Harrington Pathway Experience

Bianca Islam, MD
Bianca Islam, MD, PhD

Why were you interested in joining the Harrington Physician-Scientist Pathway?

I envision a future where I can use my clinical practice as a gastroenterologist to guide therapies that are at the leading edge of advancements in diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and inflammation-driven colorectal cancer. Being a member of the Harrington Physician-Scientist Pathway provides me with T32 supportive funding during my post-doctoral research phase and access to our institution's nationally recognized CWRU GI SPORE.

What kind of research background did you have before joining the program?

I received both my bachelor's and Masters's of Science in Biological Sciences from Georgia State University studying the influences of biofilm structure and antibiotic resistance mechanisms on indirect pathogenicity in polymicrobial biofilms. Additionally, I studied how knocking out both genes encoding for global transcriptional regulators MvaT and MvaU in P. aeruginosa AO1 led to a reduction in pyocyanin production, altered quorum sensing, and ultimately altered biofilm formation compared to wildtype strains of P. aeruginosa. Later, I obtained my PhD in Biochemistry and Cancer Biology at Augusta University/Medical College of Georgia. Broadly, my PhD research has focused on developing treatment and prevention modalities for inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. I spent my doctoral studies largely focused on understanding intestinal homeostasis and how chronically inflamed intestinal microenvironments promote colon carcinogenesis.

Why did you think the pathway would be a good fit for you? How did it stand out from other programs you were considering?

The Harrington Pathway stood out amongst other programs for the clinical rigor of the internal medicine program, the ability to train at both University Hospital and the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center, and program leadership in both the combined track, IM program, and the GI- subspecialty programs. There is a true sense of camaraderie amongst the training resident physicians and subspeciality fellows which is only matched by the expertise and nationally recognized outstanding medicine and research faculty.

Was there a faculty member you were particularly interested in working with and why?

Before matching to the Harrington Physician-Scientist Pathway, I was particularly drawn to the strong contributions the GI department had to clinical, translational, and basic research in and outside of the established CWRU GI SPORE. Many of the faculty of the GI department are leaders in IBD and are key authors of practice-changing guidelines produced by the American Gastroenterological Association.

How has the program advanced your research career so far?

HPSP has supported me to attend annual AACR Cancer conferences and continues to support my attendance at in-person and virtual Advocacy/Hill Day for increased NIH NCI funding in Washington, DC. It has supported my continued membership in professional societies including AGA and AACR, and access to training resources for licensing examinations. In discussions with more senior Harrington trainees, I anticipate the program to support my academic career development and applications to career development grants and fellowships.

Do you have any advice for medical students who are considering a research pathway for their residency?

I would suggest finding a residency program that highly values research and academic excellence but most importantly finding mentors that serve as model physician-scientists. Chose a place that has a wide variety of expertise in clinical research with premier leaders in the field that might be accessible to you during your training phase. While it is important to choose an institution with an established and strong track record, also recognize that each physician-scientist trainee’s journey is unique and driven by individual goals.