Posts filed under ‘Features’

Penn State College of Medicine MD/PhD student starts genetics research start-up

By Ashley Davidson

Olivier Noel is only 28 years old, but he’s already changing the face of genetics research.

The Haitian native is in his sixth year of Penn State College of Medicine’s MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program and was recently recognized by Forbes as one of the country’s brightest young entrepreneurs on its “30 Under 30” list in the science industry. He’s the founder of DNAsimple, a startup aimed at accelerating genetics research by connecting DNA donors with research scientists. The company provides scientists with access to critically important samples, significantly speeding up the pace for genetics research.

A photo of MD/PhD student Olivier Noel wearing a blue and white checkered button down shirt with hands folded

Olivier Noel

“People don’t realize it can take years to get samples, but really only a month to get an assignment done … which is a little bit ridiculous,” Noel said. “It’s a problem for geneticists across the board. You can have a million dollars to do a study, but waste three years trying to get samples.”

Noel explained a “light bulb” went off when he attended a genetics conference at the recommendation of Dr. Roger L. Ladda, whom he had been shadowing with the intent of focusing his residency on genetics.

“The keynote speaker at the conference was talking about how he was studying a disease not really prevalent in the Western world and the way they were able to get a DNA sample to validate was through Facebook. The joke at the time was that Facebook is the new way of doing genetics. I realized, wow, that worked well for one case but that’s not the way science should get done,” Noel said.md

Noel’s big break was when the company was accepted into the Y Combinator program, which includes such notable alumni as Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit. DNAsimple was one of 32 companies accepted from more than 6,500 applicants worldwide, he said. But he credits his PhD advisors — former Penn State faculty member Dr. Glenn S. Gerhard and Penn State College of Medicine Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology James Broach, PhD — for teaching him about genetics and exposing him to Penn State Institute for Personalized Medicine.

“I think if I didn’t go through the Institute for Personalized Medicine, there’s no question DNAsimple wouldn’t exist,” Noel said. “My whole exposure to the genomics world, biobanking, how it’s done and the status quo, is absolutely from my experience at the Institute.”

While Noel currently is a guest at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine — where Dr. Gerhard now serves as the chair of the Department of Medical Genetics and Molecular Biochemistry — he’ll return to Hershey to complete his program at Penn State, which he loves.

“For medical school, I had a few options and Penn State was one of them,” Noel explained. “I knew I was going into the MD/PhD program, which is eight years, so it was really important that not only the academic level was where I wanted it, but also community wise I wanted a place where I could see myself living for eight years, no problem. There was more than just the academics. I love the people. I love the Penn State culture. I’m the biggest Penn State football fan in the world now over the past couple years. But research was the last thing that just got me. Research won me over. Penn State is the place to go.”

As for being named to the prestigious Forbes list, it’s still a little surreal. Even as he begins to close in on seed funding with investors.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” he said. “It’s extremely humbling, to be honest. All the hard work you put in is being recognized.”

February 9, 2017 at 2:34 pm Leave a comment

Student design partners help shape the future for fellow medical students

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Student design partners are helping shape the future curriculum at Penn State College of Medicine. The design partners are, from left,  Jason Spicher, Vanessa Vides, Morgan Decker, Tom Laux and Duncan McDermond. 

When Duncan McDermond studied abroad in a rural African hospital during college, he saw firsthand the correlation between doctors who live among their patients and their ability to understand, gain trust and ultimately provide better medical care.

It’s that kind of holistic approach to medicine that drew McDermond to apply for an innovative program where students are helping to shape Penn State College of Medicine’s curriculum.

“If medical providers do not understand the needs of a community, they will be inherently less effective at treating them,” said McDermond, a Messiah College graduate who is interested in carrying on the legacy of his grandfather, a missionary doctor, who founded the rural hospital in Zambia where he studied abroad.

The ability of firsthand experience to inform and reinforce education is nothing new, but at the College of Medicine, the idea is being given top priority in a first-of-its-kind initiative that could serve as a national model to transform how medicine is taught.

McDermond and four other student design partners – students who have been accepted to the College of Medicine but will defer enrollment until the fall of 2017 – are now College of Medicine employees at University Park. They will work with faculty to develop and pilot a flexible and integrated program of study.

(more…)

October 26, 2016 at 12:55 pm Leave a comment

College of Medicine students take on interpreter roles

You’re in a foreign country, unfamiliar with the language and you suddenly are in an emergency room gravely ill. No one speaks your language. You’re frightened, confused and miming your symptoms to a doctor who is actually trying to ask about family history or medication allergies.

This scenario is common for many immigrants to the United States and the health care providers who care for them.

To address this situation, bilingual medical students attending Penn State College of Medicine can now participate in a medical interpreter training and certification program through the Health Federation of Philadelphia.

The program was the result of happenstance when Dr. Patricia Silveyra, assistant professor of pediatrics, biochemistry and molecular biology, and humanities, attended a meeting of the Latin American Medical Student Association where a group of bilingual students questioned why they couldn’t use their second language to help their patients.

“You can’t just show up and translate because you’re bilingual,” Silveyra explained. Medical interpreters require training and certifications, and they need to understand the value of cultural competency. (more…)

September 14, 2016 at 9:14 am 3 comments

Hershey welcomes three international students for exchange program

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Students in the Penn State International Health Exchange program work in the Cubs Caring for the Community tent at the Farmer’s Market in Hershey.

If there is one thing that Wei Ting (Shaba) Chien has learned during his time in the United States, it’s that no country has a perfect public health system.

The senior medical student from Taiwan was one of three international students from Taiwan and Republic of Georgia to spend two weeks training on and around the Penn State College of Medicine campus in July as part of the Penn State International Health Exchange Program.

“I wanted to see how the Western world is like us, and how the system is different here,” he said.

Students in Penn State’s Master of Public Health program can complete international internships and fieldwork as part of their global health practice-based learning, but this summer, for the first time, students from partner institutions abroad have come to Hershey. (more…)

August 18, 2016 at 1:54 pm Leave a comment

Camp Lionheart: A place for young heart warriors

Camp LionheartSome young campers celebrated the fifth birthday of a little girl they never knew on Aug. 2, although they had a lot in common.

“My little girl was a heart warrior like you guys,” Williamsport resident Jennifer Ayers told the 15 campers at Camp Lionheart. “ It means a lot for me to be able to have this camp for you so you can meet other heart warriors.”

The inaugural session of Camp Lionheart at Camp Kirchenwald in Colebrook, Lebanon County welcomed campers age 11-18 who share an important bond with Ayer’s daughter, Ellie, who was born on Aug. 2, 2011 and died from cardiomyopathy (heart disease) on April 25, 2012.

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August 10, 2016 at 3:12 pm 1 comment

Cancer survivorship clinics support patients through recovery

The Cancer Institute will host its annual National Cancer Survivors Day Celebration on Friday, June 10, 2016 that will include an educational seminar on topics relating to survivorship wellness such as exercise, diet and creative writing. For more information, visit http://inspiredtogether.org/events/penn-state-cancer-institute-survivorship-celebration-rainbow-hope/ or http://www.ncsd.org/about-us.

Although she’s a cancer survivor, neither word is in Nancy Schlegel’s vocabulary. Instead she considers herself a thriver who conquered her foe.

“I don’t use the word ‘survivor’ and I don’t use the word ‘cancer’,” Schlegel, 77, of Manheim Township said. “It’s not something I focus on and never have, even after I was diagnosed.”

Schlegel refuses to let cancer define her. It’s how she copes with life after cancer, one of many cancer patients who are treated in survivorship clinics at Penn State Cancer Institute. (more…)

June 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm Leave a comment

From the military to becoming a physician assistant

Editor’s Note: The Commencement Ceremony for the graduating Class of 2016 will take place on Sunday, May 15, 2016. For more information on Commencement, visit this site. 

A little more than two years ago, Myra Galusha was looking for a physician assistant program that would be tough enough to balance out her lack of medical background.

At Penn State College of Medicine, the 32-year-old Michigan native found that and more: “That part was not a let-down,” she laughed.

Galusha is one of 144 medical students, 81 graduate students, and 30 physician assistants who will receive degrees this Sunday.

Myra Galusha

Myra Galusha

Galusha completed the military academy at West Point, majored in law, and then spent more than five years in the Army. After multiple deployments and time overseas, she eventually left the military. She and her husband, Colt – who is from the Gettysburg area – decided to move back to Pennsylvania when he got a job at Fort Indiantown Gap as an instructor pilot.

After leaving her work in military intelligence, Galusha’s sports background – and history of multiple sports injuries – drew her to the medical field. Being a new mother, she didn’t want to attempt medical school, so a physician assistant program seemed like a better fit. (more…)

May 12, 2016 at 10:30 am 1 comment

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