Shapiro summer research program shapes the future of medical discovery

Shapiro Summer Research Program Shapes the Future of Medical Discovery

Since 2002, medical students at UW-Madison have engaged in the Shapiro Summer Research Program, designed for students interested in medical research who are not pursuing a PhD degree. Participants conduct the eight- to 12-week-long mentored research projects during the summer prior to their second year of medical school. A total of 113 students are involved in the Shapiro program this year, 28 of whom are conducting research in the Department of Medicine. "The Department of Medicine had the largest number of students among any department," said Lynne Cleeland, academic staff emeritus, who helped create the program fifteen years ago and retired on July 1, 2017.

Students worked with Department of Medicine faculty members in eight different divisions, tackling topics in basic science, health services research, clinical studies, medical education, and quality improvement. “The Shapiro program is truly what you make of it. You can come in with goals and ideas in mind; every day I'm doing something different,” said Savannah Vogel, who investigated differences in survival and choice of peritoneal versus hemodialysis between men and women using a database of 1.3 million Medicare patient records.

Her advisor, Sana Waheed, MD, assistant professor (CHS), Nephrology, was impressed by the professionalism of Shapiro program students. “I'm amazed at how mature the medical students are and how seriously they are approaching their research. They are taking charge of their projects and coming up with new ideas with a high level of critical thinking and a high confidence level. This is really Savannah's project,” she said.

The sentiment was echoed by Laura Maursetter, DO, associate professor (CHS) and fellowship director, Nephrology. “I have loved to see the enthusiasm and energy the students bring to the projects that each of them have initiated and developed. I feel that they have taught me more than I have taught them!”

In the Department of Medicine, Shapiro students engage in roundtable discussions to explain their work and gain feedback from experienced principal investigators in a small group setting. Nasia Safdar, MD, PhD, associate professor, Infectious Disease and vice chair for research, mentored a session during which Xavier Schwartz presented his project (mentored by Dr. Safdar) to students Natanya Russek and Allison Weisnicht.

“I'm interested in the science of why people make mistakes, approaching it from a systems engineering level,” he said, describing a quality improvement study that analyzed surgical site infection (SSI) prevention measures at University Hospital. Mr. Schwarz performed observations and interviews to assess hand-scrubbing techniques of surgical personnel and reviewed chart records of antimicrobial use to analyze whether a recently-implemented SSI prevention bundle was being followed. His results showed that work remains until complete adherence is achieved.

“It's been a huge project, technically two projects,” said Dr. Safdar, who indicated that a similar effort will soon be underway at The American Center. “It's cool that you can do this project and have the ear of UW Health,” said Ms. Russek, who then began to describe her own work investigating the impact of statin use on Alzheimer's disease in the laboratory of Cynthia Carlsson, MD, MS, associate professor, Geriatrics and Gerontology. (See a video from the roundtable below.)

Indeed, studies that are conducted by Shapiro students have real-world impact. Each student will write an abstract to present at a research symposium in the spring of 2018, and many are preparing full manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed journals. Students can also apply their Shapiro program time to the Path of Distinction in Research offered by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, which requires 16 weeks of mentored research during medical school, significant contribution to at least one manuscript or thesis, and presentation of research at a scientific meeting, among other requirements.

Guiding the future
Shapiro summer research program - Dr. Nasia Safdar, Natanya Russek,, Xavier Schwartz, Xavier, Allison WeisnichtAs the roundtable discussion progressed, Dr. Safdar listened intently. Allison Weisnicht described a project she conducted in the laboratory of Jeniel Nett, MD, PhD, assistant professor, Infectious Disease. Ms. Weisnicht explained that she investigated why the immune system can’t combat Candida infections when the pathogen forms a biofilm, as it often does on surfaces of medical devices. “Usually Candida is killed by neutrophil extracellular traps or NETs made of DNA, histones, and other proteins, but NETs are not released when the pathogen is in biofilm form. We studied what’s inhibiting neutrophils from releasing NETs under these conditions,” she said.

“We get about 40 to 50 bloodstream infections with Candida albicans each year,” responded Dr. Safdar, who leads the infection control team at University Hospital. “Finding a way to combat them is very important,” she explained, while giving encouragement and technical suggestions to Ms. Weisnicht.

A few minutes later, Ms. Russek explained the statistical analyses she performed for her project on the effect of statins on pulsatility index and cerebral blood flow using an advanced MRI technique called PC VIPER. The results have been illuminating but it is clear that further study is needed, she concluded. Dr. Safdar nodded. “There are some times in research where the results are what you expect, and many cases where it's not what you had expected. In the ideal situation, there are steps forward in either case,” she said.

At the close of the discussion, Dr. Safdar asked students whether the experience had prompt thoughts of continuing research endeavors throughout their careers. Each indicated interest in the possibility. “I definitely know I want to work in an academic medical center where people are asking questions,” said Ms. Russeck.

Creating connections
A clear outcome of the Shapiro Summer Research Program in the department was a close bond between many mentors and students, achieved by working in collaboration. “I am inspired by my research mentor, Dr. Laura Maursetter, whose personal and intellectual generosities are qualities I wish to emulate,” wrote Caroline Matchett, who worked on a medical education project that investigated the effectiveness of simulation-based medical education with deliberate practice on improving skill acquisition, self-confidence and self-assessment abilities of nephrology fellows.

Working together to improve the human condition is exactly what the late Herman “Murph” Shapiro, MD, emeritus professor, Cardiovascular Medicine and Gwen Shapiro, RN had in mind through creating the Shapiro Foundation. As of September, 2016, the foundation had given more than $13 million to support programs at the School of Medicine and Public Health and UW School of Nursing. According to an article in The Quarterly, Dr. Shapiro taught at the medical school for more than 40 years and Ms. Shapiro served as head nurse at the hospital for many years.

They would doubtless have delighted in seeing all of the 113 Shapiro Summer Research Program students, including the 28 individuals listed below who studied in Dr. Shapiro’s home department:

  • Alexander Brauer mentored by Dr. Laura Maursetter (Nephrology) for a project entitled "Improved Management of Hyperphosphatemia in Dialysis Patients"
  • Soibhan Kelley mentored by Dr. Elizabeth Ann Misch (Infectious Disease) for a project entitled "Risk of Bacteremia According to Transplant Immunosuppressive Regimen"
  • Madeline Kenzie mentored by Dr. Dawd Siraj (Infectious Disease) for a project entitled "Barriers to Infection Control of Hospital Acquired Infections in Jimma, Ethiopia"
  • Caroline Matchett mentored by Dr. Laura Maursetter (Nephrology) for a project entitled "The Effects of Simulation-based Training Tailored to Learner Skill Level to Enhance Procedural Competence During Nephrology Fellowship Training"
  • Anna Meese mentored by Dr. Nasia Safdar (Infectious Disease) for a project entitled "Improving Injection Safety in Ambulatory Care Settings"
  • Xavier Schwartz mentored by Dr. Nasia Safdar (Infectious Disease) for a project entitled "Identifying Barriers Preventing Adherence to Surgical Site Infection Prevention"
  • Keith Spinali mentored by Dr. Amish Raval (Cardiovascular Medicine) for a project entitled "Cardioimmunotherapy: Generation and Characterization of Cardiac-Specific Reparative Macrophages for the Treatment of Heart Failure"
  • Savannah Vogel mentored by Dr. Sana Waheed (Nephrology)for a project entitled "Examining the Difference in Dialysis Modality Choice and Survival Between Men and Women"
  • Brittany Anderson mentored by Dr. Amy Kind (Geriatrics and Gerontology) for a project entitled "Development of a Multi-National Interventional Framework to Improve Alzheimer's Disease Care and Caregiver Support for Undersupplied Populations"
  • Gisele Toumi mentored by Dr. Vincent Cryns (Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism) for a project entitled "The Role of alphaB-Crystallin in Cancer Stem Cell Survival and Metastasis"
  • Therese Battiola mentored by Dr. Kara Goss (Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine) for a project entitled "Evaluation of the Role of Angiogenesis in the Development of Pulmonary Vascular Dysfunction in Adults Born Prematurely"
  • Alec Winzenried mentored by Dr. Robert Striker (Infectious Disease) for a project entitled "Retrospective Analysis of HIV-Positive Patient CD4:CD8 Ratios in Evaluation of Progressive HIV Infection"
  • Matthew Bange mentored by Dr. Jonathan Makielski (Cardiovascular Medicine) for a project entitled "Mouse Models for the Elucidation of the Mitochondrial ATP Sensitive Potassium Channel"
  • Nnenna Ezeh mentored by Dr. Christie Bartels (Rheumatology) for a project entitled "Prioritizing Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Strategies for Lupus Populations"
  • Emma Gill mentored by Dr. Ryan Westergaard (Infectious Disease) for a project entitled "Understanding the Continuum of Hepatitis C Care for Inmates in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections"
  • Ryan Haggart mentored by Dr. Heather Johnson (Cardiovascular Medicine) for a project entitled "Relationship of Tobacco Use Status and Rate of Hypertension Control Among Adults with Incident Hypertension"
  • Tamanna Hossin mentored by Dr. Christopher Crnich (Infectious Disease) for a project entitled "Evaluating Opportunities for Antibiotics De-escalation in Wisconsin Nursing Homes"
  • Elena Kurudza mentored by Dr. Fotis Asimakopoulos (Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care) for a project entitled "Matrix-derived Regulators of Anti-tumor Immunity: Translational Implications"
  • Devon Miller mentored by Dr. Dustin Deming (Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care) for a project entitled "Patient-derived NSCLC Spheroid Cultures for Predicting Therapeutic Outcomes"
  • Nina Mirabadi mentored by Dr. Jonathan Makielski (Cardiovascular Medicine) for a project entitled "Cardioprotection Due to Ischemic Preconditioning: Does Preconditioning Lead to Increased SUR2-55A Expression in Wild Type Mice?"
  • Thai Nguyen mentored by Dr. Miriam Shelef (Rheumatology) for a project entitled "Investigating the Role of PADI4 Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in Contributing to Rheumatoid Arthritis"
  • Sherwin Novin mentored by Dr. Vincent Cryns (Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism) for a project entitled "Effect of Dietary Restriction of Essential Amino Acids (EAA) on Human Triple Negative Breast Cancer Cells"
  • Steve Peery mentored by Dr. Sarah Panzer (Nephrology) for a project entitled "Risk of Infection in Patients with Native Glomerular Disease Post Kidney Transplant"
  • Prashanth Prabakaran mentored by Dr. Amish Raval (Cardiovascular Medicine) for a project entitled "Evaluating the Utility of Co-Registered X-ray Fluoroscopy and 3D-Surface Echo Visualizations for Structural Heart Interventions"
  • Natanya Russek mentored by Dr. Cynthia Carlsson (Geriatrics and Gerontology) for a project entitled "Evaluating the Utility of Co-Registered X-ray Fluoroscopy and 3D-Surface Echo Visualizations for Structural Heart Interventions"
  • Ran Tao mentored by Dr. Mark Albertini (Hematology, Medical Oncology and Palliative Care) for a project entitled "PIG-A Mutant T-cells as a Biomarker of Response to Immune Checkpoint Blockade in Metastatic Melanoma"
  • Steven Wang mentored by Dr. Amy Kind (Geriatrics and Gerontology) for a project entitled "Examining Diagnostic Testing, Treatment, and Care Processes for Dementia Patients"
  • Allison Weisnicht mentored by Dr. Jeniel Nett (Infectious Disease) for a project entitled "Mechanism of Neutrophil Inhibition by Candida Biofilms"


  • "Shapiro Foundation Supports Student Research," The Quarterly (alumni magazine of UW School of Medicine and Public Health), September 14, 2016
  • Shapiro Summer Research Program