Introducing Blue Ribbon Fellow: Kristina Gemayel

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The Blue Ribbon Foundation, the non-profit behind the documentary Forgotten Plague, has an educational and research agenda. In addition to getting the film in front of as many people in the medical and health profession as possible, one of the primary programs they have created is a student fellowship for medical students to assist in top ME/CFS research labs. The fellowship takes place between the student’s first and second years of medical school, and is partnered with the Wisconsin ME/CFS Association and the Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine at Nova Southeastern University.
According to a study by Leonard Jason of DePaul University, ME/CFS receives significantly less coverage in medical textbooks than diseases of lesser severity. Beyond this, the information is often outdated or inaccurate.  Though this study was completed in 2010, #MEAction’s investigations show that the information made available in medical textbooks and clinician training remains inadequate.
Therefore, in addition to giving students responsibility to handle complex and meaningful research, the fellowship would help fill gaping holes in their medical education.
Here is a Q & A from Kristina Gemayel, who partnered with Kelly Gaunt in a DNA study of ME/CFS patients. They used social media as a recruitment tool to gather genetic information for the future use of genetic studies. Read about Kristina’s experience:
What was your familiarity with ME/CFS prior to the fellowship? Had you learned about it in classes or met anybody with it?
Kristina: Since my background in research was in Allergy and Immunology prior to gaining acceptance into medical school I had heard about ME/CFS and how the etiology was unknown. I also had read about ME/CFS in the literature prior to joining The Institute for Neuro Immune Research at Nova. ME/CFS has been introduced to the medical students through the curriculum briefly, however I would really enjoy more interaction with ME/CFS patients, and I will pursue opportunities in the future to do so.
What was your background prior to medical school?
I attended University of South Florida (USF) for my undergraduate studies where I was awarded a degree in Chemistry with a emphasis in Biochemistry, and I completed a Masters in Medical Sciences from USF before entering medical school. During my time as an undergraduate I helped to cofound Banyan, which was a company that aimed to alleviate some of stresses researchers, scientists and doctors faced when transferring large amounts of data in real-time when collaborating on projects. Banyan won $100,000 in a start-up competition called GIGTANK in June of 2012 judged by a panel of twelve judges which included IBM, and Mozilla. I was also hired at USF Health Children’s Research Institute during my undergraduate years where I applied medical informatics to analyze genes of immunodeficient children.
What is your project about?
The project I am conducting with Kelly Gaunt focuses on creating a genetic database for those patients afflicted with ME/CFS, and then analyzing various genes of ME/CFS patients, compared to the healthy population, to see if there are any trends in mutations. Looking at the genetic component in patients afflicted with ME/CFS will hopefully give us new insight on this debilitating disease, and prompt further research and treatment efforts.
How will it benefit patients? How can patients participate?
This project will benefit patients by gaining insight on genetic components surrounding ME/CFS, which may contribute to this disease process. Patients can participate by filling out an electronic survey and uploading their genetic data to a secure online platform. Genetic data can be obtained through a physician, a genetics lab, or a retailer such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com.
What was your favorite part of the summer research?
My favorite part of this summers research was getting to Dr. Klimas and her staff better. Everyone at The Institute for Neuro Immune Medicine is extremely passionate about what they do, and their patients, which makes for a wonderful environment to work in.
Why did you decide to become a doctor?
Growing up, I looked up to my uncle, whom is an Anesthesiologist, for being competent, intelligent, and kind. I was focused on becoming a physician because I knew I loved helping people, and I wanted to obtain the qualities my uncle had acquired through his medical training. Growing up I realized I had a natural aptitude for Science, Biology and Math, and it seemed as if medicine was the perfect fit. Looking back at my journey to medical school I know I have made the right decision to pursue becoming a physician. It is beyond rewarding, and an honor, to comfort patients while facilitating their return health.
What has been your favorite part of medical school so far?
My favorite part of medical school has been meeting my future colleagues who will be working alongside me in the future. I am extremely thankful to be at an Institution that puts a great emphasis on patient care, and community service. I am continually proud of my peers for the work they do in the community, and for the compassion they treat patients with. It is comforting to know that the future of health care will be filled with physicians whom embody the ethics and morals which medicine was founded on.
What are your career goals? Specialties you’re leaning toward? Types of care? Research, academic, clinical, or all three?
I am unsure as to what specialty I will enter when graduating medical school. We are introduced to so many fascinating fields in medicine that it is often difficult to pick one field over the other. With that being said, I know that in the future I want to include clinical research into whichever specialty I choose. I think as a physician you have the unique opportunity to take care of patients, as well as explore new treatments options that will ultimately have a positive influence on a patient’s life and overall wellbeing.
What do you like to do in your spare time away from school?
Since most of my time is spent in the classroom, library and doing research, I am somewhat limited on spare time. However, I love the outdoors, and living in south Florida allows me the opportunity to dive, fish, and hunt. I also try to make as much time as possible for my family, since without them I would not be the person I am today.
 
If you are interested in becoming a Blue Ribbon Fellow, view the application HERE
The Blue Ribbon Foundation and the Blue Ribbon Fellowship are run entirely from generous donations and grants. To donate to the Blue Ribbon Foundation and support their quest to education the medical field on ME/CFS, click HERE.

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