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Student honored for research of sexually-transmitted disease (5/13/97)

A senior medical student at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has won a prestigious national award for her research on a sexually-transmitted disease.

Maria A. (Angie) Palafox, a fourth-year medical student, has been selected as a 1996 Academic Medicine Fellow by National Medical Fellowships, Inc. (NMF).

Palafox's research project documents relationships between African American and Mexican American women and trichomonosis infection with either of two types of organisms, one which harbors a virus (type II) and one which does not (type I).

John F. Alderete, PhD, professor of microbiology and director of the training program in molecular pathogenesis, is her mentor.

"Angie Palafox approached me at the beginning of her third year in medical school," Dr. Alderete said. "She was interested in doing some type of epidemiology research related to a clinical problem in obstetrics/gynecology. We had just discovered that a relationship might exist between the ethnicity of women and infection with one of the two types of sexually transmitted parasites that we study," he continued.

Angie was intrigued right from the start, Dr. Alderete explained, and went straight to the computer to see if such relationships existed. When she isolated the relationship between the symptoms women have and the trichomonosis organism, she was even more excited.

"This was remarkable," Dr. Alderete said, "because, up to this time, no one had been able to find a relationship between the symptoms and trichomonosis. Angie's work will go a long way toward helping us understand this very complex disease."

"What we found to be even more interesting was that African American females were more likely to be infected with Type II and Mexican American females with Type I, although it's unclear why," Angie said.

Palafox, who is Mexican-American, is among a select group of young men and women chosen to receive the Fellowship Program in Academic Medicine for Minority Students. Sponsored by Bristol-Myers-Squibb Co., which recognizes potential for a career in research and academic medicine, the thirty-four 1996 Academic Medicine Fellows were selected from a very competitive applicant pool that included 63 nominees from 46 medical schools across the country.

"I am very proud of Angie for having participated in this program. She was wonderful when she represented our institution at the Bristol-Myers- Squibb Co. gathering and presented her results," Dr. Alderete said. "Angie was, in my opinion, the best presenter of original findings at this meeting."

"The program presented a great opportunity to do research in an area that is important to me -- women and minority health issues," Palafox said. "I met other students participating in the program who were doing some amazing research. I'm proud of my work, but I was surprised that I was included among them."

Each fellowship must be structured to enable the recipient's mentor to guide him or her in both research and career.

"I feel that Angie has been, and is, a great role model for other minority medical students who may want to apply for an academic fellowship and consider academic medicine as a career option," Dr. Alderete concluded.

The Fellowship Program in Academic Medicine fosters mentor relationships between noted biomedical scientists and academically-gifted, under- represented minority students. The ultimate goal of the program is to increase the representation of minorities on faculties of medical schools in the United States.

Contact: Jan Elkins (210) 567-2570