Pires named Medical Research Scholar by the National Institutes of Health

Medical student awarded year-long research fellowship designed to cultivate physician-scientists

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

June 29, 2016
  Jacqueline Pires

Jacqueline Pires

The National Institutes of Health has named third-year School of Medicine student Jacqueline Pires a 2016 Medical Research Scholar. Pires will spend a year in residence conducting an independent biomedical research project under the mentorship of principal investigators at the NIH’s national headquarters in Bethesda, Md.

“Basic science is what got me interested in medicine, so research has got to be a part of my career,” said Pires. “Participating in the NIH program is a natural progression of that desire because it will open many doors and teach me how to be a translational researcher for the rest of my career.”

The Medical Research Scholars Program is a comprehensive, year-long research enrichment program designed to attract the most creative, research-oriented medical, dental and veterinary students to the intramural NIH campus. Student scholars engage in a closely mentored research project that matches their research interests and career goals. Each student is assigned an advisor from the program’s Board of Advisors who oversees the scholar’s training, helps to identify a research mentor and offers guidance throughout the student’s tenure in the program. Pires and fellow Medical Research Scholars were selected from 120 competitive candidates who were invited for interviews following submission of a rigorous application.

“The NIH is Disneyland for geeks! It’s where the brightest minds on the planet are doing the brightest things in one place,” Pires recalled of her first visit to Bethesda. “Once I passed through those gates I didn’t want to leave.”

“The cool thing about this program is the entire NIH—all of their institutes, all of their PIs—is open to you,” said Pires. “If there’s something you want to get your hands on, it’s there for you.”

In addition to conducting their individual research projects, all scholars participate in structured program activities including weekly journal club meetings; lectures on basic, translational and clinical research topics ; training in clinical protocol development and the conduct of human subjects research; participation in clinical rounds in the NIH Clinical Center; academic leadership training; and access to NIH Clinical Center courses.

Pires is a Dorchester resident who is among the first members of her Cape Verdean family to finish high school and go to college, and the first to attend medical school. She largely attributes her achievement to mentored academic experiences beginning in high school, when she participated in the Student Success Jobs Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Pires appreciates the parallels between it and the NIH experience she is embarking on nearly 10 years later.

“I need to take bedside to bench, and bench back to bedside and see how that works. As long as I can stand at the bench and pipette, I will definitely be doing research.”

Pires will study mitochondrial programmed cell death under the mentorship of Torren Finkel, MD, PhD, chief investigator of the Cardiology Branch in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Division of Intramural Research. Originally interested in surgery, she gravitated to internal medicine during third-year clinical rotations. “I fell in love with the intellectual challenge of internal medicine, the detail orientation of thinking things through, going from normal physiology to pathology to the mechanisms of medications—that puzzle-fitting is what attracted me.”

More than 180 students have completed the NIH program since 2012. School of Medicine ’16 alumna Josephine Larkin Harrington, MD, was a 2014 NIH Medical Research Scholar.

When Pires does return to UMass Medical School to complete her fourth year of medical training and graduate in 2018, she will have another life-changing experience under her belt.

“This year-long research enrichment program is very often the starting point for a successful research-oriented career,” said Frederick P. Ognibene, MD, deputy director for educational affairs and strategic partnerships at the NIH Clinical Center. “These 52 scholars clearly represent future academic leaders and biomedical researchers in this country.”

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