That Fatima Cody Stanford got a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study an odd protein is remarkable for the second-year medical student at the Medical College of Georgia.
The fact that it happened 11 years ago when she was in high school is even more impressive.
She recently managed to top it by being one of only 32 in the country this year to earn a Bristol-Myers Squibb Fellowship Program in Academic Medicine from National Medical Fellowship Inc.
It is the first time a Bristol-Myers Squibb Fellowship has been awarded to an MCG student.
The fellowships typically go to students at universities with more established research reputations, such as Harvard or Yale, and are usually awarded to older students, said Maritza Myers, the senior vice president of the organization.
"We tend not to give it to second-year medical students," she said.
"Students have to be further along in their education to get it. So it's a pretty big deal."
This time, Mrs. Stanford is studying a different approach to repairing ligament tears in growing adolescents or children. It can be difficult to do the traditional repair because it can cross the growth plates at the ends of the leg bones and distort the growth.
"Then you have a child who has a crooked knee," said Dr. LeRoy Fullerton, of Orthopedic Associates of Augusta.
"The bottom line is we don't have a good solution for the adolescent athlete," he said.
Many of the young athletes are put in braces until they get older, but Mrs. Stanford, who was a track star herself in high school, said it can be devastating to lose the ability to compete.
"It's extremely frustrating," she said.
"Say that happens at 13, their growth stops closer to 18, they've lost five really crucial years to making them a stellar athlete."
Mrs. Stanford's idea is to try to bypass the growth plates by attaching a tough piece of connective tissue outside the joint area and hope that it gets blood flowing through it again and can grow with the joint.
She is testing the idea this summer in rabbits and will present her research next March at a competition.
That kind of surgery has been around for many years, although there might not be a lot of comprehensive data on how effective it is, said Jewell Duncan, of Sports Medicine Associates of Augusta. And there are a couple of problems with that approach for children, he said.
"It's going to be hard to generate the data to suggest that that operation done in the short run will do much good for the long haul," Dr. Duncan said.
"No. 2, I think they can be handled conservatively unless my hand is forced. And if my hands were forced, then I would certainly do a process that was (outside the joint) to try to stabilize it.
"But I would tell them that would be a temporary fix," he said.
For Mrs. Stanford, all that matters is the same thrill of discovery she felt as a high school student and the chance to make a difference.
"I like to leave things better than when I started," she said. "I think that's what research does for me."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.
MCG student Fatima Cody Stanford will present her research on repairing young knees at a competition in March.
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