Shapiro Foundation Supports Student Research
Herman “Murph” Shapiro, MD ’32, and Gwen Shapiro, BS in Nursing (’53)—a longtime faculty member of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) and head nurse at UW Hospital and Clinics, respectively—had a strong desire for their legacy to shape educational experiences for future generations of physicians and nurses.
Established in 1995, the Herman and Gwen Shapiro Foundation memorializes the couple, who worked hard, loved life and followed their hearts about ways they could assist others well beyond their lifetime, notes David Walsh, JD, chair of the foundation’s board of directors.
“They wanted to improve the human condition—the words from the Wisconsin Idea—and that’s why they were involved in academic medicine,” says Walsh, whose parents were friends with the couple, leading to a lifelong friendship among the Shapiros and brothers David and John Walsh.
David Walsh notes that the Shapiro Foundation, to date, has given more than $13 million to support programs at the School of Medicine and Public Health and UW School of Nursing.
The Shapiro Summer Research Program is among the School of Medicine and Public Health activities the Shapiro Foundation supports. It provides half of each student participant’s stipend for an eight- to 12-week summer research experience between the first and second years of medical school. Mentors or departments pay the stipend’s balance, plus research costs.
“The Shapiro Foundation is at the heart of our student research programs. It has resulted in tremendous growth of those programs for medical students, who benefit greatly from the experience,” says Lynne Cleeland, assistant dean for academic affairs, adding that the following UW-Madison entities also have made significant contributions to support student research experiences: Carbone Cancer Center, Cardiovascular Research Center, Institute for Clinical and Translational Research and departmental National Institutes of Health training grants.
Cleeland helped create the Shapiro Summer Research Program, designed for medical students who are not pursuing PhDs but want to conduct research. The program began in 2002, when it granted awards to nine students. It has steadily grown to today’s level of nearly 100 annual awards, to benefit more than 900 students since 2002.
Dedicated mentors are another key to the program’s success. Cleeland recruits faculty members for each annual cycle and notes that some mentors volunteer year after year. A few of the mentors used to be students in the program. Cleeland also recalls a number of mentors who have hosted students every summer since 2002, including Paul Sondel, MD, PhD ’75 (PG ’80), Reed and Carolee Walker Professor in Pediatric Oncology and director of research, Division of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation, Department of Pediatrics.
Some mentors propose hypothesis-driven projects from which students choose; others are available to host students who propose projects. Inquiries in basic, clinical, population health or translational science; health services; quality improvement; or public or global health fit the bill.
Aiming to prepare students for future grant writing, the Shapiro Summer Research Program requires students to write a research proposal—including learning goals and a mentoring plan, with activities such as holding weekly meetings with mentors, shadowing clinicians, and attending grand rounds and journal clubs. A 12-member student research committee reviews applications and finalizes decisions about students’ placement with mentors.
After finishing their research stints, students must write an abstract to present at the annual Student Research Forum; this often extends to students co-authoring papers for submission to peer-reviewed journals. Cleeland points to an exemplary match: medical student Claire Baniel, who met her summer 2016 mentor, Sondel, when he gave the previous year’s forum keynote address.
Sondel directs a nationally recognized laboratory for translational and clinical cancer immunotherapy research; has an active clinical practice; and teaches medical and graduate students, residents and fellows. For his commitment to guide medical trainees at all stages, he earned the School of Medicine and Public Health’s 2015 Dean’s Award for Research Mentorship.
He applauds students in the Shapiro Summer Research Program for using their break “to advance their career in a way that only time doing research can do” and says the stipend makes it possible for students to do this, rather than work somewhere else for a summer income.
“The program teaches students how to ask a research question, collect and analyze data, and explain the results, theories and proposed next steps. The work builds a connection with their chosen discipline that they can think about during future rotations,” says Sondel. “It’s an incredible experience to pack into a summer!”
While summer research students are not expected to have prior laboratory experience, Sondel was impressed with Baniel’s background knowledge and research skills.
“She hit the ground running, and we spoke the same language,” he recalls.
About her undergraduate years at Michigan State, where she worked in a lab developing anti-cancer vaccines and learning many of the immunology, cancer biology and laboratory techniques she used in Sondel’s lab, Baniel shares, “I was fortunate to have undergraduate research mentors who—like Dr. Sondel—took an interest in my work, as well as my development as a scientist.”
Sondel notes, “When we met, I quickly realized there was a terrific project nobody in our lab had worked on that required the skills Claire had. She knew immunologic assays that usually take our part-time undergraduate assistants up to a year to master.”
He continues, “Claire started injecting mice with the genetically engineered anti-tumor fusion protein we are developing in the lab and clinic, and she began collecting samples, doing assays and looking at antibody levels. Although she and I thought her research question may not give us answers, within two months, she came up with terrific data, and we learned new things. That’s extraordinary!”
Baniel’s project, “The Effects of Local Radiation and Immunocytokine on Antibody Quality and Diversity,” was an important next step to a recent publication from this lab by radiation oncology resident Zach Morris, MD, PhD.
Finding ways to harness patients’ immune systems to fight cancer has been the driving force for Sondel’s career. Immunotherapy could reduce or eliminate the amount of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy needed to treat cancer, potentially reducing dangerous, long-term side effects. For some adults, radiation and chemotherapy provide benefits, but they do not provide enough treatment for all patients.
“The results we’re seeing in immunotherapy used to be just a dream. Today, immunotherapy is playing a helpful role in the treatment of several cancers. It’s exciting to see our ideas being translated from efficacy in mice to clinical testing, with some degree of success,” describes Sondel. “We think we have the tools and reagents to be able to move more of these concepts into the clinic, but we have to take it one step at a time to make sure it’s safe and beneficial.”
Baniel says she “never lost the sense of wonder” she felt on her first day in the laboratory. That sense of wonder may be why she wants to become a physician. “My mom is an emergency room nurse, and she inspires me. I grew up hearing about how incredible medicine can be and the impact doctors and nurses have on others— and that feels like a natural fit for me.”
Having lost a close family friend to cancer, Baniel adds, “Whenever loved ones have been affected by cancer, or their treatments were going poorly, I would think that even if I couldn’t help that person, maybe something I was doing at work would help others.”
She continues, “When I heard Dr. Sondel speak about the impact his research was having, I knew I would find it meaningful to work in his lab.” Baniel plans to conduct further research in Sondel’s laboratory.
School of Medicine and Public Health medical students can continue to engage in research during medical school through the Path of Distinction in Research (also known as the Research Honors Program), which requires at least 16 weeks of mentored investigation plus additional criteria. These students graduate with honors in research, explains Patrick McBride, MD ’80, MPH, the faculty director of the student research program.
“The Shapiro Summer Research Program is a springboard for students who choose the Path of Distinction, and they can count their Shapiro-funded research toward their 16 weeks,” McBride adds. Baniel notes, “I love the fact that UW School of Medicine and Public Health offers many avenues in which I can do research, such as using elective time or taking a year off to expand my project. I'm not sure which option will work best for me, but I am excited by the opportunities.”
Looking to the future, she adds, “I would love to have a career that allows me to practice in a clinical setting and explore research questions. Dr. Sondel is providing insight about how I can make this a reality.”
Sharing her passion, Sondel explains, “My dream always has been to have one foot in the lab and one in the clinical environment, so I can connect them on a daily basis. I’ve been fortunate that my laboratory group includes people from many backgrounds, which adds strength to our research.”
Most students Sondel has mentored in the Shapiro Summer Research Program have chosen a clinical discipline related to their research, he notes, making it clear that he loves to watch trainees succeed.
Cleeland says, “It has been exciting to build this program into what is it today. As the demand increased, so did the funding, thanks to the Shapiro Foundation. In the 15 years of the program, more than 900 medical students have been supported by the Shapiro Foundation for summer research fellowships.”
She adds that the foundation also supports other School of Medicine and Public Health programs, including the Student Research Forum, travel awards for students to present research at national meetings and conferences, scholarships, and a year-long Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR)-Shapiro Medical Student Research Fellowship.
Walsh observes that the school’s student research programs perfectly match the Shapiro’s goals.
Another perfect match came in summer 2016, when the Shapiro Foundation obtained matching funds through a gift to UW-Madison from Ab Nicholas and Nancy Johnson Nicholas for another program: the Herman and Gwen Shapiro Endowed Medical Scholarship Fund.
Walsh concludes, “As we honor the Wisconsin Idea—that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state—and consider ongoing discussions about education, economic development and the creation of knowledge—we are happy to see the School of Medicine and Public Health student research programs extending knowledge on which other people can build.”
By Kris Whitman
This article appears in Quarterly Magazine
Date Published: 09/14/2016