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SRPAM: expanding biomedical research opportunities for IUSM medical students

The following is a guest post by Nadia Carlesso, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics and of Medical and Molecular Genetics, Director of the IUSM  Student Research Program in Academic Medicine.

Forty-eight students from the IU school of Medicine will be engaged this summer in performing biomedical research at the bench through the Student Research Program in Academic Medicine (SRPAM).

For thirty years, the Indiana University School of Medicine    (IUSM) has provided medical students with opportunity to actively engage in research activities during the summer. Reinvigorating the program in 2008 with a new name SRPAM, I have focused on a mission to involve as many medical students in the outstanding research opportunities in our School at the end of their first year on campus. SRPAM provides a structured research environment that ignites medical students’ interest in biomedical research, creating opportunities for basic and translational research experiences, and offering mentoring and educational experiences such as an introduction to research ethics, compliance and career options. The main objective of the program is to serve as a portal to recruit and nurture future physician-scientists.

Since 2008, we have seen a significant increase in interest of IU medical students related to biomedical research and translation from clinic to the bedside. Starting with an average of 40 applications/year from 2000 to 2008, the program now draws more than 90 applications/year for 35-40 funded summer positions. During this time of expansion, we secured funding from NIH with a T35 training grant and support from the CTSI and the Dean’s Office. The program has grown since its early days and now serves as an umbrella of other summer research programs, including three NIH T32 training programs, CTSI summer programs for high school and undergraduate students, and an NIDDK enrichment summer program. Because of these resources, this year we were able to provide funded opportunities for 48 medical students.

The increased interest of IU medical students in biomedical research continues to spread, thanks in part to SRPAM. An increasing number of our students apply and have been accepted for summer internships in prestigious institutions all over the country (19 in summer 2015) at sites such as Harvard University, Sloan Kettering, University of California San Francisco, Vanderbilt, NIH and others. We actively encourage this travel and off-site experiences, as it showcases our talented students and the excellence of our medical school.


Our program is unique in that medical students are required to conduct hypothesis-driven biomedical research under the supervision of highly qualified research mentors for 12 weeks.  Program faculty mentors are successful investigators with extramural funding and publications as well as outstanding training records. More than 80 faculty members participate as mentors in SRPAM across research areas spanning stem cell biology, hematopoiesis and immunology, cancer biology, diabetes, heart, lung and vascular development, bone biology and neuroscience. During their twelve weeks in the laboratory, the students develop their own project, attend seminars on scientific topics and career development and have opportunities to network and interact with undergraduate and high school students involved in other research programs.  At the end of the 12 weeks, program participants present their work at the SRPAM biomedical research symposium and can compete for scholarships.

The program has also evolved to provide medical students with the opportunity to also shadow physicians to better learn how their research applies to the bedside.  With the need for more physician scientists, students in the program are encouraged to pursue research in their medical careers. A few students each year do go on to apply for prestigious programs like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellows Program, the Doris Duke Research Fellows and IUSM’s very own Master’s Program in Translational Research or apply to our MD/PhD program.  Students also develop close connections to their laboratory mentors, and return after the program for advice and support. Overall, the program provides our medical students with increased faculty mentoring, research experience and a broader perspective on academic medicine and translational research.