Aspiring medical students present outstanding science research projects from summer internships

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Tina Shelton, (808) 692-0897
Director of Communications, Office of Dean of Medicine
Posted: Aug 8, 2016

Reid Akana, attending MIT, hopes to become an MD/PhD student at JABSOM.
Reid Akana, attending MIT, hopes to become an MD/PhD student at JABSOM.
Carin Jaber is fluent in sign language, a skill she hopes to employ one day as a physician in Hawaii.
Carin Jaber is fluent in sign language, a skill she hopes to employ one day as a physician in Hawaii.

Kamehameha Schools graduate Reid Akana attends the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Over the past two months, though, he has been back home in Hawaiʻi as a summer student research intern at The Queen’s Medical Center.

Someday, as an MD/PhD, Akana may help to improve treatment and survival for patients battling gastrointestinal cancer. In his research project, he focused on genetic mutations among patients with gastrointestinal cancer, seeking to learn whether and how those mutations can determine how patients will respond to chemotherapy and affect how long they live.

Akana, who hopes to attend the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM ) at UH Mānoa after MIT, is one of several young people taking part in the 2016 Department of Native Hawaiian Health Summer Research Internship and The Queen’s Medical Center Summer Research Internship.

In a collaboration between JABSOM’s Native Hawaiian Health Department and the Queen’s Medical Center, the summer internship students displayed their research posters in an exhibition at the University of Hawaiʻi medical school in Kakaʻako on Friday, August 5.

Candace Chan, a Punahou graduate attending UCLA as a sophomore, is majoring in English and wants to be a physician. She researched disabilities affecting the movement and hearing among people in five states with the highest Native Hawaiian populations: Hawaiʻi, Texas, Nevada, California and Washington.

Chan compared disability rates among Native Hawaiians to those among Caucasians, and found Native Hawaiians had higher rates of disability affecting movement and hearing. She thinks the higher rates are connected to the higher incidence of diabetes among Native Hawaiians, explaining that diabetes can worsen arthritis, contribute to cardiovascular disease and increase obesity, all of which can lead to inhibited movement.

Jason Seto, a student at Amherst College, learned through the Summer Research Institute that practicing medicine is what he wants to do. Like Chan, Seto wants to attend JABSOM and become a doctor. But it wasn’t always so. Before he began the Summer Research Institute eight weeks ago, the ʻIolani graduate, attending Amherst College in Boston, said he wasn’t sure what his ultimate goal would be.

“Coming into this program I wasn’t sure; now after exposure to (people he shadowed at) The Queen’s Medical Center and the lectures we attended, (I want to) hopefully enter medicine here (at JABSOM). It would be great to end up (back) here in Hawaiʻi.”

Seto’s project focused on the associations between socioeconomic status, race and disability in Hawai’i. He found those with more education had a lower risk of disability and those with low incomes had a higher risk of disability.

After controlling for age, sex and race, though, he also found that where people lived, what he calls “area disability,” was surprising. Despite their earnings, he said people living in less prosperous neighborhoods had higher rates of disability. “Environment kind of reflects whether a person will have disability. That was one of the main findings that was also somewhat unexpected,” said Seto.

Cori Sutton, a sophomore studying biology and economics at UH Mānoa, compared total health-related expenditures of diabetes patients in Hawai’i by race and ethnicity. She wanted to know whether disparities affected their health-care costs.

“Even after controlling for the cost of medication,” she said, “I found Caucasians still had the highest expenditures compared to some of the other ethnicities. I know that the cost of diabetes medications contribute to higher costs; I would like to do further research to see how the quality of care might affect total health-care costs.” Sutton is hoping to go to medical school at JABSOM and become an internist in Hawai’i.

Another of the Summer Institute students, aspiring physician Carin Jaber, will bring a much-needed ability to her medical practice someday. Currently attending UH Mānoa as a senior, the Kalaheo High graduate is fluent in sign language. “I would hope to get into family medicine or general practice and have more patients come to me and be able to be themselves, on a more one-to-one personal basis to say how they feel," she said.

Jaber hopes to get into medical school next July 2017 with other first-year med students. JABSOM is where she wants to go. “I am a local girl, Hawaiian through and through, and I couldn’t be be happier than to be right here and serve my community, giving back to my community,” she said.

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