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David Pedersen Completes Summer Scholars Program in Regenerative Medicine

David Pedersen

I discovered The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) during an exploratory visit through my home university -- The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP). At UNCP I am a COMPASS Scholar where I participate in research and training opportunities funded by the National Science Foundation. The rigorous coursework and passionate professors have helped to prepare me for a future in the medical field. After completing a tour of WFIRM, I became incredibly interested in the healing potential of their projects. The physical harm caused by extensive burns or the loss of limbs or organs is itself a tragedy. However, few can grasp the gravity of the far-reaching damages one can suffer emotionally, socially, and financially, as a consequence. I appreciate the resources Wake Forest is investing into healing therapies, and I was honored to be part of the program this past summer. 

The Principal Investigators were Hooman Sadri-Ardekani, MD, PhD (physician-scientist in the field of male reproductive medicine) and Anthony Atala, MD, (Director of WFIRM and a pioneer of modern regenerative medicine).  My project at WFIRM this summer focused on proving the feasibility of transporting human testicular tissue from a battle site or a medical center to central banking at WFIRM. The stability of testicular cells, specifically spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), after transportation and freezing-thawing is the main challenge of the project. Male infertility is a problem worldwide and can wreak havoc on families. Preserving SSCs may provide brighter futures for many boys and men at risk of infertility. This includes, but is not limited to, cancer survivors, injured soldiers, and civilians. 

Nima Zarandi, MD, and Guillermo Galdon, MD, (post-doctoral researchers at WFIRM) were my laboratory mentors with whom I worked daily. I performed a battery of tests to confirm and quantify male reproductive cells. Patients ranged widely in age from pediatric to geriatric. Young boys who are diagnosed with cancer may receive radiation and chemotherapy. While these methods have proved to be successful in attacking cancer cells, they can also destroy SSCs. Therefore, some of the SSC samples we received were from children whose parents had the foresight to protect the future privilege of their sons to have their own children. Other tissues were donated after the patients died (brain dead organ donors). The data we procured will be instrumental in advancing the concept of a central bank where patients’ samples can be received and maintained until the day they need them. 

This fall I have entered my last year at UNCP. After graduation I plan to earn my Master’s degree in physician assistant (PA) studies at a program in North Carolina. In 2014 I became a paramedic and I work in Hoke County for Cape Fear Valley Health System. To gain more experience, I shadow and volunteer at Cape Fear Hospital and The Care Clinic in Fayetteville. As a PA I want to enjoy time at the bedside as well as at the lab bench. My ultimate goal is to combine my clinical skills with the research knowledge gained at WFIRM to provide my patients with preeminent healthcare.

David Pedersen
Above: Nima Pourhabibi Zarandi, MD (standing on the left), and David Pedersen at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine
David Pedersen and researchers at Wake Forest
From left to right: Nima Pourhabibi Zarandi, MD, David Pedersen, Dr. Maria Santisteban (Director of the UNCP COMPASS Program), and Hooman Sadri-Ardekani, MD, PhD, at the 2016 research presentation for Summer Scholars at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine