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Howard Hughes Medical Institute research award a first for Virginia Tech Carilion

Oscar Alcoreza (center), a Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student about to complete his second year, has been awarded a highly competitive Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowship to devote a year to in-depth, mentored biomedical research at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Alcoreza will begin his fellowship this summer in the laboratory of mentor Harald Sontheimer (right), executive director of the School of Neuroscience. He will work alongside Susan Campbell, a research assistant professor who supervises students in the Sontheimer lab.

Oscar Alcoreza, a Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student about to complete his second year, has been awarded a highly competitive Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) fellowship to devote a year to in-depth, mentored biomedical research at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

One of 79 selected medical and veterinary students, Alcoreza’s award was announced today by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Medical Research Fellows Program.

The fellowship will enable Alcoreza to take a deep, yearlong dive into epilepsy research midway through the pursuit of his medical degree.

Alcoreza is intrigued by how trauma, strokes, infectious diseases, and other occurrences may cause healthy brains to become epileptic.

An increasingly large incidence of new onset epilepsy is a result of strokes, brain tumors, and Alzheimer’s disease, according to Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE), which has partnered with HHMI to support the Medical Research Fellows Program. Epilepsy may also be a long-term consequence for many soldiers suffering traumatic brain injury.

“A two-week latent period seems to take place in a mouse model of epilepsy between a pathology and the actual occurrence of epilepsy,” Alcoreza said. “I am trying to figure out what happens in the transition from a healthy to an epileptic brain, and to see what we might do to intervene in the process.”

Alcoreza will begin his fellowship this summer in the laboratory of mentor Harald Sontheimer, the director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Center for Glial Biology in Health, Disease, and Cancer. Sontheimer is also the executive director of the School of Neuroscience in the Virginia Tech College of Science.

“The HHMI fellowship allows the most promising medical students to completely immerse themselves in research for one year, with the objective that they may combine their future medical practices with academic research — which truly positions them to think about cures for diseases and novel diagnostics,” Sontheimer said. “Oscar is an incredibly talented student who came to medical school with a sincere interest in research. He is one of the rare students that HHMI is seeking because they are the future leaders of academic medicine.”

The fellowship is a one-year award for full-time research, with a stipend of $32,000, a research allowance of $5,500, and a fellow’s allowance of $5,500. Through its support of this initiative, CURE is interested in increasing the number of young investigators in the field of epilepsy research.

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