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Student Research Encouraged by AMA Foundation's Grant Program

Elaine Wan, MD

As the availability of research grants declines, so does the number of medical students choosing careers in medical research. To address this trend, the AMA Foundation established the Seed Grant Research Program to encourage medical students, physician residents and fellows to enter the research field.

“I am thankful for the AMA Foundation research seed grant,” says 2008 grant recipient Elaine Wan, MD, a cardiology fellow at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “Young scientists like myself need a helping hand to guide usas we pursue research and balance it with our clinical professions. I wouldn’t have been able to do all this without the help of the AMA.”

The program provides $2,500 grants to help students conduct small, basic science, applied or clinical research projects. The one-year grants are awarded in research categories such as cardiovascular/pulmonary diseases, HIV/AIDS, leukemia, neoplastic diseases and secondhand smoke.

Dr. Wan’s grant to study secondhand smoke was funded by the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) through the AMA Foundation. The FAMRI trustees established the seed grant for young scientists who are interested in research to study the diseases caused from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

FAMRI was created as a result of a class action lawsuit brought by Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt, Florida attorneys, on behalf of nonsmoking flight attendants suffering from diseases caused by tobacco smoke exposure in airline cabins.

Dr. Wan’s research provides direct evidence that secondhand smoke can cause similar dysfunctional vascular changes as seen in active smokers.

Compared with healthy subjects who are not exposed to cigarette smoke, smokers and those subjected to secondhand smoke have changes at the cellular level that make it difficult for blood vessels to dilate and to repair themselves.

Her data provide new insights into cellular mechanisms that mediate cardiovascular complications associated with exposure to cigarette smoke

“It is an exciting discovery to be able to show on a cellular level that no matter if you are a smoker or are exposed to smoke, cigarettes have detrimental effects on your health,” says Dr. Wan. “Hopefully this will aid ongoing and future campaigns for smoking cessation. This is important not only for the health of our patients but also for all of us.”

“FAMRI is proud to support medical researchers who are interested in understanding more fully the devastating health effects of secondhand smoke to better protect future generations from this danger,” says Elizabeth A. Kress, FAMRI executive director.

Dr. Wan says she hopes that in the future there will be more grants for budding investigators like herself and for women in science. “Without the grant, I would not have been able to carry out such a comprehensive project nor had the opportunity to present my poster at the FAMRI Symposium and meet role models for my future.”