Solid research and strong mentoring help medical student publish as first author

A foundation in knowledge and a positive mentor helped second-year medical student James A. Mauro publish his research as first author in the Feb. 25 issue of the journal Gene.

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James Mauro presented his research at this year’s USF Health Research Day.

The research article, which is Mauro’s first first-author publication, provides a new understanding for how transcription factors (proteins that bind to a gene and flag it to be expressed) work. They allow cells to act in a certain way, and larger genes have more transcription factor binding sites and are, therefore, more sensitive to stimulation than smaller genes. The finding could aid in new disease treatments, including those for cancer, Mauro said.

“Increasing levels of pro-proliferative transcription factors would normally be thought to make a cancer worse, but according to our research, it may actually kill it,” he said.

Mauro’s faculty mentor, and the senior author on the study, is George Blanck, PhD, professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

“James’ project is solid bioinformatics and genomics work,” Dr. Blanck said. “He has the great combination of knowledge of science and knowledge of code writing. If he hadn’t been able to write the (computer) code to break down the data, the results would never have surfaced.”

Mauro, who has an undergraduate degree in biotechnology and a master’s degree in medical sciences, is also vice president of information technology for the Medical Student Council in the Morsani College of Medicine. The significance of being first author while in medical school is not lost on Mauro.

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“I put a lot of hard work into it and it feels very worthwhile to finally see it published,” Mauro said. “It’s also a little scary, too. Typing my name into PubMed or Google now comes up with my paper, but I’m proud to see it there.”

The experience also shows the impact a positive mentoring relationship can have for medical students.

“Working with Dr. Blanck was absolutely great,” Mauro said. “From day one, he was a pleasure to work with and supported me 100 percent of the time. Even when things would go wrong, as they often do in research, he always helped me to stay on track. We would often discuss the results or what new direction to go towards and Dr. Blanck always made sure to give my ideas and opinions equal weight to his own, which was important since it allowed me to take my project in different directions and truly allowed me to make it my own. Most importantly, to do research, and actually enjoy it, you need to find more than just someone willing to take you on, you need a mentor, someone who you can learn from, and also someone who can learn from you.”

The article can be found in the journal Gene, Volume 536, Issue 2, 25 February 2014, Pages 398–406. (link to article)