A group of Mayo Clinic students is going beyond their rigorous research schedules to help up-and-comers and established health care professionals alike learn about the emerging practice of regenerative medicine. As teaching assistants for Mayo Clinic's Regenerative Medicine and Surgery "selectives," they are channeling their enthusiasm for this new area of practice into weeklong courses that attract students from around the globe. Ultimately, the students hope their intrigue for regenerative sciences will catch on and drive the field forward.
Mayo Clinic selectives are student-selected electives that focus not only on clinical rotations, but also are broad opportunities for innovation and leadership. Students can choose up to 16 weeks of selectives through Mayo Clinic or other organizations.
"Teaching assistants are student advocates of education-driven practice advancement. They are directly connected to current learners as medical students and graduate student learners themselves," says Saranya Wyles, M.D., Ph.D., the course director. "They bring an exceptional value to tailoring regenerative sciences courses into an approachable and accessible way for learners at all levels."
Regenerative medicine and sciences are so new that many academic institutions do not yet have coursework for the next generation of students. Mayo Clinic is a leader in developing regenerative sciences curricula and one of the first to launch master's and doctoral degrees in regenerative sciences.
Mayo Clinic's Center for Regenerative Medicine has played an integral part in establishing regenerative sciences curricula across all five schools in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. One of the center's key objectives is empowering the future regenerative medicine workforce.
The teaching assistants have completed the Regenerative Medicine and Surgery selective themselves and now help present the learning materials in online modules. They introduce the speakers, devise fun ways to reinforce new concepts and moderate online discussions. The teaching assistants are:
Eric Grewal, a fourth-year medical student in Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, believes regenerative medicine holds future cures for complex conditions like treatment-resistant tumors.
With his interest in tapping the body's immune system to fight disease, he naturally gravitated toward regenerative medicine research and education. The San Francisco native has been a teaching assistant for the Regenerative Medicine and Surgery selective for three years, helping organize and facilitate the course. When the selective needed to quickly adapt to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Grewal and the others helped with the transition to a virtual and hybrid format.
"The more clinical education I've gained, the more I've encountered patients who are curious about, and may even benefit from, regenerative therapies," says Grewal. "I've now met multiple patients whose cancers have been pushed into remission, thanks to chimeric antigen receptor-T cell therapy, or CAR-T cell therapy. As we progress, more and more of these therapies will become available, and I believe it's important for medical students and scientists to be equipped with the knowledge to develop and prescribe new regenerative solutions for disease."
Grewal's goal is to be a lab director in charge of manufacturing cellular therapies that provide new hope for conditions like melanoma that don't respond well to standard treatment.
Armin Garmany was drawn to Mayo Clinic by the opportunity to address unmet clinical needs in various specialties that significantly affect quality of life. Born in New York and raised in West Virginia, Garmany has spent the last few years in Rochester, where he's a fourth-year M.D./Ph.D. student in Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine. His goal is to be a physician-scientist who advances regenerative therapies from the bench to the bedside.
"I was drawn to regenerative medicine after seeing areas of unmet clinical need significantly affecting quality of life in various specialties," says Garmany. "I have a passion for teaching and see the importance of investing in the future regenerative medicine workforce."
Garmany's role as a teaching assistant also provided the opportunity to lecture with one of his mentors in the area of translational validation of regenerative medicine.
Connor Lentz was introduced to regenerative medicine in the Neuroregeneration Lab at Mayo Clinic in Florida. That's where he studied the healing potential of cellular therapy.
Lentz was captivated with induced pluripotent stem cells — adult stem cells that can be reprogrammed to become any type of cell in the body. Researchers often use this cellular technology to track disease progression and test new therapies.
The first-year medical student from Tampa, Florida, is interested in advancing cellular therapy to discover new solutions for diseases of the cornea and retina.
"I believe regenerative treatments are going to become more and more prevalent in medicine," says Lentz. "Placing a focus on regeneration rather than stopping disease will further the positive impact medicine can have on the lives of patients."
The Regenerative Medicine selectives are offered in two weeklong sessions. The "Fundamentals of Regenerative Sciences" course is typically held virtually in the winter and the more in-depth "Regenerative Medicine and Surgery" course is held virtually in the summer. The next selective will be held in June.
This blog article originally appeared on the Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine blog.