INNOVATIVE EDUCATION

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

At Houston Methodist, the enthusiastic answer is ”Research!”
Kiana Banafshay (left), paired with Sonia Villapol, PhD, enjoyed managing her own project during her 2019 summer internship.
The summer of 2019 was well spent according to Kiana Banafshay, a pre-med student entering her senior year at the University of Texas at Austin. The 10-week Summer Undergraduate Research Internship achieved its goal of introducing highly motivated students to the excitement and challenges of research by pairing each one with a faculty member. The upshot for each intern is having a completed research project that shows their hard work.

The 2019 program kicked off its ninth year on June 3, when Banafshay was introduced to 62 college undergraduates and high school students from more than 50 schools, including New York University, Brown University, Emory University, University of California-Berkeley, University of Southern California and Vanderbilt University. In addition to providing mentorship, the interns enjoyed networking opportunities and weekly didactic lectures with Houston Methodist leadership.

Banafshay shares that the lab experience opened her eyes to the possibilities of clinical research. “I learned how to contribute to research projects within a laboratory and teamwork setting. I also learned several skills specific to preclinical research conducted in the lab and how they connect to clinical applications,” said Banafshay. “And I learned that science is fun!”
Villapol guided Banafshay through completion of her project, “Brain-Gut Communication through Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide after Traumatic Brain Injury.” Villapol’s laboratory studies the inflammatory and neurodegenerative mechanisms triggered after brain trauma or stroke, based on gender. It also investigates the contribution of peripheral signals and the gut microbiome to brain pathology, and pursues novel neurorestorative treatments for brain recovery through the lens of the periphery.
Banafshay was paired with Sonia Villapol, PhD, assistant professor of neurosurgery. The two knew instantly that they would make a great team. And early in the summer, they discovered they even share the same birthday! Villapol praised Banafshay as an exceptional student.
Students bring an innate curiosity and passion, one that is my responsibility to help amplify by focusing on exciting research projects related to discovering new treatments for patients with brain damage and neurodegenerative diseases. There is nothing more rewarding in the laboratory than to mentor a team that shares my passion for science and scientific discovery.
Sonia Villapol, PhD
Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, Department of Neurosurgery Center for Neuroregeneration
Houston Methodist Neurological Institute
Villapol (right) supports Banafshay (left) when presenting her poster at the MAPTA Summer Science Symposium, a grand finale that offers interns a forum for presenting their summer research projects.
– LaVonne Carlson, October 2019
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