We are Frontline Medicine. This is no ordinary medical school. Here you’ll find students, researchers, and faculty with a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude, fierce empathy, and a global drive. We not only pay special attention to the underserved, but work tirelessly at the edges of modern medicine. Whether it’s tackling the resurgence of an infectious disease, uncovering brain disease in a retired linebacker, or analyzing health care patterns in rural Zambia, we’ve built our classrooms at the very front lines of the human condition.
Room 145Infectious Diseases
Room 142Global Health
Room 201AHead Trauma/CTE
Room 216Home Care
Room 136Homeless Outreach
Room 426Nobel Prize Winner
Room 387Heart Study
Mallika Gopal says she was primarily drawn to the School because of the patient population it serves—from the home-bound to those living on the street—and its mission to deliver care to everyone without exception.
Gopal, who would like to pursue a surgical career, is also passionate about global health, another prime focus at the University. One summer, she conducted research in Guatemala on stunting and malnutrition. Since coming to the School, she has also worked in the Cardiothoracic Surgery Department, studying treatment algorithms for T2N0 esophageal cancer and the use of bronchoscopy as an educational tool.
Outside of the classroom, Gopal serves as the class social chair in student government and also participates in the Boston University Coalition for Adult Immunization, an organization focusing on giving vaccinations to the community. But perhaps as, if not more, important is the bond Gopal has forged with her fellow students, researchers, and faculty members. “I love the community at the School. Everyone from professors to students are close-knit and behave more like a family than colleagues.”
Charting new territory in head trauma
Researchers are pioneers in the study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease linked to repetitive head trauma in contact sports and on the battlefield. As a result of BU’s research, professional sports leagues, including the NFL, have adopted new concussion protocols and awareness campaigns to better protect their players.
The BU CTE Center works closely with the VA Boston Healthcare System and other institutions and scientists performing innovative research on this debilitating disease, currently only diagnosed after death. Today, the team’s goal is to be able to diagnose and treat CTE during a person’s lifetime and to prevent the effects of brain trauma in all at-risk groups.
Caring for the city’s most vulnerable
While many medical schools have hospital beds and emergency rooms, our faculty and students also tend to patients where they find them—in alleyways, on park benches, near heating grates. Every year, we care for hundreds of people who have landed on the streets. The Outreach Van Project, founded in 1997, rolls through Boston on a regular basis, offering people experiencing homelessness warm clothes, food, toiletries, and medicine. The team, which comprises students and faculty, a physician, and a social worker, identifies any health issues and provides care and referrals for medical follow up and shelters. Our faculty also assist in helping obtain them permanent housing. Further, we provide inpatient and outpatient care on campus for people referred through the Boston Health Care for the Homeless program.
Gus Godley grew up in a small town in Rhode Island where both of his parents are doctors. “Some of my earliest memories are of my dad waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning to answer a page or to go into the hospital. Whenever they had nowhere to dump me off as a young kid, I had to follow one of them into the clinic. I still remember the meticulous care and glowing appreciation that flowed through those examining rooms.”
So it came as no surprise that Godley eventually found his way into the same field, applying to 26 medical schools along the way. “But once I got into BU, I knew this was the right place for me. What I love most about BU is the ability that it gives students to explore interests within and outside the classroom.”
Since his first year, Godley has been working with doctors in the Endocrinology and Surgery departments on a project involving thyroid cancer, helping analyze biopsy results, along with molecular marker testing, to clarify current standards for diagnosis following pathology and determine the necessity for surgery. Godley, who hopes to specialize in pediatric oncology, also became interested in teaching, working as a tutor and teaching fellow for two of his three years. “I love thinking about how I learn, how others learn, and how to improve the way material is taught.”
Outside of the classroom, Godley is a leader with the Outreach Van Project, which strives to address the day-to-day needs of Boston’s homeless population, including food, clothing, and health care. “OVP has taught me that when you are in the public outreach setting, you are in a place that some people call home, in no small sense. Many of the problems that we face in that setting have to do with connecting with individuals whose experience is so different from our own.”
Health care in translation
Not all medicine is practiced alike. Our Global Health Program places students in medical “classrooms” in places as varied as a breast cancer ward in Argentina, an emergency room in China, and a rural clinic in Ecuador. The list of medical immersions goes on—from Armenia to Zambia, from Ethiopia to Peru.
In this globally connected world, health care providers must appreciate cultural differences among their patients and medical colleagues around the world. Providing care in other cultures—whether in Boston or Tanzania—broadens our students’ perspective on health and human illness and leads to culturally competent and well-rounded physicians.
As an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University, Jason Park studied biomedical engineering and ran into many BU teams at design competitions and conferences. From them, he not only learned about the University’s robust program in biomedical engineering but in global health, as well, which he found particularly attractive.
One summer, Park, who grew up in South Korea, conducted clinical research in Zambia, studying the hygiene practices of mothers of admitted NICU patients. He saw firsthand room for improvement in health systems, which further spurred his interest in designing cheaper and more durable medical products for use in developing countries. “I’ve been given wonderful opportunities to broaden my horizons, to learn about cultures I didn’t know much about, both within Boston and overseas, and I want to challenge myself with coming up with innovative and affordable solutions, especially in global health settings.”
Anita Sulibhavi came to Boston from suburban Detroit, Mich., to pursue her undergraduate and medical degrees at the same time, and quickly fell in love with the School community.
“Entering medical school is scary and I had my own preconceived notions of how competitive and challenging it would be,” she says. “While school can be hard, I’ve been overwhelmed by how supportive we are of each other here as students, and how much effort the doctors and professors put into making sure we come out well-prepared. Everyone here really wants everyone else to succeed.”
Since landing at the School, Sulibhavi has been rolling up her sleeves on a regular basis. She conducts research in the Department of Otolaryngology regarding the impacts of vitamin D on thyroid cancer aggressiveness, in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery regarding neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratios in lung cancer patients, and at Dothouse Health working on chart auditing for diabetic patients.
Outside of the lab and the classroom, Sulibhavi helps lead the Otolaryngology Interest Group and the Internal Medicine Interest Group. She also co-leads the Brain Enrichment Program, in which medical students visit local assisting-living facilities and speak to residents on a variety of medicine-related topics as a way to promote healthy cognitive aging and lifelong learning.
It’s that type of face-to-face interaction that has enriched and informed Sulibhavi’s experience in Boston. “It is a privilege to be able to work with the patient demographic in this area. I feel like being at such a large safety-net hospital has helped me learn so much about the stories and challenges other people face in their lives and has helped me have a better understanding of what I can do to really affect change.”
Combating disease, pursuing cures
Infectious diseases have always afflicted mankind. And always will. But in recent years, the emergence and re-emergence of illness-causing viruses and bacteria have increased at an alarming rate. With international air travel and trade, the next infectious disease could be on our shores in a matter of a day or two from an overseas outbreak.
Our National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), a state-of-the-art Biosafety Level 4 facility employs some of the world’s top scientists to develop diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. The NEIDL is part of a national network of infectious diseases laboratories at the forefront of research into diseases that are or may become major public health concerns.
Jean Vilus arrived at the School through the Early Medical School Selection Program, applying as an undergrad at Morehouse College in Atlanta. After completing further requirements, he matriculated in 2015. A native of Chicago, Vilus’ medical interests include emergency medicine, trauma, and sports medicine, and eventually, he’d like to work as an ER physician. As his family and relatives hail from Belize and Haiti, the prospect of global health is also appealing.
From the get-go, the School has felt like home, he says, welcoming and comfortable. “It is a smorgasbord of different races, cultures, backgrounds, and pathways, and it amazes me how well everyone gets along,” he says. “It can be difficult to incorporate so many different people into one area, but everyone here makes it look easy and I don’t think that happens very often, except at exceptionally special places.”
World-renowned multigenerational research:The Framingham Heart Study
The Framingham Heart Study (FHS) at Boston University is one of the world’s most informative and longest-running studies, now including three generations. Beginning with 5,209 participants in 1948, the family-based study provided much of the earliest scientific evidence of the relationships between cardiovascular disease and smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Much of what we know about heart disease is based on this longitudinal study, which currently has some 8,000 participants and has seen a total of 15,447 since its inception.
Researchers are using FHS data to investigate stroke, dementia, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and the genetic patterns of many common diseases. More than 3,000 articles based on the study’s data have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Nature Genetics, Circulation, and the Lancet.
Reaching the homebound
Our Home Care Program caters to approximately 570 elderly patients who have trouble leaving their homes. The program has been a part of the University’s curriculum since the 1870s, the oldest of its kind in the country. In a monthlong geriatric rotation, fourth-year medical students learn core practices, along with lectures on end-of-life care. It’s another example of our faculty and students taking their skills and care beyond campus and into the community.
Educating the next generation of physicians about elder care has never been more important. The American Geriatrics Society counts about 7,100 board-certified geriatricians in the country, but to care for the more than 71 million Americans who will reach age 65 by 2030, the number of trained caregivers needs to increase nearly five-fold, according to the American Medical Student Association.
One of the School’s driving missions is caring for the underserved—in the city and around the world. In Boston for example, the School works with the Barbara McInnis House and the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Project, both of which are located near campus and facilitate access to health care for hundreds of people who have ended up on the streets. It’s that philosophy of unequivocal care that spoke to medical student Nishant Garg from the get-go. “BU’s history of inclusion, diversity, and collaboration with the community has made it an incredible place to go to school.”
Garg, who has conducted research in radiology and imaging studies as they relate to HIV-positive patients with head or neck cancer, is also attracted to the openness of the faculty and medical staff. While he’s interested in a surgical career and hopes to get involved with health care policy development, the opportunity to query and shadow a wide array of medical professionals means he can keep his options wide open. “I have never felt afraid to ask a physician about a research or shadowing opportunity. I truly feel included in the community. The professors are eager to help and to show us all the great resources to strengthen our medical education.”
What do jellyfish, cancer cells and ultraviolet light have in common?
The 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Imagine that a protein found in jellyfish enables researchers to watch processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells in the brain or how cancer cells spread!
In 1962 Professor Emeritus Osamu Shimomura, PhD, discovered Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) from the Aequorea Victoria jellyfish and it has become one of the most important tools used in contemporary bioscience. In 2008 the Nobel Foundation recognized Shimomura and colleagues, Martin Chalfie, PhD, University Professor, Columbia University, and the late Roger Tsien, PhD, Professor UC San Diego School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, for their work that built on Shimomura’s discovery.
Learn more about how we use basic science research on the Frontline of Medicine to identify scientific processes and that contribute to improved health.