DMU student earns Student Researcher of the Year honorable mention

Alexander ZhuAlexander Zhu, a second-year osteopathic medical student at DMU, says he “never wants to be content with medicine as it is today.” That’s why he’s passionate about translational research, which applies scientific discoveries to enhance health and well-being.

His scientific pursuits are why the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents (COSGP) in February awarded him a National Student Researcher of the Year honorable mention. COSGP serves as the official national representative voting voice of all osteopathic medical students.

Zhu got engaged in research as an undergraduate at the University of California-Los Angeles, where he majored in integrated biology and physiology. He then worked as a surgical technician for two vascular surgeons who became his mentors.

“They were able to apply what they were learning in the laboratory to the next patient they’d see,” he says. “Being able to see the fruits of their [research] labors was rewarding. I want to be a physician who applies groundbreaking research into my practice.”

The opportunity to conduct research was one reason Zhu enrolled at DMU. He and Sarah Clayton, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology, researched ways estrogen affects the cardiovascular system. This group of hormones helps protect the heart by modulating the renin-angiotensin system (RAS); specifically, Zhu and Clayton explored estrogen’s impact on two proteins in the RAS that counter high blood pressure, a high-risk health condition that affects one of every three adults in America.

Zhu and Clayton presented a poster on their work, titled “Cardioprotective Estrogen Modulation of ACE2/MasR Gene Expression in the Anti-Hypertensive Renin-Angeiotensin System,” last December at the seventh annual DMU Research Symposium. He had already presented research, at the nation’s largest cardiology conference in Washington, DC, that he’d done in a Cedars-Sinai summer research internship, but he says the DMU symposium was a “whoa moment.”

“In DC, I was presenting to strangers. At DMU, I was presenting to my classmates and faculty,” he says. “It was a different type of pressure.”

Zhu has other manuscripts in the works, including one he recently submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine. He praises DMU’s friendly and supportive community, including his research supervisor, as well as its research opportunities.

“Dr. Clayton is a great mentor,” he says. “She pushed me to apply for the COSGP Student Researcher of the Year. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”

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