Summer Student Spotlight
Each summer, the Texas Heart Institute brings students from around the world to learn and develop a deeper understanding of medicine. We would like to introduce you to several of the brilliant minds who are visiting us this summer.
Kiana Bahrami is a volunteer in the Cardiovascular Surgery Research laboratory. She is working on different methods to test how well artificial heart components will work in the body.
Bahrami’s exposure to medicine began at an early age. “My entire family is in the medical field. My mom was a pharmacist. My dad is an electrodiagnostic clinical specialist. My sister is an emergency room doctor, and a couple of my aunts are doctors, so medicine was always a part of my upbringing,” she says. “But I also just got more interested with it growing up watching different television shows related to medicine.”
At her high school, Harmony School of Discovery, she had a research opportunity in conjunction with the University of Houston where she conducted tests of a platinum-based anti-cancer drug called phosphopaltins. For their work, Bahrami and her partner placed silver in the I-SWEEP international science competition.
Currently, she is majoring in biomedical engineering at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin. There, she is involved in Texas Engineers for World Health. Her team is working on a prototype low-cost incubator geared toward underdeveloped countries. She also has been involved in many volunteer activities with the Red Cross Club of UT and donated to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless.
In her free time, Bahrami combines her love of art and childcare by teaching kids how to draw and paint. She also enjoys playing the classical flamenco guitar.
“My favorite thing about working at the Texas Heart Institute is the atmosphere for innovation of next generation treatments for patients and the motivation of everyone to develop the next big thing to help people. I hope to learn as much as I can this summer. I definitely feel like I have a lot to learn about cardiovascular research. I haven’t had a strong background in it, but I’m hoping that with this opportunity I will be able to grow on my skills and contribute in any way I can. I’m very grateful for this opportunity.”
Each year, the Texas Heart Institute Molecular Cardiology Department hosts exchange students as part of the Semester Abroad Program (SAP) at SRM University-one of India’s top-ranked universities. Students spend 6 months at THI gaining first-hand experience as part of their research training. Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam, PhD, MBA, leads this outreach initiative for THI. The research training volunteership inspires students to further pursue innovative research opportunities around the world.
Shashikant Gupta was the hosted student for the program this year. He worked in the molecular cardiology labs where he developed, tested, and screened drugs to figure out the correct dosage that should be given to patients.
“I learned a lot. As they say, ‘Through mistakes, we learn.’ I made so many mistakes, and I learned from my mistakes so when I leave I will be much better. Dean is very supportive and provides advice. He treats every student as much more than a student. The other members I worked with were helpful and really interested in what I was doing. My favorite thing to do in the lab is microscopic studies because they take a lot of time, concentration, and focus. Here, I feel [that I have] more freedom where I can work independently or in a team. I developed skills in evaluating a project, [figuring out] how to initiate it, and how to perform it before doing it so we can complete it more efficiently. I also learned better ways to evaluate results.”
Gupta is currently a master’s student in genetic engineering at SRM Institute of Science and Techonology and has a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Sharda University in Greater Noida. He just finished his 4 months at THI and will return to India to continue his PhD studies and research related to organ preservation and maximizing the time period for cryo preservation.
Christiana Okafor is a student worker in the THI Women’s Center. She is assisting Dr. Stephanie Coulter and her team with biomedical research and women’s heart and vascular disease focused research and education.
Okafor is a rising senior at the High School for Law and Justice in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and will be graduating with honors as the valedictorian of her class in 2019.
She is heavily involved at her school and in the Houston community. She is vice president of the Houston Municipal Courts Teen Court, where she handles real juvenile cases as a prosecutor, prosecution attorney, or defense attorney. She is also a member of the Houston Police Department’s Youth Police Advisory Council program, where she participates in community service opportunities and monthly meetings with the police chief to discuss issues facing youth.
Okafor also is treasurer of the Business Professionals of America chapter, actively debates in the Houston Urban Debate League, and is an ambassador for the National Society of High School Scholars. She is a member of National Honor Society and a scholar in HISD’s highly selective college readiness program, EMERGE.
Although she is attending a magnet school centered around law and criminal justice, she has a strong desire to pursue a career in the medical field.
“The anatomy of the human body has always interested me. I want to know about autoimmune diseases, why they occur, and what causes them.”
Last summer, she represented her school and the state of Texas as a delegate at the Congress of Future Medical Leaders at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. This convention provides high-achieving high school students the opportunity to view surgery, learn about state-of-the-art diagnostic tools by world-changing researchers, futurists, and technologists and much more.
This summer, she attended the Black Issues Forum at Colorado State University, where she met with students from across the nation to discuss and evaluate the important issues of today that affect the African-American community.
“My favorite thing about working at the Texas Heart Institute is getting the overall exposure to the medical field and learning from the research experiments. By the end of the summer, I want to have a better understanding of what I want to do in the medical field. I would like to thank everyone who assisted in the decision-making process that allowed me to be here.”
Manuel Marin is a student worker in the Center for Clinical Research. He is currently studying trials featuring stem cells to help patients with heart failure and working on case reports.
“I like the experience of working at a research institution that has access to a hospital and patients. Taking care of patients is important, but research helps create new treatments and that’s very important.”
Marin will be entering his senior year as a biomedical engineering major at Texas A&M University. He has been a member of the Biomedical Sciences Club, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and a member of the Emergency Care Team which trains students to assist EMT’s at sporting events.
He especially likes the idea of working with prosthetics because the field involves a lot of problem solving. “As a biomedical engineer, it is important to take into account the mechanics of the devices that you’re making. My favorite part of working here is the experience of being able to understand how it will be when I am a doctor. It’s definitely giving me a more practical view on what I’m doing. I‘ve learned that there is a lot of work involved in clinical research.”
Student Spotlight by Payton Campbell