WASHINGTON, Pa. (December 30, 2013)—Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) senior Morgan Morelli, a chemistry major and economics minor from Wintersville, Ohio, was one of five recipients in North America of the Lupus Foundation of America’s Gina M. Finzi Memorial Student Summer Fellowship program, designed to foster interest in a career in lupus research.
Morelli has been accepted to Temple University School of Medicine. Her research is featured in the current issue of Lupus Now Magazine.
A graduate of Steubenville Central Catholic High School, Morelli interned this last summer at the Asthma, Allergy, and Autoimmunity Institute (AAAI) at the Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, where she researched the effects of a platelet-bound complement protein C4d (PC4d) on blood clotting, or thrombosis, in patients with lupus.
“To be accepted into this program, particularly with how competitive pre-health summer programs are, especially those that are paid, is a big deal and quite an accomplishment,” said Jennifer Logan, Ph.D., associate professor chemistry at W&J. “We are very proud of Morgan.”
Morelli’s responsibilities at AAAI included examining the effect of complement protein C4d on the platelets of female lupus patients. She tested blood samples from lupus patients and healthy controls in a specialized machine that photographs blood flow and clot formation. This data was compared with carotid artery ultrasounds to see if there was an association between platelet-C4d presence and hardening of the arteries.
“I was very excited to learn that I received the Gina Finzi award. It gave me the opportunity to work with nationally-recognized researchers and physicians in the field of lupus. This experience has prepared me and helped me as I apply to medical school and look ahead to the future,” Morelli said.
Logan explained that the hypothesis is that PC4d, which is only observed in a subset of patients with lupus and is not observed in healthy controls, affects platelet function and contributes to the high rates of cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease seen in patients with lupus.
As part of this work, Morelli used a VenaFlux platform, a piece of equipment that allowed her to visualize, image, and quantify clot formation in real time. She was able to observe different clotting patterns in lupus patients with PC4d, lupus patients without PC4d, and healthy control subjects.
The Gina M. Finzi Memorial Student Summer Fellowship Program is a tribute to Gina M. Finzi, the late daughter of the Foundation’s former President Sergio Finzi, Ph.D. The recipients were selected through a rigorous review process. Since 1984, the fellowship program has supported the work of nearly 200 young investigators.
Recipients of this one-of-a-kind valued fellowship program have produced numerous publications in respected peer-reviewed journals, gone on to earn M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, and have become medical practitioners and academic researchers.
“The Lupus Foundation of America is thrilled to welcome the 2013 grantees into the Gina M. Finzi Memorial Student Fellowship Program,” said Graciela S. Alarcón, M.D., M.P.H., Emeritus Jane Knight Lowe Chair of Medicine, University of Alabama, Birmingham, and member of the Foundation’s Medical-Scientific Advisory Council. “Through this program, we are able to foster an interest in lupus research among the next generation of young scientists that may not have happened without our support. Our hope is that these efforts, made possible through the fellowship program, advance our understanding of this complex disease, and potentially even lead to the next breakthrough in lupus research.”
The Medical Scholars Program at Temple University provides an opportunity for exceptionally qualified high school seniors to gain a provisional acceptance to the School of Medicine upon completion of their undergraduate degree. Temple University School of Medicine offers this combined degree with three undergraduate institutions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: W&J, Duquesne University and Widener University in Chester.