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Alumni Profiles

Anit Behera M.D., Ph.D.
2019
Anit Behera M.D., Ph.D.

What sparked your interest to become an M.D./Ph.D. student?
My interest to become an M.D./Ph.D. student began during my final year in college when I was working in a research lab. I was excited/committed to complete medical school (as I was already involved with the combined B.S./M.D. pre-medical scholars program at SLU) and decided to add a Ph.D. to satisfy my passion in research and teaching. Dr. Andrew Lechner was the director at that time and he encouraged me to join SLU's M.D./Ph.D. program.

How did you decide which lab to join for your Ph.D.?
I worked at the Center for Health Outcomes Research which conducts-and translates-research into practices that improve health outcomes across patient populations. My area of expertise in health outcomes primarily falls under applied biostatistics and research methodology/design with a focus in clinical research. I decided to join SLUCOR as I was interested in becoming a clinical physician-scientist and utilizing my skills/knowledge as an outcomes researcher to directly impact my future ambitions as a clinician.

What did you do in the lab?
My responsibilities included providing professional scientific services at every stage of the research project life-cycle, including study design and protocol development, data collection, database design and management, statistical programming and analysis, interpretation and reporting, and communication of results, and teaching courses provided by the department.

What are your plans for the future? short term, long term?
I will be joining the University of Chicago as a resident-physician in Neurology. Afterwards, I am interested in completing a post-graduate fellowship in neuro-critical care, vascular neurology, or interventional neurology. I eventually would like to practice at an academic medical center.

What has been your experience at SLU?
Overall, my experience at SLU has been wonderful. I am grateful to the institution for providing me the continuity from my undergraduate experience to my M.D./Ph.D. training.


Ray Kreienkamp, M.D., Ph.D.
2019
Ray Kreienkamp, M.D., Ph.D.

What sparked your interest to become an M.D./Ph.D?
I was always interested in science, and I knew, going into medicine, that I wanted to be a physician-scientist. I was interested in exploring the molecular basis behind disease pathology and hoped that I eventually could help move us closer to cures for various diseases.

How did you decide which lab to join?
I loved the department of biochemistry at SLU. They have an amazing group of faculty, and Dr. Di Cera is an excellent chair. I had two great rotations in the department, and I eventually chose to work in Susana Gonzalo's lab because she is a fantastic mentor, and I thought it was an environment in which I could excel. She had some excellent people in the lab, so I knew it would be a place where I could learn to do science well.

What did you do in the lab?
I studied the molecular mechanisms driving Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS). This devastating disease causes patient death in their early teenage years. This disease is fascinating to study, because it is also thought that some of the things we learn about HGPS might also be applicable to the normal aging process. When I came into the lab, people were studying the role of vitamin D in being able to improve the phenotype of HGPS cells, and we found that vitamin D was able to improve HGPS phenotype, particularly DNA damage. Interestingly, our studies with vitamin D allowed us to uncover that replication stress plays a significant role in generating the DNA damage that occurs in this disease, and this DNA damage activates a cell-intrinsic interferon-like response which drives inflammation and contributes to the detriment of these cells. This finding is significant for the field, and opens a cascade of new pathways to target to improve cell and patient phenotype. Further, I worked with a mouse model of disease. While previous researchers had been unable to elucidate the reason for mouse death, we demonstrated that these mice die from metabolic dysfunction, and supplementing these mice with a high-fat diet extended lifespan more than any treatment to date. Further, these mice developed phenotypes, previously unseen, that mirrored phenotypes seen in humans. As a result, our studies opened the door for further exploration of the pathways driving these problems in mice to determine if they have application to humans.

What are your plans for the future?
I will be a resident at St. Louis Children's Hospital in the department of pediatrics. I love working with kids, and I hope to one day become a pediatric endocrinologist. I hope, there, I will be able to see patients and also do research.

What has been your experience at SLU?
I have loved my experience at SLU. During my Ph.D. years, I felt incredible support from my mentor, Susana Gonzalo, and my thesis committee. I learned a ton, and I feel like I am well-equipped for a career in science. During my M.D. years, I felt like I learned the skills necessary to be a great physician, and specifically a great pediatrician. I love the pediatrics department at SLU, and there are a ton of great people there. The M.D./Ph.D. program is strong, and I always enjoyed knowing everyone in the program. We are a tight-knit group, and Dr. McHowat and Nicole were always there to help us succeed.


Andrew Jones, M.D., Ph.D.
2019
Andrew Jones, M.D., Ph.D.

What sparked your interest to become an M.D./Ph.D. student?
I enjoy many aspects of medicine. The puzzle of figuring out the diagnoses of an ill patient and providing the correct treatment is both fun and challenging. Interacting with and caring for patients in a person-to-person manner is very rewarding and is the main reason I chose to pursue medicine. However, the excitement of new discoveries in science and the challenge, intrigue and high level thinking involved process of scientific research really drew me to pursue a PhD in addition to an MD.

How did you decide which lab to join for your Ph.D.?
I had done a summer rotation in the lab of Daniel Hawiger M.D., Ph.D. in between the first and second year of medical school and really enjoyed studying immunology and immune regulation. The topic sparked my interest and the lab's work atmosphere was a great fit for me personally. My mentor and I got along very well and it seemed that we would be able to work well together. This ended up being very true and something that was very important for my success. My mentor was also was very invested in ensuring that both the lab and his students succeeded.

What did you do in the lab?
Broadly, I worked on immune regulation trying to understand how the immune system prevents response to self and instead remain "tolerant" to self-antigens. More specifically I studied the role of a transcription co-factor called Hopx in regulatory T cells that are induced in the peripheral immune system. I also studied a type of antigen presenting cells, dendritic cells, and their role in inducing tolerance to self. I worked to further understand tolerogenic dendritic cells and identified an important pathway used by these dendritic cells to induce regulatory T cells and immune tolerance to self-antigens.

What are your plans for the future?
Short term - I will be doing residency in internal medicine at Washington University Barnes Jewish Hospital. I matched into the PSTP program so I will be doing a fellowship at Washington University as well but am currently undecided on which sub-specialty of internal medicine to pursue. Long term - I would like to run a lab doing basic immunology research and also see patients in a related clinical field. I am hoping for my time to be split at about 80% research and 20% clinical time.

What has been your experience at SLU?
At Saint Louis University I have grown tremendously as a person, as a scientist and as a soon to be health care provider. The faculty for both science and medicine have been great teachers who have helped to fully prepare me for the next step in my career. Fellow students at SLU are highly motivated and have help to push each other to pursue excellence but at the same time support each other through each step of training. The wide range of clinical experience provided during medical training prepared me well to work as an intern in the coming year.


Robert Adams, M.D., Ph.D.
2017
Robert Adams, M.D., Ph.D.

What sparked your interest to become an M.D./Ph.D. student?
In the med-school application process people would joke that M..D/Ph.D.s are for people who can't decide what they want to do with their lives. There is some truth in this, and during undergrad I was drawn toward caring for people, intrigued by the complexity of the human brain and body, and in addition I felt a commitment to academia and research (i.e. extending the sum of human knowledge). After my M.D.-Ph.D. training I better understand the important role of a physician-scientist, which is more than just a person who couldn't decide whether to do research or medicine.


How did you decide which lab to join​ for your Ph.D.​?
Generally speaking, advice for picking a lab that is often given to students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. is that you have to weigh 3 nearly equally important factors: 1) Interest in the current projects and direction of the lab, 2) Fit with the personality and communication of the PI/mentor, and 3) Current and future funding for the lab. Having all 3 is a perfect fit, and having 2 can lead to a successful and fulfilling Ph.D., but will have certain challenges. Having only one of those things is not recommended.

I am interested in physiology and rehabilitation of the nervous system. Additionally I have a background in engineering. The lab I worked with focused on the neurophysiology of synaptic transmission, mechanisms of peripheral nerve regeneration, and neural engineering of regenerative approaches.


What did you do in the lab?
During my initial summer rotation I joined a project looking at vesicle release for synaptic transmission. I published these findings in Biophysical Journal. I then joined the lab full time for my Ph.D. and shifted my focus on the use of electrical stimulation for affecting and improving neural regeneration. More specifically I studied the effect of electrical stimulation on peripheral neurons, and I studied approaches to optimize these effects.

What are your plans for the future?
Short term: I will be joining the neurology residency program at Case Western.

Long term: I continue to love and feel committed to both caring for patients and for performing original research. I plan to conduct neurological research, possibly in neural regeneration and rehabilitation, while continuing to care for patients.

What has been your experience at SLU?
My experience has been excellent and is too extensive to do it justice in a written response. I grew academically (becoming fluent in the languages of medicine and science), professionally (learning to function well in complex teams with many goals and interests), personally (getting married, evaluating life goals and personal purpose), emotionally (through structured wellness and mindfulness classes as part of the curriculum which extended to further extracurricular activities), and humanistically (volunteering in the community as well as working with and trying to understand patients from broad walks of life), to name a few.


Stephanie Jackson Cullison, M.D., Ph.D.
2016
Stephanie Jackson Cullison, M.D., Ph.D.

What sparked your interest to become an M.D./Ph.D. Student?
As a child, I always dreamed about becoming a doctor. I pursued an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering on a premed track to prepare me for this pathway. While I was in undergrad, I had several research experiences that I really enjoyed, including with physician scientists conducting both clinical and basic research. I really admired and respected the work that my mentors did. I was fascinated by their ability to ask basic questions and translate that knowledge for patient benefit. When I learned about the M.D./Ph.D. track, I thought it provided the best option to prepare me for a career in which I could become the physician I always dreamed of being, while also bringing in my newfound interest in research to expand my ability to help patients.

How did you decide which lab to join for your Ph.D.?
I thought a lot about what research was interesting to me when deciding what labs to rotate in. I also considered the reputation of the lab, the mentor, the department. In selecting a lab, I was advised that your relationship with the mentor is more important than the specific project that you work on, but I think the combination is important. After completing my training, I now know that to get the most out of your training, you want to look for a mentor with experience and a good track record of publication and funding. You want to make sure that the department has experience successfully training MD/PhDs. The productivity of current and former lab trainees (MD/PhD or otherwise) can be enlightening.

What did you do in the lab?
I employed a murine model of CD8+ T cell tolerance to explore the molecular pathways that dictate T cell fate after engagement of self-antigen. Understanding these pathways has implications for both autoimmunity and eliciting anti-tumor CD8+ T cell immunity. My lab experience involved a variety of techniques including in vivo and in vitro studies, flow cytometry and a variety of molecular techniques. We published our findings in The Journal of Leukocyte Biology, Immunotherapy, and PLOS One.

What are your future plans?
I am starting a Dermatology residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. I currently plan to do a fellowship after I complete my General Dermatology training, but am still reflecting on which subspecialty will be the best fit. After training, I hope to remain at an academic center and have a career that offers opportunities to be involved in teaching and research.

What has been your experience with SLU?
I found the training environment at SLU to be one of the most supportive environments I've ever been in! The leadership of the medical school were dedicated to ensuring that students not only learned the art and science of medicine, but also maintained well-balanced lives outside of the classroom/hospital. I found this support to be invaluable while navigating the challenging and stressful pathway of medical training. I also found the M.D./Ph.D. program leadership and my colleagues to be incredibly supportive. There was always someone keeping a close eye out to make sure I met my my milestones, remained on track to graduate in a timely manner, and most importantly, had a little fun doing it!


Alumni Placements

2019
  • Internal Medicine - Barnes-Jewish Hospital

  • Internal Medicine - University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine

  • Pediatrics - St. Louis Children's Hospital

  • Neurology - University of Chicago Medical Center

2018
  • Otolaryngology - University of California-San Diego 
2017
  •  Neurology - Case Western University 
2016
  •  Pediatrics - University of Michigan, Washington University  
  • Dermatology - University of Pittsburgh 
  • Psychiatry -Saint Louis University 
2015
  • Radiation Oncology - Emory University 
  • Pathology - University of Utah 
  • Obstetrics/Gynecology - Saint Louis University
2012
  • Internal Medicine - Mayo Clinics, Rochester and Saint Louis University 
  • Anesthesiology - University of Colorado 
2011
  • Pediatrics - University of California Los Angeles 
  • Surgery - Vanderbilt University 
2010
  • Dermatology - University of Colorado 
  • Internal Medicine - Saint Louis University, Johns Hopkins University 
  • Radiation Oncology - University Texas Southwestern 
2009
  • Obstetrics/Gynecology - Washington University 
2008
  • Medicine/Pediatrics - Vanderbilt University 
  • Dermatologic Pathology -Saint Louis University, University of Texas Southwestern 
  • Radiation Oncology - Washington University 
2007
  •  Pediatric Hem/Oncology - Stanford University 
2005
  •  Anesthesiology - Columbia University
  • Internal Medicine - Washington University 
2004
  •  Neurological Surgery - Cleveland Clinics 
  • Internal Medicine - Mayo Clinics, Rochester 
2003
  •  Duke University