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LUCOM research program offers student-doctors, undergraduates chance to present at national medical conferences

Dr. Joseph Gigliotti (right) with research students in a lab at the Center for Medical and Health Sciences, home to the Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine. (Photo by Taylor Blue)

When students engage in scientific research at the postgraduate and undergraduate levels, they make discoveries and study intricate details of God’s creation, but they also develop skills and experience that will serve them in their future fields. Under Dr. Joseph Gigliotti, Director of Research and Special Projects for Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM), multiple students have presented (or are planning to present) their research at national conferences this academic year.

“I think it’s important that there is research happening at LUCOM that is being presented and published in the larger arena,” Gigliotti said. “For medical students, that’s really key. When it comes to getting residency spots, their eventual practices, and other steps in their medical careers, research plays a pivotal role.”

He said research is a growing area of interest at Liberty.

“The students’ increased interest means more future opportunities (are needed) for them to engage in research,” he said.

LUCOM offers a summer research elective that is not required for its student-doctors but allows them to be paired with faculty members doing ongoing research in different fields of medicine and biomedical sciences. For multiple summers, Gigliotti has included students in his studies of the interaction of kidney function and dietary choices and nutrition. Austin Le Vey (OMS-III), took the elective in the summer of 2022 and continued with Gigliotti into the fall and the following spring before presenting the research at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Scientific Sessions conference in Boston last September.

“I worked with (Dr. Gigliotti) for almost a year doing this research, and he’s been a research mentor for me,” Le Vey said. “I was really interested in taking part in something that I know affects a lot of people in medicine. I geared my project towards renal (kidney) function, renal blood flow, and cardiovascular function, because that’s a big problem in the U.S. today. I really enjoy physiology, learning the new pathways and the cutting-edge things in medicine, and how we can better help patients in the future as we learn and grow more.”

LUCOM student-doctor Austin Le Vey (OMS-III) presented at an American Heart Association conference last September.

This was Le Vey’s first time presenting at a national conference.

“It was truly a great experience,” he said. “I got to meet physicians from across the country and the world and got to talk about medicine, and I also got invitations to come to some of their programs and check out their labs. It was really an awesome opportunity to network with physicians and programs for potential residency and other things.”

“Austin not only did a great job of presenting his work, but he also had the opportunity to meet the powerhouses of this research field as a whole who were very complimentary of what he did,” Gigliotti added. “He got to participate as an up-and-coming professional hearing the newest approaches to drug treatments in his field. He left that meeting with information that’s going to help him become a better doctor. He’s a great model for what we’d like medical students to get out of conference presentations.”

Le Vey is currently doing his clinical rotations at Baptist Memorial Hospital in New Albany, Miss.

As he gets a closer look at the different specialties he can pursue as a career, Le Vey said his research experience back on Liberty’s campus has helped him develop the skills and knowledge he will need after graduation.

“The LUCOM research program has been a great opportunity to continue to do laboratory research in medical school, and being able to present at an international conference was such a great opportunity for professional development as I look forward to my future career,” he said.

Six more LUCOM students presented separate projects at an AHA conference, titled “Epidemiology and Prevention: Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health,” this week in Chicago: McClain Vail, Alex Rodriguez, Jonathan Westlake, Brian Kagel, Nathan Lichti, and Shreya Singh.

“There are several AHA conferences with sub-specialties throughout the year, and they’re great for our students to attend because all of the big names that focus on those particular areas are there,” Gigliotti said.

Liberty senior Efosa Osayamwen has been aiding in Dr. Gigliotti’s research since his freshman year. (Photo by Taylor Blue)

Efosa Osayamwen, a senior studying biomedical science in Liberty’s School of Health Sciences, has also been involved with Gigliotti’s kidney research, beginning when he was a freshman looking to fulfill his Christian/Community Service (CSER) hours.

“I figured I might as well see if I could do something at the medical school for my CSER, whether it was cleaning labs or helping out in some other way,” Osayamwen said. “I thought it would make my volunteer experience more meaningful to me and closer to my interests. I worked with a research tech who was working under Dr. Gigliotti for about a month, and then eventually I got introduced to Dr. Gigliotti himself, and he asked if I wanted to do research for him long-term. Since that point in freshman year, I’ve been working with him.”

Osayamwen has been studying how diet affects the kidneys in the short term.

“Our project focused on kidney function and also a pathway that could increase the amount of damage made to the kidney, which is called the endoplasmic reticulum stress pathway, where the proteins are abnormally mis-folded, causing cells to die more frequently than they should.”

Last November, Osayamwen presented at an American Society of Nephrology conference in Philadelphia, where he said he met “brilliant minds and amazing people in the research field.” Nephrology is a specialty of adult internal medicine and pediatric medicine that involves the study of the kidneys.

Osayamwen attended an American Society of Nephrology conference last November.

“I’m grateful to Dr. Gigliotti and LUCOM for supporting me to go to this conference. It was a big blessing and a great opportunity for me that I’ll never forget,” Osayamwen said. “I met a few medical students, but I mainly connected with doctors in nephrology who work in different parts of the U.S. and other countries. (Nephrology) is a specialty I want to look into more and see how it is in the clinical setting. I want to keep exploring it and learning more.”

Osayamwen had never presented at a national, professional conference before the ASN gathering, but he has presented twice (in 2023 and this January) alongside other Liberty undergraduate students at the National Collegiate Research Conference, the largest student-run research conference in America, hosted by Harvard University.

Aside from those working with Gigliotti, student-doctors Rebekah Satalino, Davis Melin, Taylor Edgar, and Madison Hutson also represented LUCOM at conferences in California and Colorado this month. Satalino presented her research data on fungal cell biology at the International Fungal Genetics Annual Conference in Pacific Grove, Calif., and described the experience as being transformative. Melin, Edgar, and Hutson delivered presentations on the use of osteopathic manipulation on cervical neuritis and chronic hip pain at the annual American Academy of Osteopathy Convocation in Colorado Springs, Colo. Melin was also awarded first place for his presentation on the utility of osteopathic manipulation in wound healing at the annual Mayo Clinic Wound Symposium in Rochester, Minn.

Gigliotti serves as the chair and an associate professor for LUCOM’s Department of Integrative Physiology and Pharmacology and is collaborating with the Department of Biology & Chemistry in the School of Health Sciences to expand research opportunities for faculty and students. He hopes to continue to develop a unique environment at Liberty where God is glorified through scientific pursuits.

Recently, Gigliotti co-authored a review article published in the leading physiology journal about the role of biological sex and blood pressure regulation. Gigliotti said the opportunity to participate in writing an article of this caliber highlights the value of outside collaboration, maintaining good relationships with mentors and colleagues, and “having a degree of competency to be able to contribute to something like this.”

“It’s a big deal and Liberty’s name is on this,” he said.

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