution; A Medical Education Pilot Program's Success and Its Potentially Groundbreaking National Impact" and "19,000 + Education Enhancing Public Health Initiatives Tailored to Each Community: A Guidebook for a Longitudinal Curriculum to Address Growing Healthcare Demands." Moore said her work with the Paul Ambrose Scholars Program and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research, both in Washington, D.C., also contributed to the award.

“I'm sincerely grateful for the support and encouragement from the School of Medicine, especially Dr. Levine, and the APTR, particularly Dr. Suzanne Cashman, (M.D.), of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Paul Ambrose Scholars Program and Association of Prevention Teaching and Research, without whom I could not have imagined our public health initiatives could make a national impact,” said Moore, who will receive the award at the APTR banquet in Washington, D.C., March 12.

“We are so proud of Courtney,” said Dr. Levine, who nominated Moore for the award. “Receiving the Special Recognition Award is quite an honor.”

The APTR is a national organization comprised of physicians and public health officials whose mission is to advance the education of physicians and other health care providers in prevention and population health. The Paul Ambrose Scholars Program selects and trains 47 health professions students annually to create a public health initiative. Moore was selected as a scholar in the program in 2012.

Moore was visiting her parents at their Brighton home when her father, James Moore, suffered a cardiac event that nearly killed him. She performed chest compressions on her father until emergency medical services personnel arrived to transport him to a hospital. Mr. Moore survived the attack.

After that experience, Moore wrote a book on cardiovascular care and improvement. Weighing in at a hefty 400 pages, the book, she soon realized, was too lengthy to convince the average person to read. She scaled the book down to 75 pages filled with laymen’s explanations of cardiovascular medical jargon and simple tips that readers can adopt to improve their heart health. The book is an expanded version of the 18-page pamphlet Moore’s organization distributes free.

A paperback version of the book, now available at amazon.com, offers categories of activities – good, better, ideal – in areas of diet, exercise and other tips that readers can incorporate for improved heart health. Proceeds from sales of the book are used to print the free pamphlets and support the work of the organization in the community.

“This award opens new doors for Health Is Where the Heart Is and programs like it to expand across the country, and these new expanded opportunities are extremely exciting,” Moore said. “I will dedicate myself to justifying the trust that the Wayne State University School of Medicine, the APTR and my mentors have displayed in me by recognizing me for this award.”
Paulo Caceres
Oct 18, 2012
Paulo Caceres, a fourth-year doctoral degree candidate in the Department of Physiology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, was recently awarded a one-year competitive pre-doctoral fellowship from the American Heart Association.

The award is a continuation of a two-year fellowship previously awarded by the AHA, adding to three years of continued support for Caceres’s doctoral dissertation in the lab of Pablo Ortiz, Ph.D., assistant professor of Physiology.

“I feel much honored about this. Funding rates keep getting lower and counting on this kind of support is really a privilege,” said Caceres, who is originally from Argentina and holds a master’s degree in Biology. “The American Heart Awards are quite popular among international students in the field because they don’t have visa restrictions. They have become very competitive and they surely constitute a fine addition to one’s CV.”

Caceres came to the United States to pursue a career in science. His interest in renal and cardiovascular physiology led him to Dr. Ortiz’s laboratory at the Hypertension and Vascular Research Division at Henry Ford Hospital. “My mentor is a great example of the commitment that Wayne State University professors have with their students,” Caceres said.

He began working with Dr. Ortiz a year before applying to the graduate program in Physiology. “One of the most rewarding experiences about science is when I realize that a secret of nature has just been revealed. A new piece of knowledge has just been generated for humankind and I was a privileged witness,” Caceres said. “With Dr. Ortiz’s guidance, those moments are not so infrequent now, and every graduate student has experienced the frustration that comes with the other moments that make up the remaining 99 percent of the time.”

Caceres is studying the renal ion co-transporter NKCC2 in the thick ascending limb, a nephron segment in the kidney that controls water and sodium excretion and has major influence in blood pressure.

“We want to understand how the co-transporter reaches the cell surface, because once it gets there it can take ions, like sodium, from the forming urine and transport them to the blood eventually,” Caceres explained. “However, the excess of co-transporters at the cell surface would enhance sodium absorption, causing retention of body fluids, because more water will be needed to dilute the extra sodium and the blood pressure will increase.”

Caceres is studying how specific proteins called SNAREs regulate NKCC2 delivery to the cell surface. NKCC2 is carried as cargo in intracellular vesicles en route to the cell surface, and SNARE’s role is to facilitate the fusion of the transporting vesicle with the target membrane.

At the completion of his doctoral training, Caceres expects to have described a novel regulatory mechanism for NKCC2 that has not been considered in the development of diuretics.

“NKCC2 is a known target of powerful diuretic drugs, but their application is limited because of undesired side effects. We expect that this project will identify a pathway that can be intervened but leave other pathways undisturbed, making it possible to fine tune NKCC2 regulation of sodium absorption,” Caceres explained. “I also expect this to be an important step toward my goal of scientific independence, but most of all a journey that will eventually benefit medical practice and our lifestyle.”

Caceres is also convinced that an integral part of a scientist’s formation is to keep a healthy mind, so he enjoys extracurricular activities in the free time. He is an avid scuba diver and rock climber.
Emily Wood
Sep 5, 2012

Emily Wood was destined to attend Wayne State University.

A second-year doctoral candidate in the WSU School of Medicine’s Molecular Biology and Genetics Graduate Program, Wood was born in Detroit’s historic Woodbridge neighborhood, on the western edge of WSU’s campus. She grew up on the city’s east side. Her mother, Mary Jane Heeg, Ph.D., is a crystallographer who retired from WSU’s Department of Chemistry in 2010, and Wood spent her childhood visiting her mother on campus.

“I was born on campus, and I’ve been here ever since,” she joked.

Wood’s first job after high school graduation in 1999 was with WSU. She worked full time as an administrative assistant, using the school’s employee tuition reimbursement program to take one class a semester, mostly at night. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology with departmental and university honors in 2007 – eight years after her first college class.

Anthropology sparked an interest in evolution, and more specifically, the genetics behind it all. “I really wanted to know about human evolution and the relevance of genes,” in human behavior, she said.

Yet when she began independently researching genetics, “I realized I couldn’t read the papers. I just didn’t have the skills set,” she said.

She went back to school, at WSU of course, taking master’s degree courses before joining the doctoral program in 2010, with a computational concentration.

Only two years in, Wood has already received international attention for her computational work on long non-coding ribonucleic acids in the lab of her mentor, Leonard Lipovich, Ph.D., assistant professor of Molecular Medicine and Genetics, and Neurology.

Dr. Lipovich’s determination to prove genetic matter once deemed “junk” has a place in clinical medicine is bringing the School of Medicine to the forefront of a burgeoning niche field of genome enthusiasts in the United States, Asia and Europe. The work could lead to new therapeutics for cancer and other diseases.

“For a second-year Ph.D. student, Emily's activity and meaningful contributions to our international collaborations are absolutely stunning,” Dr. Lipovich said.

LncRNA genes comprise half of human genes. Results from Dr. Lipovich’s lab suggest they play a critical role in regulating the conserved part of the genome. “It’s really on the edge of what’s known,” Wood said.

She has earned membership in the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Consortium Analysis Working Group, one of two international research consortiums that succeeded the completion of 2001’s Human Genome Project. Wood implemented both manual and newly-learned automated approaches to analyzing genome-scale LncRNA experimental data from ENCODE Analysis Working Group and another international research consortium called Functional Annotation of the Mammalian Genome, also known as FANTOM5, Dr. Lipovich said.

She regularly presented her results during ENCODE Web conferences, results that earned her the second authorship on a paper in the current September issue of Genome Research titled “Long non-coding RNAs are rarely translated in two human cell lines.”

Even before the publication, Wood’s role in the lab has pushed her into a spotlight beyond her hometown.

“Emily developed and optimized manual annotation protocols to check whether a Gencode transcript was a long non-coding RNA or not; to map specific peptides from mass spectrometry experiments to Gencode lncRNAs; and to analyze the evolutionary conservation and the biological common sense context of the peptide hits. She also did much of the annotation herself,” Dr. Lipovich said. “(Half of the) main figures in the paper directly show Emily's annotation results, an impressive contribution that earned her a prestigious sole second authorship on the paper.”

In less than two years, she has received three scholarships to present her work, and travels at least every other month to talk or present. She was competitively chosen by FANTOM for an expenses-paid trip to the FANTOM5 meeting at the RIKENomics Science Center in Yokohama, Japan, last October. She was one of only 10 students in the world invited to give a 30-minute presentation, and her audience was internationally-renowned geneticists, including Nobel Laureates.

“It was really exciting and it was really scary,” she said.

Dr. Lipovich still gets calls from international scientists “who ask specifically for Emily to analyze their data, mentioning that they cannot forget her October 2011 Yokohama talk,” he said.

Emily began to develop her own dissertation ideas last year. She presented a poster on the presence and genomic structure of LncRNAs at a Cell Symposium in Chicago in 2011, and earlier this year received a prestigious Keystone Symposia Travel Grant to present posters in Snowbird, Utah, 11 years after her mentor received the same honor. She made the same presentation at the 17th Annual Meeting of the RNA Society in Ann Arbor, Mich., this year.

“Emily's enthusiasm, hard work, attention to detail and willingness to learn outside of the comfort zone are unparalleled,” Dr. Lipovich said.

She was appointed to the reviewing editorial board of the journal Frontiers in Non-Coding RNA in 2011.

Wood credits her determination and work ethic to her mother, who raised Emily and her sister Mae on her own. “She’s a world-renowned scientist in her own right,” Wood said.

Dr. Heeg earned an excellent reputation in the science world for pioneering several new methodologies for determining the structure of inorganic compounds, including difficult crystal arrangements. Wood said it was her mother’s positive example that made her realize a career in science was possible.

“I feel really blessed that I found something I really enjoyed,” she said.

Lizbeth Brice
Jul 27, 2012

Wayne State University School of Medicine student Lizbeth Brice is “extremely grateful” for a $10,000 scholarship from the American Medical Association Foundation.

Brice is one of just 13 medical students in the nation and the only one in Michigan to receive the foundation’s Minority Scholars Award, a distinction that she said is both humbling and overwhelming.

“This money is extremely helpful. One of the biggest stressors for me is the ability to pay back my student loans. Medical school is a big financial investment, so being able to direct this money to decrease my loan burden is very satisfying,” she said.

The third-year student grew up on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. She returned to the United States, her native country, in 1996. She earned a degree in Pharmacy from Howard University in May 2010. Instead of working as a pharmacist, though, she started at WSU that fall, still studying for her pharmacy licensing board at the same time. She passed it, and is a licensed pharmacist.

The Minority Scholars Awards recognize scholastic achievement, financial need and commitment to improving minority health among first- or second-year students in groups defined as historically underrepresented in the medical profession. According to the American Medical Association, 9 percent of U.S. physicians are Hispanic, American Indian, African-American, Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian.

“I think that as the patient population becomes larger and more diverse, cultural competency will become extremely important,” Brice said. “This goes beyond having professionals that represent different races and ethnic groups, but rather making sure that all professionals understand diversity and how to respond to it, with the ultimate goal of improving the patient experience and optimizing patient outcomes.”

She isn’t yet set on any particular medical specialty, but likes the field of Internal Medicine. “I love the idea of following patients long-term and seeing their health improve over time,” she said.

Brice coordinated the WSU Student National Medical Association’s 23rd annual Reach Out to Youth program in February. The free workshop program gives more than 300 Detroit-area children and their parents an inside look at a medical career. She volunteers at the Robert R. Frank Student Run Free Clinic in Detroit and with the Code Blue and Freedom House organizations, providing nutritional and medical information to children and refugees.

“She has excellent people skills and administrative abilities, and is trustworthy. She is destined to make a positive addition to the education and health of the communities that she will serve,” said Silas Norman Jr., M.D., associate dean for Admissions, Diversity and Inclusion.

This year’s awardees include medical students from Harvard Medical School, Vanderbilt University, New York University and the University of Southern California.
Angela Sosin
Mar 15, 2012

Sometimes the friends you make can shape the path you take. Perhaps no one knows that better than Angela Sosin, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Cancer Biology Graduate Program.

Sosin’s family moved to Macomb Township when she was 8 years old. She made quick friends with three other girls in her new neighborhood. They were inseparable at times, for the next decade, until each went off to different universities. They grew up together, and became part of each other’s families.

“Their parents were, and still are, very much like my own parents,” Sosin said.

As an undergrad, Sosin learned that the mother of one of her friends had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Nothing seemed to make any sense, and answers to questions simply led to more questions. I had a hard time grasping how this could happen to someone close to my parents' age,” she said. “I couldn't even imagine losing a parent that wasn't 'old.’”

The Birmingham resident was always inquisitive, she said, so it certainly wasn’t unlike her to question the diagnosis of someone close to her. “I felt that there was always a reason for anything and everything, and can remember frustrating some of my teachers in elementary and middle school by asking so many questions,” she said.

In retrospect, the experience is one that drove her to inevitably get into cancer research, although she didn’t realize it until years later, she said.

Sosin has renewed a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, or T32, training grant from the National Cancer Institute for a second consecutive year. She is one of five Cancer Biology Graduate Program students in the T32 program. The grant for pre-doctoral students is worth more than $22,000 every year. Her dissertation mentor is Ayad Al-Katib, M.D., professor of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology, and her project is titled “Targeting MDM2 for therapeutic intervention in B-cell lymphoma.”

She received a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and molecular genetics from Michigan State University, and was working as a molecular biologist at a contract research company in Wheeling, Ill., before deciding to pursue her doctoral degree. She chose WSU because she was offered some financial support, liked the idea of being near her family and friends, and appreciated its affiliation with the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

“To me, it meant a broad, in-depth multidisciplinary training experience that would extend well beyond the laboratory,” she said.

Sosin developed a strong interest in hematological malignancies -- cancers of the blood, bone marrow and lymph nodes -- during her first year of graduate school. Her research interests now include developmental therapeutics and their translation into clinical relevance.

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