Two UM graduate students named to medical research training program


Staff report

University of Mississippi

Zakary Patrick. Photo submitted

The Jackson Heart Study Graduate Training and Education Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center has selected UM doctoral students Miguel DeLeon and Zakary Patrick as members of its fourth cohort of the Robert L. Smith, MD Scholars program.

The two-year program provides researchers with intense research training and mentorship. Each fellow commits to attend summer training institutes for two consecutive summers, two semi-annual meetings and quarterly webinars, and other national conference and networking opportunities.

This ensures that each researcher has regular interaction with senior researchers and mentors throughout the program. Mentors will help researchers learn how to write peer-reviewed manuscripts, perform reviews, and make scientific presentations.

“This training and mentorship program is intended to complement the doctoral training that each participant receives at their respective university,” said Jennifer Reneker, assistant dean for scientific innovation at the John D. Bower School of Population Health and associate professor population health sciences.

“The hope is that we give them a competitive edge and an enhanced skill set to advance them into the next chapter of their professional lives, as researchers.”

A second-year doctoral student in the Department of Biomolecular Sciences at the School of Pharmacy, DeLeon focuses his research on pain and psychedelics. He hopes to infuse his passion for mentorship and diverse, equitable and inclusive environments in STEM.

“My research under this fellowship will focus on the use of inflammatory biomarkers as a predictive measure to prevent the onset of diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the Jackson Heart Study,” said the native of Houston, Texas.

“The main objective of this program is to deepen my knowledge and skills in cardiovascular epidemiology, health disparities and responsible conduct of research. In addition to advancing the science of research training and educating graduate students in health-related professions.

Patrick, a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, housed in the School of Applied Science, will study health and kinesiology in the Exercise and Memory Lab.

“To be named a Robert L. Smith, MD Scholar is an honor,” said the Youngstown, Ohio native. “It allows me to deepen my knowledge and experience in research and epidemiology, and it also allows me to meet and network with a fantastic group of peers and mentors.

“Being exposed to, discussing and eventually publishing work with the goal of promoting the benefits of health and physical activity for the African American population in the greater Jackson area and beyond is deeply rewarding. I am delighted to incorporate what I learned from this experience into my future projects and my academic career.

Program applicants must be doctoral level students at Ole Miss, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, University of Southern Mississippi, or UM Medical Center. They must belong to a group identified by the National Institutes of Health as underrepresented in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral and social sciences.

Besides the two Ole Miss students, the cohort also consists of one student from UMMC and three from MSU. The cohort first met over the summer for intensive training at the Jackson Medical Mall Conference Center.

The UMMC-GTEC is part of the NIH-funded Jackson Heart Study, the largest community-based study of cardiovascular disease risk factors in African Americans. The center provides opportunities for PhD students and healthcare professionals considering a career in cardiovascular health to participate in the research process alongside mentors from leading research institutions.

A native of Terry, Dr. Robert L. Smith is one of Mississippi’s healthcare heroes.

He is nationally respected for his leadership as the founder of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. As part of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, this organization successfully lobbied Southern health care institutions to expand access to health services and end the unequal treatment of African Americans.

He founded the Mississippi Family Health Center in 1963 and remains a practicing physician.


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