A new program at The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences that brings medical students from Saudi Arabia to UToledo for an intensive, six-week research program will look to expand next year.
Under the leadership of Dr. Alexzander Asea, professor of medicine, and Dr. Punit Kaur, associate director of the Precision Therapeutics Proteogenomics Diagnostics Center, five students from Alfaisal University College of Medicine in Riyadh spent a portion of their summer in Toledo getting experience in various biomolecular techniques.Students also toured UToledo’s facilities and met Saudi-born faculty who shared their current research work and career path.
Unlike in the United States where getting into medical school requires an undergraduate degree, in Saudi Arabia and many other parts of the world, students enroll in medical school right out of high school.
“Because of that, they lack the lab experience and the experience of doing research, so it can really put them at a disadvantage,” Asea said. “We give them a hands-on look at how to analyze proteins in proteomics, how to look at DNA in genomics, and how to identify different cell lines in cell cultures. We think those are all things they are going to use in whatever specialty they ultimately choose.”
All of the projects the students engaged with were tied to colorectal cancer, which has become one of the most common forms of cancer in Saudi Arabia.Asea brought the idea to UToledo from Texas A&M, where he developed a similar program in 2010.
The students’ home university pays a stipend for each student who enrolls; this covers the costs of the program and provides additional resources for research equipment and supplies.
The program also helps to establish a pipeline between Saudi medical schools and UToledo. Kaur said all five students who participated in the 2019 program hope to eventually practice in the United States.
“We wanted to give them an opportunity to learn about The University of Toledo and see what a great institution this is,” Asea said. “When they finish their medical degrees and are looking for fellowships or residencies, we hope they come here because they know the faculty and institution. Our hope is this establishes a pipeline.”
Asea and Kaur are aiming to expand the program to include at least 30 students in 2020.