September 23, 2010

M.D./Ph.D. student secures NIH fellowship for his research

A fourth-year student in the Wayne State University School of Medicine's M.D./Ph.D. program has been awarded a prestigious F30 fellowship by the National Institutes of Health.

Nicholas Mischel received the honor for his research, "Enhanced Sympathoexcitation and Inactivity: Role of NMDA Neuroplasticity in RVLM." He is beginning his second year of graduate research in the School of Medicine program.

Mischel, 25, and originally from Redford Township, Mich., is studying under Patrick Mueller, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Wayne State University School of Medicine's Department of Physiology. Dr. Mueller specializes in the research of neural control of blood pressure and how exercise and physical inactivity produce neuroplasticity (changes in neuronal structure and function) that affect blood pressure regulation.

"Nick's work is really the epitome of inter-departmental and inter-institutional collaboration," Dr. Mueller said. "Many people contributed to his application for the fellowship."

"This would not have been possible without the contributions of Dr. Mueller; my co-sponsor, Dr. Donal O'Leary; my program director, Dr. Ambika Mathur; and our collaborators on this project, Drs. Tadek Scislo, Harry Goshgarian, Ida Llewellyn-Smith, Genene Holt and Robert Mackenzie" Mischel said. "I look forward to working with them on this project."

The $188,000, five-year fellowship includes a stipend, 60 percent tuition coverage and a health insurance allowance for Mischel's doctorate years, as well as his remaining two years of medical school.

Mischel's research is investigating the effects of physical inactivity -- a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease -- on neurons in the brain that control blood pressure. "We already know that exercise positively affects the brain in terms of memory and cognition. It has only recently been appreciated that these effects appear to extend to brain regions involved in control of the cardiovascular system," he said. "The impact of these changes are increasingly important since a sedentary lifestyle is now estimated to be the leading cause of preventable death, surpassing more traditional risk factors like smoking, obesity and hypertension. We expect to determine how a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and provide knowledge that will lead to better prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease."

Mischel became interested in cardiovascular physiology after watching his grandfather suffer with heart disease, and strengthened his commitment to a medical education and research after experiencing a night shift in the emergency room at Detroit Receiving Hospital. He completed his undergraduate degree in biological sciences at Wayne State University. While there, he was inspired to pursue research by his undergraduate mentor, Dr. Lori Pile.

In accepting the F30 award, he has returned the latter half of an American Heart Association predoctoral grant that he was awarded in July 2009.

More recently, Mischel was among four WSU students to collect top honors for their posters at the first annual WSU-U-M Joint Physiology Symposium. He won for "Stimulation of Rostral Ventrolateral Medulla Produces Differential Activation of Sympathetic Nerves."

After graduation, Mischel said, he is considering a residency program in internal medicine, followed by a cardiology fellowship. He plans to pursue a career in cardiovascular research in addition to practicing clinically.