by Elizabeth Harris Krasnoff
While Saint Louis University undergraduates and faculty recognize the valuable experience research can offer, William Hubble, chairman of medical imaging and radiation therapeutics, also sees its value for his field of study.
"Undergraduate students are not biased," he said. "They have no preconceived notions going into the research."
His colleague, Crystal Botkin (PH '10), nuclear medicine clinical coordinator, agreed.
"Our students have fresh eyes," Botkin noted.
That is one reason why Hubble and Botkin have encouraged many undergraduates to pursue research since 1997.
Undergraduate students tend to raise questions about procedures and practices that otherwise go unanswered, Hubble explained.
Senior Bridget Kistner, a pre-med student, likes looking for answers. In fact, this year marks her second undergraduate research project.
Last year, she explored what would happen to radiation technologists and other nuclear medicine workers who are exposed to radiation as a part of their jobs if the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission further limited the level of acceptable occupational radiation exposure.
She surveyed local radio-pharmacies, radiopharmaceutical manufacturers and hospitals. In all, Kistner surveyed nine employers of more than 400 workers to see how much radiation exposure their employees typically get in a year. What she found was that most employees in the St. Louis area already worked within the lower limit. She wrote up her findings and presented them -- along with eight other SLU students presenting their own projects -- at the national conference of the Society of Nuclear Medicine last summer in Salt Lake City.
Now Kistner hopes she can present her latest project at the society's conference this summer in San Antonio.
This time, she is exploring a true medical mystery. Her latest research examines why some patients' hearts are visible on a PET scan. The appearance of the heart is variable and may or may not take up the radioactive glucose. "I am trying to find out why," she said. "It should not appear on the screen at all for oncology patients, but some patients have intense uptake [of the radioactive glucose]."
Kistner has finished collecting her data samples but not her analysis.
"At this point, I don't know the outcome," she said. "The process is a bit meticulous because I am looking at demographics, but I think it is a really great opportunity for me."