Five Baylor College of Medicine medical students have been accepted into the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Training Fellowships Program, making it possible for them to work in the laboratory of their choice for one year.

They are among 112 students from 44 institutions who are taking part in HHMI student research programs. The BCM students are:

William L. Clifton, second-year medical student, mentored by Dr. John Oghalai, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, and Dr. Andrew Groves, associate professor of neuroscience, both of BCM. Clifton's research will focus on mechanisms of hearing loss (a problem that progresses with age) by studying prestin, a protein involved in the electromotility of the cochlear outer hair cells.

John R. Gonzales, second-year medical student, mentored by Dr. Hugo Bellen, professor in the departments of molecular and human genetics, molecular and cellular biology, and neuroscience, at BCM and an HHMI investigator. Gonzales will study a novel receptor protein called latrophilin believed to be integral in the vesicle associated protein B pathway that leads fruit flies to develop a condition similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which is a lethal degenerative neuromuscular disorder.

"It is hoped that better characterization of this receptor, and the entire pathway as a whole, will open the door to the development of more targeted therapies for these patients," said Gonzales.

Brian P. Kelley, third-year medical student, mentored by Dr. Brendan Lee, professor of molecular and human genetics at BCM and an HHMI investigator.

"The overall goal of my project is to evaluate post-translational modification of proteins and enzymes involved with collagen in order to better understand diseases related to errors in collagen synthesis such as osteogenesis imperfecta," said Kelley. Osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, is a genetic disorder characterized by bones that break easily.

Matthew J. Kole, second-year medical student, mentored by Dr. Jeffrey Noebels, professor of neurology, neuroscience, and molecular and human genetics at BCM. Kole will study epileptic seizures in mice that lack a certain protein A disintegrin and metalloprotease 11 or ADAM11.

"We may perform studies that will help explain the (brain) circuit that is malfunctioning in these seizures," said Kole. "We will also likely do some work on what compounds halt these seizures in order to investigate possible drug candidates for further research."

Michael A. Paolini, second-year medical student, mentored by Dr. Mariella De Biasi, associate professor of neuroscience at BCM. Paolini's research will focus on the role of the alpha5 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor and smoking.

"A long-term goal of this project is to guide the development of more effective smoking cessation therapies," said Paolini.

"These programs give the students a chance to immerse themselves in research," said Peter J. Bruns, vice president of grants and special programs at the HHMI. "For many, this will be a pivotal experience that helps them decide whether to pursue a career in research."