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Residents, Fellows, and Medical Students

Showcasing just a few of the new generation of Saint Louis University’s Clinical Scientists. 

Residents & Fellows

Yang “Sunny” Li, M.D., 3rd-year Dermatology Resident and Michael Kremer, M.D., 2nd-year Dermatology Resident

“Scalp skin cancers can take time to be detected due to their discreet location — however, hairstylists are uniquely positioned to educate and aid their clients in detecting skin and scalp cancer. 

“Our study aimed to assess hairstylists’ basic understanding of skin cancer, ability to recognize skin cancer, and confidence in detecting skin cancer before and after an educational intervention. At the end of the investigation, our results showed that hairstylists’ knowledge of skin cancer significantly improved and increased their confidence in recognizing suspicious lesions.” - Li, Y., and Kremer, M. (2022), 2023 Maui Dermatology Conference

Joshua Smith, M.D., 2nd-year Otolaryngology Resident

“My early research investigated symptomatology and toxicity profiles in head and neck cancer patients with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and/or surgery, seeking to maximize cancer survivorship and patient quality of life.

“Prior to starting residency, I completed a clinical research fellowship in Otolaryngology at the University of Kansas Medical Center. My research interests during my time at KU were broad, but focused primarily on optimizing health care delivery, increasing patient engagement, and applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning in otolaryngology.”

Publication: Smith JB et al (2022).

Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

Dencel Garcia Velez, M.D., 5th-year Orthopaedic Surgery Resident

“The idea behind our study originates from the elderly patient population we treat at our hospital. We suspected some patients with bicondylar tibial plateau fractures, decreased bone density, and poor protoplasm would do better with a less invasive approach than dual plating.

“To test our hypothesis, we designed a biomechanical study with 20 DEXA-proven osteoporotic leg specimens. We divided these into four groups of five to assess different fixation strategies: dual plating with and without medial bone removed vs. lateral-only plate with and without medial bone removed. All the specimens were axially loaded to 5,000 cycles and then to failure. The data revealed no statistically significant difference across all four groups in displacement, failure force, and change in proximal tibial angle.” 

Publication: Garcia Velez DA et al (2022). Injury

Samantha Becker, M.D., Neonatal Perinatal Medicine Fellow

“The administration of surfactant to extremely low birth weight infants is common—and many of these infants go on to develop bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). As inflammation is a contributor to the development of BPD, anti-inflammatory medications have been used to decrease the rates of BPD—however, unlike in older children and adults, budesonide can be detected systemically shortly after administration. This brings a risk of causing adrenal suppression.

“We evaluated a 4-year cohort of extremely low birth weight infants, and compared physical and biochemical signs of adrenal insufficiency between infants who received surfactant with budesonide and a historical cohort who received surfactant alone. In conclusion, the use of surfactant and budesonide does not alter the rate of hydrocortisone use, an adrenal suppression indicator. However, it does delay the timing of treatment initiation and decreases the use of vasoactive medications, also indicators of adrenal suppression.”

Publication: Becker SA et al (2022). Neonatology

Research Medical Students

Five mentors proudly share the success stories of their students. 

Taylor Hallcox, 4th-year medical student, recipient of 2023 Distinction in Research Award

Taylor Hallcox came to me as a first-year medical student asking about research opportunities. Over her first three years of medical school, she demonstrated the keys to success in research: An innate curiosity about the complexities of human biology and disease, a sharp intellect, strong work ethic, and excellent communication skills. Students like Taylor make me optimistic about the future.

— Brent Tetri, M.D., professor of internal medicine 

Vruta Kansara, 4th-year medical student, recipient of 2023 Distinction in Research Award

Vruta Kansara helped recruit and conduct surveys with pain patients starting a new period of opioid use. She demonstrated an ability to rapidly understand the purpose of this NIH-funded study, which was to determine the mental and psychosocial consequences of long-term prescription opioid use. Vruta’s passion for research led to her presenting preliminary analyses of the association between types of depression and daily vs. non-daily opioid use. She was a major contributor to the field work and a valued asset to the research team. 

— Jeffrey Scherrer, Ph.D., professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, research director of the SLU Center for Health Outcomes Research

Valerio Rasi, M.D./Ph.D. student; completed Ph.D. in 2022, 3rd-year medical student

Dr. Valerio Rasi is a very talented M.D./Ph.D. student at SLU. He completed his Ph.D. in my lab focused on determining the mechanism for how Granzyme A can inhibit intracellular mycobacteria, the type of organisms that cause tuberculosis, one of the most infectious killers in the world. He worked very hard, became passionate about his scientific work, and learned to become an independent scientist — one who could formulate his own experiments and overall research plans. He was awarded a highly competitive F30 NIH trainee award, which recognized his promising scientific career.

— Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Internal Medicine 

Kathryn Braden-McInerney, Ph.D., completed Ph.D. in 2022

Dr. Kathryn Braden-McInerney, Ph.D., joined my lab in 2017. The objectives of her work were to understand the molecular mechanisms engaged by oxysterols in the spinal cord in the development of central sensitization associated with chronic neuropathic pain states, and the development of non-opioid based therapies. Her seminal work led to several publications in prestigious journals in our field and several awards, including the Saint Louis University Graduate Student Association Brennan Summer Fellowship. Kathryn’s enthusiasm for science is contagious — and her dedication to our work aimed at alleviating human suffering through the discovery of better pain medicine is unparalleled.

— Daniela Salvemini, Ph.D, professor of pharmacological and physiological science 

Emily Cybulla, M.D./Ph.D. student; completed Ph.D. in 2022, 3rd-year medical student

Dr. Emily Cybulla has been among the very best Ph.D. students I’ve had in my lab. Emily came to my lab with drive and determination to study the mechanisms of replication stress response and genome integrity, as well as the connection between these mechanisms and human disease. Her long-term goal is to integrate academic research in the fields of DNA replication and repair, genome stability, and cancer biology into clinical practice as an oncologist. I have been extremely lucky to have Emily in the lab and witness her growth as a research scientist. She is passionate and dedicated, not afraid of new challenges, and has an admirable work ethic.

— Alessandro Vindigni, Ph.D., former professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine