May 12, 2017 1:15PM
Jayden Bowen and Tyler Shelby, both Pittsburg State University graduates from 2016, have been chosen for a highly selective NIH program created to train physician-scientists who will go on to work on the front lines of disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Bowen and Shelby have been accepted into the NIH Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), which is eight years during which they will earn both an M.D. and Ph. D. Bowen will go to the University of Iowa and Shelby will go to Yale.
It’s all pretty heady stuff for a couple of small-town Kansas kids who grew up just seven miles apart – Bowen in Colony, Kan., and Shelby in Iola. Ironically, they didn’t meet until both chose Pittsburg State.
“I graduated with a high school class of just 13 and I was looking for a place where I wouldn’t get lost,” Bowen said.
Bowen and Shelby both were thinking of becoming physicians, so the strong reputation of PSU’s pre-med program and the fact that both were selected for PSU’s Honors College also helped bring the two young men to campus.
What they didn’t expect was that they would fall in love with research after they got here.
“I’ve always known I wanted to go to medicine and science is the pathway to get there. But then I really got more interested in research once I started working with the professors here,” Shelby said. “Once I started doing research and saw how cool it was and how it mixed with medicine, I was hooked.”
“I didn’t know that research was something I would be interested in, my plan was always to practice medicine,” said Bowen. “I kid Dr. (Dan) Zurek and tell him he ruined my life (by turning me on to research).”
Bowen and Shelby said research is an adventure.
“I enjoy being able to ask a question and having the skills and experience to find the answer,” Bowen said.
“Research gives me the ability to look at a problem and find a way to solve it, as opposed to just working and trudging along with the tools that we have,” Shelby added.
Life over the past several months has been all about research for both Bowen and Shelby.
For the past year, Bowen has been working as a post-baccalaureate fellow in the Food Allergy Research Unit of the Laboratory of Allergic Diseases in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md. The overall goal of the Food Allergy Research Unit is to understand the key genetic, immunologic, and biochemical pathways that lead to the development of food allergies and how they can be manipulated for therapeutic benefit.
Shelby has been conducting research at PSU with Assistant Professor Santimukul Santra, Ph.D., on the development of disease diagnosis platforms for low resource settings. His research builds on work he did as undergraduate, when he was a member of a PSU team that combined magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and fluorescence to create a device that enables scientists to rapidly detect the presence of dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli, in food and water.
Bowen and Shelby said their research experience at PSU was an important factor in their acceptance into the MSTP.
“These schools expect you to have publications and to have a significant amount of time in research,” Shelby said. “Sometimes that’s hard to get at smaller universities and a lot of the other people you’re competing against to get these positions are coming from Ivy League schools where they’ve been doing research in famous labs for four years. People were surprised to see the quality of research that we were involved in at PSU.”
Bowen and Shelby are looking forward to the research opportunities that lie ahead for both of them.
“My coursework has been in biochemistry and my research has been in biomedical engineering, but then I also have research interests in epidemiology and anthropology – more the study of disease and how it affects different groups of people,” Shelby said. “(Yale) seems like a place that will allow me to explore all those different interests.”
“They (the University of Iowa) are involved in a lot of research I’m interested in,” Bowen said. “I have this opportunity largely because of my experience at PSU.”
Below -- Tyler Shelby conducts research in one of the labs at Pittsburg State University.
Below -- Jayden Bowen works with his NIH research mentor, Pamela Guerrerio MD Ph.D., who is chief of the Food Allergy Research Unit.