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Emory medical student awarded Howard Hughes Medical Research Fellowship for epilepsy research

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Elizabeth Johnson

Emory University School of Medicine student Matthew Stern has been awarded a fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The fellowship, which was awarded to 66 medical and veterinary students nationwide, allows the recipients to spend a year in a laboratory working on their proposed research.

Stern will work in the laboratory of Emory neurosurgeon Robert Gross MD, PhD. His research will focus on using tools known as inhibitory luminopsins to suppress chronic seizures. These tools, which were developed in Gross’s lab, inhibit neuronal activity in response to light produced locally at the neuron by a bioluminescent enzyme.

Stern said he hopes the research can one day be developed into a treatment model for epilepsy because of its non-destructive, reversible nature and the fact that it does not require permanent hardware implementation. Stern, who is in his third year of medical school, began working with Gross on a clinical project evaluating a surgical treatment for Parkinson’s disease during his first two years at Emory.

"The HHMI funding is providing Matt a tremendous opportunity for the growth of his career as a physician scientist," says Gross. "He has demonstrated his commitment to both laboratory research before he came to medical school, and to clinical research over the last few years. His project will address an area with a large treatment gap affecting millions of people."

Stern’s fellowship is being co-sponsored by Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE). "CURE has been a leading organization of support for epilepsy research for nearly two decades and has clearly shown a commitment to funding some of the most innovative pursuits in understanding and treating epilepsy," Stern says.

This year’s HHMI fellows come from 34 schools across the United States and are supported by the HHMI Medical Research Fellows Program, a $3 million annual initiative designed to develop the next generation of physician scientists in the United States. Each medical fellow receives $41,000 in grant support, and fellows are eligible to apply for a second year in the program.

As an undergraduate at Haverford College, Stern was a HHMI Interdisciplinary Scholar, which supported his undergraduate thesis work in biophysical chemistry. He also coordinated a mentoring and student teaching program for Philadelphia high school students underrepresented in the sciences, through support by HHMI at Haverford.

"I am proud to be affiliated with an organization that has shown such dedication to medical and scientific education," says Stern.

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