Student publishes in medical journal as an undergraduate

By Debra Bradley Ruder

Patrick Sheedy plans to go to medical school, and his co-op experience is likely to give him a leg up in that ambition.

As a result of his co-op at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, he will be first author on a paper about to be published by the American Journal of Cancer Research. This quite an accomplishment for an undergraduate.

Sheedy, HS’19, conducted research and wrote a literature review on a specialized type of microRNA that plays a significant role in cancer. The particular strand that Sheedy focused on—MiR-10b—is associated with the spread of 18 types of cancer.

With guidance from his mentor, Zdravka Medarova, an associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, Sheedy reviewed more than 100 studies on MiR-10b. His paper outlines what is currently understood about this genetic material and its promise as a diagnostic biomarker and target for new cancer therapies.

“This microRNA has immense potential, but no one had really collected all of the data that has been produced,” said Sheedy.

Sheedy’s final co-op was the perfect bookend to his first—a hands-on clinical position as an orthopedic technician at a sports medicine clinic north of Boston. At the clinic, he applied casts, removed stitches, dispensed braces, and observed clinicians caring for patients in extreme pain.

His most intense experience was tending to a man who had suffered frostbite over the winter, when he was homeless. Sheedy unwrapped the man’s foot and saw that his remaining toes were black, a sign of dying tissue. The smell was horrible. But he knew from an earlier course in health communications in the Bouvé simulation lab, that it was important for him not to recoil. Instead, he treated the man with dignity and respect.

“When you see patients with the worst injuries and circumstances, it’s easy to turn them into the diagnosis—it’s the toe that’s falling off,” Sheedy says. “But they don’t want to feel like a problem. They want to be acknowledged and feel like a person, not a patient.”

Sheedy’s seven-month clinical co-op was a triple winner. It allowed him to apply his classroom learning to real-life situations. It cemented his interest in medicine. And it energized him for the next round of classes before his second co-op.

“I figured out that I actually do want to become a doctor, and it’s not just a theoretical thing in the distance,” Sheedy says. “Being able to see that hands-on revitalized me to come back into class and be motivated to get to where I want to be.”

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