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Medical Students Value Research Opportunities, Commitment to Community Service at SLU

by Maggie Rotermund
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ST. LOUIS – Student research that ranged from crowdsourcing speech evaluations to possible causes of cell death was showcased recently as Saint Louis University School of Medicine held its 54th annual Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society medical student research forum.

Anne Sescleifer received top honors at the forum. Samuel Yu placed second and Daniel Cancilla came in third place. Honorable mentions were given to Yuqian Tian, Matthew Gaubatz and Uman Sheikh.

Anne Sescleifer

Anne Sescleifer is a third-year student at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Photo by Ellen Hutti. 

Anne Sescleifer

Sescleifer’s project, “Hearing Hypernasality: Online Crowdsourcing of Cleft Speech,” focuses on the shortage of therapists in treating cleft, which is usually addressed using a combination of surgery and speech therapy.

“Speech evaluations are a critical part of cleft treatment, but access to speech therapists is limited,” Sescleifer said. “Online crowdsourcing offers a potential solution. Crowdsourcing allows researchers and clinicians to pay lay people small sums of money in return for completion of a task, like rating speech samples.”

Under the mentorship of Alexander Lin, M.D., associate professor of surgery, Sescleifer used online crowdsourcing to evaluate the speech of children with cleft lip and palate with the goal of determining whether lay raters recruited through online crowdsourcing could match the ratings of speech therapists.

Speech intelligibility is fundamental to social interactions, Sescleifer said, which is why speech assessments are such an important focus in the care of children born with cleft palate.

“Although ratings of speech hypernasality serve as critical benchmarks throughout treatment, access to care is often limited by socioeconomic and geographic barriers,” she said.

Sescleifer said her project focused on the use of nascent technology to address gaps in access to care and that the work has been particularly meaningful to her because it serves to improve clinical outcomes that focus on uniquely human qualities which have a tremendous impact on quality of life.

“Over the past three years, Dr. Lin has served as both my research mentor, as well as a faculty member with whom I worked on clinical rotations,” Sescleifer said. “In both contexts, Dr. Lin fosters student development that is driven from within. He allows his students to flourish independently, guides us through the problem-solving process when stalled, and encourages us to take credit for the work we have done.”

She added that his mentorship has solidified her desire to become an academic surgeon. “Through his research and patient interactions, he reinforced in me the importance of humanism in medicine.”

Sescleifer did her undergraduate studies at the University of Notre Dame. She said SLU stood out among other medical schools she interviewed at due to its emphasis on community service and student wellness.

Samuel Yu

Yu’s project investigated possible causes of atrophic gastritis, and he stumbled upon IL-28, a cytokine normally implicated in anti-viral capabilities but in the case of gastric epithelium, can cause cell death.

“Gastric cancer has such a negative impact in the world (third leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide) and yet we have only scratched the surface on our understanding of it,” Yu said. “For a majority of the world with limited income, it's imperative that we further research in this common and deadly illness to develop cost-effective preventative measures so that we can stop it before it develops into full blown gastric cancer.”

Samuel Yu

Samuel Yu is a second-year student at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Photo by Ellen Hutti.

Yu said his faculty mentor Rich DiPaolo, Ph.D., professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, had taught him more than any other instructor he has had before.

“Through research he taught me to think things through objectively but the skill that will shape my life the most will be how to convey my ideas simplistically and accurately… His advice to reduce everything to simplistic terms so that everyone can understand will stay in the back of my mind when I've moved onto the next portion of my life as a physician.”

Yu attended the University of Kentucky and obtained a BS in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry. 

Daniel Cancilla

Cancilla’s project looked at finding new drugs for Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant.

“We want to make it easier and more convenient for patients to donate their stem cells,” he said. “Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant is an incredibly useful treatment for a variety of diseases and cancers. However, the process of donating is inconvenient, often takes 5-7 days, and can have a failure rate of up to 30 percent.”

Daniel Cancilla

Daniel Cancilla is a first-year student at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Photo by Ellen Hutti.

His work involved testing drugs in mice that have the potential of reducing the failure rate and shortening the donation time to a matter of hours.

“Stem cell transplant has been a fantastic discovery in the treatment of many cancers but there is often a struggle to find a matching donor, especially in minority populations,” Cancilla said. “This research will hopefully lead to more donors and more patients treated.”

Cancilla is an avid tennis player and snowboarder who graduated from UCLA in 2015.

“SLU impressed me with their inclusive attitude and devotion to the community,” he said. “The faculty and administration take great care to ensure that students feel listened to and that their concerns are addressed. 

Matthew Gaubatz 

Gaubatz’s research, under the mentorship of Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters, Ph.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology, focused on the racial and socioeconomic disparities associated with 90-day mortality in head and neck cancer patients in the United States.

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Matthew Gaubetz is a second-year student at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Photo by Ellen Hutti.

“We chose to look at 90-day mortality in cancer patients because that is one way of measuring the quality of health care that they are receiving, and we wanted to see if there are differences in 90-day mortality between different races and socioeconomic classes,” Gaubatz said. “We found that black and male patients had an increased risk of dying within 90 days of cancer treatment compared to white and female patients respectively. We also found that uninsured patients or patients with Medicaid or Medicare insurance were more likely to die within 90 days than patients with private insurance.”

The research found that as the income of the patient went down, the risk of death within 90 days of treatment went up. Gaubatz said his research highlights the need for doctors and the current health care system to continue to focus on increasing access to high quality health care for everyone in the United States.

I was drawn to Saint Louis University School of Medicine because the values espoused in the SLUSOM Mission Statement reflect that values that are most important to me as a student of medicine and future physician.” 

Matthew Gaubatz, second year medical student

“SLU has enabled me to get to know my community in Saint Louis and to give back to that community through service opportunities like the student run free clinic at the Health Resource Center or tutoring children in SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital through Peds Pals,” he said. “I have also really enjoyed learning about the science behind medicine and learning how to treat patients holistically and compassionately at SLU Hospital”.

Gaubatz grew up in California and did his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Davis where he majored in Exercise Biology and minored in History.

“I was drawn to Saint Louis University School of Medicine because the values espoused in the SLUSOM Mission Statement reflect that values that are most important to me as a student of medicine and future physician.”  

Students are elected into AOA, a national Honor Medical Society, based on scholastic achievement, personal integrity, ability to work well with their peers and promise for significant contributions to the medical profession.

The event is sponsored by the School of Medicine. Participants presented posters on their research and the finalists shared their research findings in a forum for faculty and students.

SLU sends the first place winner to present his or her research at the annual forum in Galveston, Texas, in April.


Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, infectious disease, liver disease, aging and brain disease and heart/lung disease.