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MSTAR Trainee Spotlight: Suma Gudipati

It is always a great pleasure to showcase the work of our Medical Student Training in Aging Research (MSTAR) trainees. This week we sat with Suma Gudipati, a medical student at UC San Diego and a 2021 MSTAR scholar. Learn more about Suma's research project and her experience with house calls for seniors.

Can you tell us about your MSTAR research project?

This summer, I worked with Dr. Jona Hattangadi-Gluth in the Department of Radiation Medicine. The Hattangadi Lab is currently running a prospective trial with primary brain tumor patients receiving fractionated brain radiation. The aim of my ongoing project is to better understand the thalamus and the impact of thalamic changes following radiation therapy on neurocognition. All patients in the study undergo volumetric and diffusion MRIs as well as neurocognitive testing for memory, executive function, attention, processing speed, language, and fine motor skills. I am interested in seeing whether there is a correlation between imaging biomarkers of the thalamus, such as volume change, and the scores of the neurocognitive tests. During the summer, I completed the manual quality control for each neuroimage identifying and outlining the areas directly involved with the brain tumor, including surgical scars and edema, to exclude these from further analysis. My preliminary results from analysis of the images indicate that with increased radiation therapy dose, specific nuclei of the thalamus show a decrease in volume. I am looking forward to continuing my analysis and studying how volume change in specific thalamic nuclei is related to neurocognitive impairment post radiation therapy. 

What led you to the MSTAR Program?

I was excited when I learned about the MSTAR program through a UCSD School of Medicine email. I knew I wanted to conduct research during the summer between MS1 and MS2 years. What was unique about the MSTAR program was the opportunity to do research as well as learn about aging from amazing faculty and form a community with fellow students. I knew that the program’s combination of clinically oriented didactics and research workshops would keep me engaged during my summer project. The program’s emphasis on aging and geriatrics was also a great fit for my research interests. My past experiences have contributed to my interest in exploring how we can successfully treat aging patients with cancer and other complex medical conditions while reducing negative impacts on their quality of life. My future goal as a physician is to provide the best possible care for my patients and I know a part of this will be using evidence-based medicine and conducting research to continuously improve medical care.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you've learned from your MSTAR project?

At the beginning of my project, I focused on learning as much as possible about the function of the thalamus and its nuclei. During our first-year neurology block, we had learned that the thalamus is the relay station for somatosensory information. After delving into the literature and textbooks, I discovered that there are numerous subnuclei within the thalamus. Some of these are involved in somatosensory relay, while others are involved in memory, emotion, movement, attention, and other functions. This is one thing I love about conducting research: it allows you to learn an incredible amount and builds upon what we learn in the classroom!

You were involved in house calls for seniors this year. Can you tell us more about this experience?

As first-year medical students at UCSD, we are matched to work with a physician as part of the Ambulatory Care Apprenticeship. I was excited to be matched with Veronica Gonzalez, MD, a geriatrician. Dr. Gonzalez sees patients both in the clinic at UCSD, as well as through house calls for the VA. Accompanying Dr. Gonzalez on her house calls was an amazing learning experience. I learned how this type of medicine can fill access gaps, shift the power dynamic between physician and patient, and better fulfill the needs of the patients. I loved observing Dr. Gonzalez provide care to the patients and form close relationships with caretakers and family members. Presenting to my MSTAR peers about my experience with home-based primary care was a great way to share my experience and for us to discuss the future of house calls within geriatrics and other primary care specialties.