Advancing the Science

Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog – an eclectic collection of research- and research education-related stories: feature stories, mini news bites, learning opportunities, profiles and more from Mayo Clinic.

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6 days ago · Patient-centered research originates across health care

Holbrook stands to the left side of a large blue and white research poster tacked up on a display board

Patient-centered research.

It’s this kind of research that leads to practice transformation – improving outcomes, costs and overall experience with health and health care. And patients are the reason Kirsten Holbrook, a supervisor in the Respiratory Care Department, Mayo Clinic Health System Eau Claire, Wisconsin, decided to conduct a research project.

Holbrook and her multidisciplinary team studied a new type of therapy and equipment the Respiratory Care Department sought to add its practice. She presented her findings, Outcomes of Implementation of a Continuous High-Frequency Oscillation Therapy on Cardiac Surgery Patients Prior to Liberation from Mechanical Ventilation, at the International Respiratory Convention and Exhibition in New Orleans in November 2019.

picture of multipurpose machine, brand information obscured; clear tubing draped over visible section of pole
According to the manufacturer, this machine combines lung expansion, secretion clearance, and aerosol delivery into a single integrated therapy session—without having to switch between different devices.

“Ever since I started as a leader at Mayo Clinic Health System, the staff encouraged the implementation of a new piece of equipment,” Holbrook says. “The initiative was met with initial resistance because there was no solid proof of effectiveness. Research was then conducted to test if the equipment would make a difference in patient care.”

The new equipment is attached to the endotracheal tube of a ventilated patient. This equipment helps expand the lungs and loosen secretions.

“Our job as respiratory therapists is to expand
patients’ lungs so they don’t get pneumonia or respiratory complications. This
equipment had the potential to benefit patients,” Holbrook says.

“The main inspiration behind this initiative was making
sure our patients were effectively taken care of with the best possible technology
we can offer,” Holbrook says.

The research process was easier than she anticipated. There was a lot of data collection, but Mayo offered classes on how to do research that Holbrook admits made her project more manageable.

“I want to thank staff for the inspiration behind the
research, for being willing to try the new protocol, and for always doing their
best work to keep patients healthy while they are here,” Holbrook
says. 

Christopher Williams, M.D., medical director for Respiratory Care, Northwest Wisconsin Region, and Muhammad Rishi, M.B.B.S., a pulmonologist, sleep and critical care specialist at Mayo Clinic Health System Eau Claire, supported the project. Statistician Ryan Frank was instrumental as well, says Holbrook.

Holbrook says working for Mayo Clinic is inspirational.

“As staff, we have so much knowledge and so many
resources to tap into. I feel that I can do things outside of my comfort zone
because I am given such good support. People don’t really know what a
respiratory therapist is capable of as far as affecting patient outcomes, so
therapists who publish are rare. People don’t usually see us, but we are
there,” she says.

“One of my career goals and values is being part of a
team,” Holbrook says. “Respiratory care inspired me because my life
has been surrounded by people with chronic lung conditions. It’s an incredibly
rewarding career to be with all these patients. Every day is different.”

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Wed, Jan 15 6:00am · My Mouth Is Not Watering: The Perplexing World of Salivary Gland Pathology

plate of Christmas cookies with candy canes and decorated tree in the background

So in mid-January, the holiday season is still fresh in your mind. Quite likely it was a time when you made full use of your senses of smell and taste. Mmmm. Just thinking about cookies baking in the kitchen is enough to get your mouth watering.

So what happens if your mouth doesn’t water?

In a new podcast from the Bow Tie Bandit and Mayo Clinic Laboratories, learn about the perplexing work of salivary glands. Benign and malignant salivary gland tumors reveal overlapping clinical and pathologic features, imposing dramatic diagnostic and therapeutic challenges.

Dr. Garcia standing at the railing in the Gonda Lobby - environmental photo.
Joaquin Garcia, M.D.

Get behind-the-scenes with Joaquin Garcia, M.D., vice chair of Laboratories in the Division of Anatomic Pathology and medical director of the Histology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic, as he discusses salivary gland tumors and the science behind accurate diagnosis and treatment. In his interview with Justin Kreuter, M.D., (aka the Bowtie Bandit), he also discusses his new book, “The Atlas of Salivary Gland Pathology.”


Justin Kreuter, M.D.

My Mouth Is Not Watering is the most recent in a series of podcasts hosted by Dr. Kreuter, discussing various topics related to lab medicine.

Mayo Clinic Laboratories is a global reference laboratory that helps health care providers worldwide advance patient care, strengthen their practices, and broaden access to specialized testing.

Through partnerships with clinicians at Mayo Clinic and health care providers around the world, Mayo Clinic Laboratories is able to offer the most sophisticated test catalog in the world. It is because of these daily collaborations that the Labs’ subspecialized laboratories continue to be a critical component to patient care at Mayo Clinic.

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Tue, Jan 14 6:00am · Improving experiences for people who work, live and play indoors

Indoor environments
affect human health and well-being. And people affect the indoor spaces where
they live, work and play. But how and to what extent?  And what can we learn through this research?

Indoor environmental quality research has traditionally been conducted in chamber studies. This type of research is important, but has a number of limitations including generally shorter study durations, as well as the inherent difficulty in setting up a realistic space. It is also harder to realistically control environmental variables. With the opening of the Well Living Lab, another option emerged, one that overcomes those limitations and adds a new dimension to understanding the relationship between indoor spaces and health and well-being.

Well Living Lab studies
use highly controlled realistic environments and allow for longer
experimentation periods. While they have relatively small sample sizes due to
space restrictions, the lab conducts multi-cohort studies to increase the number
of human subjects in its experiments. With the addition of a living lab,
science can utilize a sequence of chamber, lab and field studies, with field
studies allowing actual environments and larger populations to be studied. As
the intersection of health and building science grows and matures, it has the
potential put human health and well-being as the first priority for designing
and operating buildings.

In a recent article in Technology|Architecture + Design, Well Living Lab researchers explore the approaches for living lab research and the challenges and solutions developed to bring this concept to reality. Covering the facilities, technology requirements, research process and design, measurements and data collection methods, the paper provides insights to realize the full potential of living labs.

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The Well Living Lab, a collaboration of Delos and Mayo Clinic, is dedicated to identifying how indoor environments affect human health and well-being. It conducts scientific research with human subjects in a simulated real-world environment and shares practical findings that can be applied to improving indoor spaces where people spent approximately 90% of their time. The lab has 5,500 square feet of sensor-rich, reconfigurable space in downtown Rochester, Minnesota. Learn more.

Wed, Jan 8 6:00am · Mentoring, science fair ignite SPARK in high school students

diverse group of high school students posing with Mayo researchers on a raised stage with SPARK signage on screens behind
SPARK class of 2019

Growing up, Rishi Misra watched his grandmother add fragrant Indian spices to family meals. In ninth grade, Misra came across a study showing that these spices have antibacterial properties. This piqued his interest in science – a curiosity being nurtured by Mayo Clinic’s research mentoring program known as SPARK.

SPARK stands for Science Program for the Advancement of Research Knowledge. The program pairs science-oriented high school students with Mayo faculty mentors in an effort to boost youth interest in research. In 2019, the program admitted 30 scholars from eight high schools in Florida, each of whom completed at least 200 hours in one of Mayo’s world-class laboratories.

SPARK
scholars gain experience in basic science, the research process, critical thinking
and professional conduct.

And at
the 3rd annual SPARK “mini science fair” on Dec. 11, they
demonstrated newfound communication skills, too.

people reviewing posters in a crowed room with historical image of Mayo brothers on wall in background

The science fair was attended by family members, high school faculty and Mayo mentors and advisors in a packed Kinne Auditorium at Mayo Clinic in Florida. Through posters and one-on-one Q & A sessions with judges, the scholars relayed their findings from projects related to cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, regenerative medicine and the design of potential new drugs. Each participant was invited on stage to receive recognition and a glass plaque from the event’s emcee, André Watkins.

“It takes high caliber students like these to engage in science,” says Keith Knutson, Ph.D., cancer immunologist and SPARK faculty mentor. “Not only do they have to learn a lot of information in the short time that they’re here, but they also have to design and conduct an experiment and then present their research. I’m impressed with these intelligent, motivated students.”

“We’re investing in the next generation of researchers by providing them with the encouragement, skills and experiences needed to start down the path of a science career,” adds Tushar Patel, M.B., Ch.B., dean for research at Mayo Clinic in Florida. “We look forward to the contributions that these talented students will make in future medical discoveries and finding cures.”

The
science fair culminates the research activities of SPARK participants, who
completed their work over the summer.

The scholars will go on to compete in local, regional, national, and international science fairs. SPARK work has been impressively rewarded at large competitions. For example, SPARK scholar Ashton Body placed third at the 2019 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for her work with Dev Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D., and Vijay Madamsetty, Ph.D., on targeted drug delivery for drug-resistant cancer.

Rishi Misra standing next to his three-paneled poster displayed on a table in poster exhibit hall
SPARK scholar Rishi Misra with his research poster on display at Mayo Clinic.

Misra, the curious student who once connected cooking with health science, is now a high school senior with plans to major in pre-med for a potential career in science. Through SPARK, he worked with Panos Anastasiadis, Ph.D., Ruifeng Lu, Ph.D., and Lindy Pence to study a molecule with the potential to suppress pancreatic tumors. Misra’s participation in SPARK confirmed his enthusiasm for the pursuit of a science-focused future – and he’s already on his way. He won first place in an undergraduate poster competition (See his abstract, P2399/B653, available here: https://www.ascb.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/2019PosterAbstracts.pdf) at a recent joint meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology and the European Molecular Biology Organization, held in Washington, D.C. A high schooler, he competed with more than 100 undergraduates from around the globe. “I want to put my knowledge to practice working in a world-class laboratory like Mayo Clinic,” he says.

“SPARK continues to grow each year and we are so pleased with the interest these students have in science,” says cancer biologist John Copland, Ph.D., who directs the SPARK program. “We’re gratified that Mayo Clinic is able to make such a profound impact on the lives of these students and the future of discovery.”  

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Mon, Jan 6 6:00am · Out of the shadows: Understanding endocrine cancers

Study team poses against a white backdrop, surrounded by shadows
Crystal Hilger, Keith Bible, M.D., Ph.D., Ashish Chintakuntlawar, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., John Morris III, M.D., and Mabel Ryder, M.D.

Most medical centers and major cancer organizations arrange cancers by organ systems. Patients with advanced radioactive iodine refractory thyroid cancers have traditionally been cared for in head and neck groups, and adrenal cancers in genitourinary groups.

Unfortunately, this means that patients with endocrine cancers are embedded in groups that are home to much more prevalent cancers, seemingly relegating endocrine cancers to second-class status. For example, within medical oncology, squamous cell head and neck cancers far outnumber anaplastic thyroid cancer; prostate and kidney cancers eclipse adrenal cortical carcinoma and malignant pheochromocytoma. As a result, these less common but life-threatening endocrine cancers don’t get the attention they need.

Since 2005 Mayo Clinic has bucked this traditional system by pulling endocrine cancers out of the shadows with the formation of its Endocrine Malignancies Disease Group, which spans all Mayo locations. The multidisciplinary group integrates Mayo Clinic specialists in endocrinology, medical oncology, endocrine surgery, ENT surgery, radiation oncology, pathology, radiology and nuclear medicine to focus on these often-neglected cancers.

The structure we’ve adopted at Mayo Clinic allows us to more specifically develop the practice, clinical expertise, research and clinical trials in this previously neglected disease space.”

Keith Bible, M.D., Ph.D.

On the Rochester campus, the disease group spawned the endocrine cancer care team, a standalone entity in the Division of Medical Oncology. Care team members include medical oncologists Keith Bible, M.D., Ph.D., and Ashish Chintakuntlawar, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., and endocrinologists Mabel Ryder, M.D., and John Morris III, M.D.. These physicians, along with chemotherapy nurse Crystal Hilger, combine forces to provide true sub-specialized care for patients with the most advanced and threatening endocrine cancers.

“It’s challenging to gain traction for endocrine cancers when an anatomical-based medical oncology structure is dominant, leading endocrine cancers to be overwhelmed by more common cancers,” says Dr. Bible, founding chair of Mayo’s Endocrine Malignancies Disease Group. “The structure we’ve adopted at Mayo Clinic allows us to more specifically develop the practice, clinical expertise, research and clinical trials in this previously neglected disease space.”

Restructuring of how endocrine cancers are addressed at Mayo Clinic has led to:

  • Refined and integrated care across spectrum of endocrine cancers: Achieved disease group unity across Mayo Clinic campuses; implemented biweekly video-conferenced Endocrine Cancer/ Thyroid Tumor Board; developed novel therapeutic approaches for treatment of rare endocrine cancers; expanded education of providers, fellows and residents, and fostered collaborative efforts; instituted annual Endocrine Malignancies Disease Group retreat focused on improving patient outcomes with advanced cancers and unifying the practice. ∙
  • Optimized approach to thyroid nodules: Developed care process model for AskMayoExpert to guide evaluation of thyroid nodules across Mayo Clinic — one of the most used care models.
  • Improved overall survival in anaplastic thyroid cancer: Increased one-year survival from 10% to 42% from 2000 to 2018 with coordinated use of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy; developed and completed first-ever fully accrued randomized therapeutic clinical trial through Radiation Therapy Oncology Group with 100+ participating sites.
  • Increased clinical trial participation: Grew from no therapeutic endocrine cancer clinical trials in 2004 to 12 completed investigator-developed and led trials in differentiated, medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancers as well as paraganglioma/pheochromocytoma and adrenal cortical carcinoma; five trials actively accruing patients in 2019; promotion of trials within cooperative trial groups.
  • Increased volume of patients with most threatening advanced endocrine cancers: Tripled medical oncology endocrine cancer practice patient volumes between 2007 and 2009 with implementation of endocrine cancer-focused group.

“Endocrinologists and surgeons are often the frontline providers for patients with endocrine cancers, while patients with the most threatening disease are traditionally seen by medical oncologists,” says Dr. Ryder. “At many medical centers, medical oncologists who treat these patients lack expertise because they might see only one or two such patients per year, making it difficult to be up to date in this area. Complex endocrine cancers also often have life threatening hormone-related complications of their disease, necessitating integrated endocrine oncology expertise. At most institutions there simply aren’t large numbers of advanced endocrine cancer patients, making it a challenge for any physician or practice to have the concentration of expertise have the concentration of expertise necessary to develop novel therapies for these cancers.

“In part due to Mayo Clinic’s commitment to developing and leading practice-changing therapeutic clinical trials in metastatic conditions, we’ve had a significant increase in patient referrals. We now have a high-volume advanced endocrine oncology practice. Our experience demonstrates that developing a subspecialty tumor group for uncommon malignancies offers an opportunity to build expertise, increase patient volumes, and enhance therapeutic options and clinical trials for these historically neglected cancers.”

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Thu, Jan 2 6:00am · The Flu: Nothing to Sneeze About!

So here we are, well into the 2019-2020 flu season. Have you had your flu shot? If you haven’t, do you know whether that was the safest choice for you and those you care about?


Dr. Binnicker at his desk, window in the background and shelf with books and personal items.
Matthew Binnicker, Ph.D.

In a new podcast from the Bow Tie Bandit and Mayo Clinic Laboratories, learn  important facts about influenza, such as why should we get vaccinated every year, when it’s time to go see your doctor, and common misconceptions regarding the flu shot.

Priya Sampathkumar, M.D.

Matthew Binnicker, Ph.D., a clinical microbiologist, and Priya Sampathkumar, M.D., an infectious disease specialist, both from Mayo Clinic, sit down with Justin Kreuter, M.D., (aka the Bowtie Bandit), to explain influenza and how it differs from other respiratory infections. And if you listen closely, you might hear a prediction of a future without a flu shot.


Justin Kreuter, M.D.

The Flu: Nothing to Sneeze About! is the most recent in a series of podcasts hosted by Dr. Kreuter, discussing various topics related to lab medicine.

Mayo Clinic Laboratories is a global reference laboratory that helps health care providers worldwide advance patient care, strengthen their practices, and broaden access to specialized testing.

Through partnerships with clinicians at Mayo Clinic and health care providers around the world, Mayo Clinic Laboratories is able to offer the most sophisticated test catalog in the world. It is because of these daily collaborations that the Labs’ subspecialized laboratories continue to be a critical component to patient care at Mayo Clinic.

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Related Resources:

Dec 30, 2019 · Research highlights from Florida - fruitful in 2019

variety of citrus fruit piled on a rustic white table top, a few cut in half and leaves artfully arranged

Florida sunshine doesn’t just contribute to big, juicy oranges. In 2019, Florida was a hotbed of growth for Mayo Clinic Research, with 11.8% more funding for new capabilities such as ex vivo perfusion for lungs – leading to more available for transplant, and carbon ion therapy for cancer – currently not available to patients in the U.S.

At Mayo Clinic, Research and Education provide the basis for all we are able to do for patients today. Furthermore, they enable practice transformation as we seek to meet future patient needs. Read on for more highlights from research at Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville, Florida campus.

INNOVATION THROUGH RESEARCH

  • New Therapies

image of blue cloth/plastic draped table; clear tray on table contains lung(s) attached to various tubs and equipment, two gloved and gowned individuals manipulating and adjusting forceps and tubes.
Ex vivo lung perfusion

Lung transplant research studies are underway at Mayo Clinic in Florida, where a new Lung Bioengineering Center in the Discovery and  Innovation Building opened in 2019. The center is the result of a unique academic-industry collaboration between Mayo Clinic and United Therapeutics Corp. Researchers are studying ex vivo lung perfusion to resuscitate and support donor lungs that may otherwise be unavailable for transplant.

Innovative research is also underway at Mayo Clinic in Florida in the area of cancer vaccines. Keith Knutson, Ph.D., is conducting  studies to prevent and halt the recurrence of breast and ovarian cancers. This breast cancer research is focused on three subtypes of the disease—estrogen receptor (ER)-postive, HER2-positive, and triple negative. Dr. Knutson is studying two vaccines aimed at boosting the immune system and preventing the recurrence of ovarian cancer.

  • New Diagnostics

Mayo
Clinic researchers are poised to test the utility of new technology –the breath
biopsy. This diagnostic tool has the ability to test a patient’s exhaled air
for certain health conditions. Analyzing breath molecules has evolved to a
point where researchers can now get a “fingerprint” of these gas molecules in
order to determine if they’re correlated with a variety of diseases, including
cancer. Early studies are already underway.

Artificial intelligence research is helping to shape the future direction of medicine. Big data is a tool to help researchers analyze patterns of human disease in large numbers of patients and has the ability to predict risk factors and patient outcomes. Mayo Clinic experts utilize biostatistics to design, conduct and analyze research to advance medicine.

Investigators are involved in testing
the ability of a promising new technology known as robotic bronchoscopy to
diagnose lung cancer. This is a precise, minimally invasive procedure capable
of reducing the risk of complications posed by a traditional biopsy. The hope
is that robotic bronchoscopy also could be used to treat lung tumors in the
same outpatient procedure as the diagnostic test. In another project, they’re
assessing the potential for a new endoscopic technology to improve symptoms and
quality of life for COPD patients suffering from chronic bronchitis.

  • New Technologies

artistic rendering of a carbon ion beam breaking apart DNA

A new integrated oncology facility that incorporates innovative technologies for treating patients is expected to be completed in late 2023 at Mayo Clinic in Florida. The facility will house North America’s first carbon ion therapy program for treating cancer. Carbon ion therapy is among the most advanced forms of cancer treatment available for select patients with very difficult cancers. The therapy belongs to a family of particle therapies that includes protons, helium, and other ions. It’s capable of destroying cancer cells that are resistant to traditional radiation therapy—precisely depositing the treatment while minimizing the dose to adjacent normal tissue. While not yet FDA approved, researchers at Mayo will undertake a robust scientific evaluation and analysis of the capability of this technology and identify which cancers would be most appropriate for treatment. In November, Mayo Clinic announced an agreement in principle with Hitachi, Ltd., to bring the technology stateside. About 30,000 patients in the U. S. could be candidates for carbon ion therapy. This new technology will coincide with other cancer treatment offerings in the integrated oncology facility, including proton beam therapy, a highly targeted therapy that uses pencil beam scanning to deliver precise radiotherapy with lower doses of radiation to healthy tissue. Proton beam therapy clinical trials, offered through Mayo’s comprehensive cancer center, will also be available to patients, giving them more access to cancer treatment options.

Mayo Clinic in Florida was chosen as a beta site for the NanoString GeoMX Digital Spatial Profiler technology. This novel technology changes how breast cancer tissue specimens are analyzed. It allows researchers to evaluate the samples in a spatial context and is capable of providing a more detailed understanding of the immune response than other multiplexing technologies. Breast tissue studies are planned. (Read announcement.)

  • Promoting Innovation

Discovery and Innovation Building

To bring new medical discoveries to more patients, the Life Sciences Incubator at Mayo Clinic in Florida opened this year, aimed at advancing findings from Mayo’s research labs and clinical practice for patient health and well-being. The collaborative biotech business hub, housed in the new Discovery and Innovation Building, also attracts life sciences startup companies from around the country. The incubator was awarded a $750,000 grant this year from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to provide education in entrepreneurship and build a regional support system for entrepreneurial activity.

CANCER RESEARCH AT MAYO CLINIC IN FLORIDA

A comprehensive approach to cancer

Mayo Clinic Cancer Center spans three Mayo campuses –Florida , Arizona and Minnesota – as one of the most comprehensive cancer centers in the country. At  Mayo Clinic in Florida, exciting cancer research  is underway involving genomics, 3D technology, immunology and novel vaccine therapy.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has renewed Cancer Center Support Grant funding for the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, providing approximately $28.7 million in cancer research funding through 2024. The NCI also renewed Mayo Clinic Cancer Center’s designation as an NCI comprehensive cancer center. The distinction recognizes institutions for demonstrating scientific leadership, resources, and depth and breadth of research in basic, clinical and/or population science, as well as substantial transdisciplinary research. 

DEDICATED, INTEGRATED
CLINICAL RESEARCH STUDIES UNIT NOW OPEN

The new Frank and Marisa Martire Family Integrated Clinical Studies Unit (ICSU) opened at Mayo Clinic in Florida in late September. The 12 bed unit, housed on the second floor of the Dorothy J. and Harry T. Mangurian Building, is dedicated to clinical research in all medical specialties. Many of the ongoing studies involve early-phase, first-in-human trials, but all phases of clinical studies can be accommodated. A pharmacy is located on the same floor, with a team that works closely with the ICSU team to coordinate logistics and the preparation and delivery of novel therapies. A physician is always on hand. Additional space is available in the ICSU for the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine’s Biospecimens Accessioning and Processing laboratories (BAP Lab) satellite location. The strategic build-out of the lab helps support the increased demand for clinical trials and services needed to expand them and compliments its other locations on campus.

RESEARCH FUNDING

Mayo Clinic’s Florida research expenditures totaled $85.1 million in 2019 (October year-to-date), as illustrated in the Florida Research Funding graphic above. The 31.8% Mayo-based funding included philanthropy and diversified activities, and 68.2% external funding sources including the State of Florida, Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health). This demonstrates 11.8% growth over 2018 during the same time period (76.1 million in 2018, October  year-to-date).

Florida’s report is a snapshot of some of the research-related activities and advancements across Mayo Clinic. More information and highlights can be found at the links below, and throughout the Mayo Clinic websites, mayoclinic.org and mayo.edu.

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Dec 26, 2019 · Biomedical diversity grants propel Mayo students into research

A brave new world of genetics and genomics

Cherrise Marcou, Ph.D.

Cherisse Marcou, Ph.D., participated in the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical SciencesInitiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program during her graduate school training. A native of Nassau, Bahamas, Dr. Marcou describes the program as a blessing to her.

“Mayo has a large Ph.D. program in a large institution, so it was nice to be part of a smaller group I could lean on and connect with,” she says. “A dedicated group of scientists and physicians at Mayo Clinic is focused on maximizing diversity at all levels in the sciences, which allows students to gain their footing in the field and gain confidence to pursue careers in science. The rich resources available through the IMSD program helped me succeed in graduate school.”

Dr. Marcou says the IMSD program offered a way to connect with other students on the same journey. “We focused on applying for grants specified for students from diverse backgrounds, had a safe place to discuss issues related to being in a field that historically has had underrepresentation of minority groups, provided opportunities to attend conferences and network, and had a chance to mentor others from diverse backgrounds as we advanced in our training.

“With help from grant-writing exercises in the program and help from my mentors, Larry Karnitz, Ph.D., and Michael Ackerman, M.D., Ph.D., I received an NIH F31 Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award. Getting this award, which promotes diversity in health-related research, while I was in in graduate school was a major milestone.”

After nine years of training at Mayo Clinic — a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences-Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, and American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics fellowships in Clinic Cytogenetics and Clinical Molecular Genetics — Dr. Marcou left Mayo for almost two years. She used her training as a senior clinical scientist at GeneDx, a Maryland-based genomics company focused on genetic testing for rare and ultra-rare genetic disorders. In May 2018 she returned for a position in the Division of Laboratory Genetics and Genomics in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology with a joint appointment in the Department of Clinical Genomics at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Dr. Marcou is now a clinical laboratory director focused on the analysis and interpretation of genetic test results; managing teams that perform testing; developing assays related to the rapidly evolving field of genetics and genomics; and educating Mayo Clinic physicians, colleagues, external providers, and the next generation of scientists and health care practitioners.

“I’m happy to be back at Mayo, where I received stellar training,” says Dr. Marcou. “I’m grateful to Mayo Clinic for its dedication to broaden the way science looks and wanting to increase diversity. Growing as a scientist involves mentoring others. I’m excited to be a role model and a face of what it’s like to be a successful woman from an underrepresented group in the sciences.”


First-generation college student maps out a path to a research career

Brian Garcia

Brian Garcia recently enrolled as an M.D.-Ph.D. student at Stanford University in Stanford, California. Born in Cuba, Garcia is Latino and in the first generation of his family to attend college. He graduated from Florida International University in Miami and spent two summers working in the Laboratory of Structural Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Garcia qualified for Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences’ Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), which provides support for diverse students in preparation for professional school application.

“I learned about programs like PREP at a research conference a few years ago and thought I should look into them to make myself a more attractive candidate for an M.D.-Ph.D. program,” he says.

Garcia says his year at Mayo Clinic, working with Louis (Jim) Maher III, Ph.D., developed his capacity as a scientist. “I worked full time in the lab, participated in meetings, shadowed physicians and took a graduate school genome biology course. It felt like I was a first-year grad student. The mentorship at Mayo Clinic is excellent — some of the best I’ve seen. It can be frustrating to map out your path if you don’t have the right mentorship to know what you need — substantive research experience, shadowing and volunteer work. Dr. Maher helped guide me.”

Garcia says he believes his PREP experience influenced Stanford’s decision. “It showed my level of preparation and ability to commit to an eight-year training program.”


Research training opens up possibilities for a young father

Eduardo Davila, Ph.D.

Eduardo Davila, Ph.D., participated in post-baccalaureate enrichment training at Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences for two years in the late 1990s.

As an undergraduate student at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and a participant in diversity programs there, Dr. Davila presented his research findings at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) meeting. There, Dr. Davila met Richard (Rick) McGee, Ph.D., associate dean of Mayo’s graduate school at that time, who invited him to apply for the school’s post-baccalaureate training program. Dr. Davila says Mayo’s was one of only two such programs at the time — “an incredibly rare opportunity.”

Dr. Davila was accepted at Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, where he was mentored in the lab of Esteban Celis, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Immunology, studying tumor immunotherapy. After two years of mentored research, Dr. Davila entered the school’s Ph.D. program. He received a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences – immunology and stayed at Mayo Clinic for postdoctoral research training in rheumatoid and transplantation immunology.

“Without the research opportunity and close mentoring at Mayo Clinic, I don’t know where I would have ended up,” says Dr. Davila. “I might have become a car mechanic like my parents wanted me to be. Dr. McGee introduced me to opportunities I never knew I had.”

Dr. Davila is Mexican-American. His parents came to the U.S. illegally when his mother was pregnant with him. He says his parents worked hard, but the family still lived in poverty. Dr. Davila is in the first generation of his family to go to college.

“I really struggled the first two years” he says. “My wife and I had our first child as teenagers and had another child by the time I was in college. I attended classes full time and worked to earn money for my family. I didn’t want my wife or kids to live in poverty, and education offered promise.”

Today Dr. Davila is a professor in the Department of Medicine and the Amy Davis Chair of Basic Immunology Research, Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Initiative at the University of Colorado Denver’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. His research focus is cancer, T-cell research, and novel therapies.

It comes as no surprise that Dr. Davila has submitted an application to start a PREP at the University of Colorado to foster the development of young minority students who aspire to be scientists. He also initiated a PREP in his previous position at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he was an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

“I had great mentors at Mayo Clinic. Every faculty member I interacted with was dedicated to serving the student population,” says Dr. Davila. “I want to give those same opportunities to others and help them have an impact in the world.

“When you come from a background like mine and don’t have the right connections, you don’t know what’s out there. My day-to-day existence focused on survival — getting my next meal — not thinking about my grades or a career in science or medicine. Getting even a brief glimpse at those possibilities as a young student is so important. You see that there are opportunities beyond what you could imagine. PREP is much more than the NIH mandates it to be. Students are exposed to new scientific techniques, sophisticated instruments and a new level of commitment to making sure they succeed. It helped to launch me into the career I love.”


This article is part two of a series about Mayo Clinic graduate school grant programs that launch students into careers in science. The first article appeared on December 10, 2019.


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