Post-baccalaureate program focuses on lung disease research
Post-baccalaureate research training programs at Yale University offer recent college graduates from traditionally under-represented backgrounds the opportunity to pursue research projects in their area of interest. The program is becoming increasingly popular among students who are looking for hands-on experience before pursuing graduate studies. In the Pulmonary Medicine, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine (Yale-PCCSM) section of the Yale School of Medicine (YSM), a post-baccalaureate program offers research experience focused on chronic lung diseases such as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), COPD, sarcoidosis and asthma, as well as mentoring and coaching.
“When I joined Yale eight years ago, I was really impressed with the talent and quality of the people we hired in the lab, but I noticed that we don’t necessarily recruit diverse candidates,” said Naftali Kaminski, MD, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary) and Section Head, Yale-PCCSM. Kaminski had organized a similar program at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was director of the Dorothy P. and Richard P. Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease and the Lung, Blood and Vascular Center for Genomic Medicine.
“I felt that if you meet people before they get a graduate degree like MD or PhD, you can empower them and attract them to a lung disease specialty,” said Kaminski. “Sometimes there are some really good people that we miss. Some were at the top of their class, but not all. The idea is to have a mixed community of learners, and to create an environment that allows them to develop.
Yale-PCCSM has hired approximately six post-baccalaureate students in recent years. A job with benefits, the position usually comes with a two-year contract and allows college graduates to develop their skills and experience while working in a research environment. All participants must present their results at scientific meetings and apply for research prizes. Three participants, Carlos Cosme Jr., Kadi-Ann Rose, and Tony N. Woolard, received National Institutes of Health (NIH) Diversity Research Awards from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
“The NIH-NHLBI has a great program to support research diversity,” Kaminski said. “I think it’s a unique experience for a university graduate to successfully apply for research funding and an important skill for a future academic career. ”
Here are the profiles of four people who participated in the Yale-PCCSM post-baccalaureate program:
“The medical school has become a lot more competitive,” said Carlos Cosme Jr., who has been with Kaminski Lab since 2019. “You must have more experience in clinical services and more experience in research when you apply. And it can be very difficult to match it all up. A post-baccalaureate program in a laboratory or clinical setting helps college graduates explore “what lies outside the classroom,” he said.
Cosme, who is a first generation student, graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and biophysics from Amherst College. “My honors thesis work at Amherst aimed to better understand the functional differences between the two main C. elegans gamma-secretase complexes using a S. cerevisiae replenishment system. Prior to that, I spent a summer at Vanderbilt University studying the role of RAD51 in repairing DNA double strand breaks in yeast, ”Cosme said.
Cosme accepted a position at Kaminski Lab because he adapted his program to his interest in computer data analysis. “When I said I wanted to do this, but had no previous experience, they were okay with it,” he explained. “They said as long as I had an interest they would help me learn.” Other members of the laboratory have helped guide his research and professional development. “I get a lot of really good advice, from research to medicine, from all of my lab colleagues,” said Cosme, who is a co-author of several manuscripts.
He is very proud of the single cell data exploration and dissemination portals he has developed, such as the recently published Lung Endothelial Cell Atlas. “Single-celled RNAseq analysis is one of the most advanced technologies in biology,” Cosme said. “I do it regularly now and it’s really exciting. ”
Cosme is in the process of applying for MD / PhD programs.
Amolika Gupta worked as a postgraduate research assistant from 2019-2020 at the Gomez Lab at Yale-PCCSM. Gupta received a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience with a minor in bioethics from Johns Hopkins University in 2018.
After college, she applied to NIH and Yale programs. “The reason I chose Yale was because Dr. Gomez was really receptive. I knew he would be a great mentor, ”said Gupta, the first postdoctoral research assistant in this lab.
“The projects we were focusing on were manageable for someone of their level of training,” said Jose Gomez Villalobos, MD, assistant professor (pulmonary). “She was accomplished when I interviewed her, so I thought she would be a good person to bring to the lab. Her work has led to a few publications, and we are still working on the research she initiated.
Gupta worked independently on a project involving asthma sputum samples to determine whether there was a predominance of specific microRNAs in immune cells. “I learned how to grow a lung organoid from stem cells. It’s a difficult procedure, ”she said. “Our plan was to use it as a test model by introducing certain factors to see how it would react, and if that is what we would see in asthmatics.”
Gupta is enrolled in the three-year accelerated program at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine in New Jersey. She plans to apply for a residency in internal / pulmonary medicine and also to focus on oncology and lung cancer. She will continue to conduct research no matter what medical field she chooses, she said.
After Kadi-Ann Rose graduating in 2015 from Central Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, she spent a year with AmeriCorps at Central CT AHEC focusing on health education. She spent another year at San Francisco State University to complete a post-baccalaureate.
During the two and a half years that Rose worked at the Kaminski Lab, she conducted research related to IPF. “What I love about research is that you learn more about a disease where you can identify biomarkers and mechanisms,” Rose said. “It’s a really good way to use concepts – what you learn in your classes, which you can apply in the lab. ”
During the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Connecticut, all Yale labs closed. Rose wanted to help with the COVID-19 effort at Yale and volunteered to process body fluid samples from patients hospitalized with the disease. “When you see samples, you don’t see the patient. But you can tell from the samples that this person is really sick. It made me take COVID-19 a lot more seriously, ”she said. Before the pandemic, Rose followed the professors as they attended to patients in the medical intensive care unit, which reports to the Yale-PCCSM section.
Rose has been accepted into the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where she plans to pursue her interest in critical care medicine.
“I feel like my career progression has grown exponentially at Yale,” Rose said. “Where I was uncertain before the program, I have no doubts in my mind now. The advice I received from the faculty was very helpful and I plan to take it with me as I go through medical school. ”
Tony N. Woolard, JD, graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and minors in microbiology / biotechnology and chemistry. He received a Masters of Liberal Arts from Harvard University as well as a JD from Roger Williams University Law School in 2020.
Woolard spent three years, 2014-2017, in the Kaminski lab as a postgraduate research assistant. In 2016, Woolard received the American Thoracic Society Minority Trainee Development Fellowship as well as independent NIH funding to work on a project to measure the levels of circulating mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and their Chitinase receptor- 3-like 1 protein in serum and plasma to determine their association with inflammatory regulation and disease progression.
“When I started in the lab, I mentioned that I wanted to go to law school,” Woolard said. “Dr. Kaminski told me that he would give me a job suitable for the legal field, and he allowed me to search for a patent that he had filed for one of his projects. He also wrote a letter from recommendation and helped me with my application to law school.
Woolard worked for Feeney Law Group in Providence, Rhode Island, from 2019 to 2021. He then founded Woolard & Associates, LLC in Connecticut where he intends to continue assisting his clients with contracts, patents, trademarks. and copyright.
He continues to receive credits for Yale projects. “I have been named an author on many publications I have worked on, including an article that was published in June 2021,” he said.
Indeed, all participants in the Yale-PCCSM post-baccalaureate program receive credit for their work, said Charles Dela Cruz, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine (pulmonary) and vice chief of research at Yale-PCCSM, who co-mentored Woolard. “They can leave before the end of the project because they have entered a graduate program, but we remember them and credit their work in our papers as appropriate,” said Dela Cruz. “Frankly, we are very proud of them.
If you would like to apply for a post-baccalaureate position at Yale-PCCSM, please send an email Jennifer Caprio.
The Pulmonology, Intensive Care and Sleep Medicine Section is one of the eleven sections of the YSM Internal Medicine Department. To learn more about Yale-PCCSM, visit CSSP website, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.