Ann Arbor, MI — May 21, 2015 — A third-year University of Michigan dental student is the only dental student among 54 students nationwide who has been selected to participate in a prestigious research program at the National Institutes of Health.
Tarek Metwally will participate in NIH’s comprehensive year-long Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP). The research enrichment program, which begins in August, is designed to attract the most creative and research-oriented medical, dental and veterinary students to the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The others selected are all medical students.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to get involved in exciting science, some novel research, and interact with other students from around the country,” he said. “This wouldn’t have happened without the encouragement of Dr. Nisha D’Silva and others in her lab.” D’Silva is a professor in the Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine and an associate professor of pathology at the Medical School.
Encouragement from the D’Silva Lab
As a student working for his bachelor’s degree in biology at U-M, Metwally said he investigated possible research opportunities through the university’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. But when a friend mentioned the head and neck cancer research D’Silva and members of her team were conducting, “that caught my attention, so I followed up.”
Metwally said D’Silva’s invitation asking him to join her research team “was one of the best things that has happened to me. The research is very interesting, the work is collaborative, and the people working in her lab are great colleagues. It’s the best of all worlds.”
One person in D’Silva’s lab was Robert Vander Broek who participated in the MRSP from 2012-2013 before earning his dental degree in 2014. “Rob said he really enjoyed the year he was at NIH and encouraged me to apply.”
Metwally applied in January and was one of about 100 individuals invited to Bethesda for interviews in March. Before leaving for Maryland, Metwally participated in a mock interview with D’Silva and Dr. Charlotte Mistretta, a professor of dentistry in the Department of Biologic and Materials Sciences and past director of the school’s Oral Health Sciences PhD Program.
“The interview was pretty thorough,” he said with a smile. “I learned a lot. It helped me focus on important points I wanted to make. I felt more prepared.”
Delaying Graduation, Future Plans
Metwally said he does have some regrets about delaying his graduation for a year to participate in the NIH program. “But this is a great opportunity that may help me with my decision to pursue a career in academic dentistry after I graduate in 2018.” Metwally, who said he is considering pursuing a PhD after earning his dental degree, said he wants to participate in more basic research at NIH and also begin exploring areas of clinical research.
If it comes to a career in academic dentistry, it will be a first for Metwally’s family. His father, Nabil, is a physician in Dearborn, Michigan. Two brothers are residents in internal medicine, Sherif, at Ohio State University in Columbus, and Omar, at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco.
MRSP blends elements of two former highly successful programs, the NIH Clinical Research Training Program and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute/NIH Research Scholars Program.
U-M dental students who participated in past MRSP programs include Karen Likar (DDS 2006) in 2005-2006, Jane Stieber (DDS 2011) in 2009-2010, and Vander Broek (DDS 2014) in 2012-2013.