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School of Medicine Greenville

M1 Natasha Topoluk Wins Neuroimaging Award

GREENVILLE, S.C. (March 2, 2017)—Despite being about the size of a single pea, the pituitary gland has produced a breadth of research opportunities for USC School of Medicine Greenville first-year medical student Natasha Topoluk, recent winner of the 2017 American Society of Neuroimaging Oldendorf Award for her abstract, Clinical Correlations of Vector of Neoplastic Spread in Patients with Pituitary Adenomas.

As a bioengineering master’s and Ph.D. student at Clemson University, she started working with Greenville Health System (GHS) neurosurgeons, observing surgeries and collaborating on research endeavors. Topoluk became an “ideas generator,” according to GHS neurosurgeon Michael Lynn, M.D., as she began to gather data and conduct analyses about patient outcomes and pituitary tumor surgeries. Instead of technical surgical data, the research team took a quality-of-life approach to their study, ultimately developing an algorithm that would advise surgeons on patient outcomes for pituitary tumor removal and predict surgery success.

“That really was the niche that we found with the pituitary adenoma project—there are almost no studies out there right now that focus on patient quality-of-life measures,” said Topoluk. “Everything focuses on perioperative data. The neurosurgeons, and I would say GHS in general, are very patient outcome-focused. They want to make sure that what they’re doing is in the best interest of the patients.”

As Topoluk and the neurosurgical research team continued to collect data, they realized the need to pull in experts from other departments, ultimately creating an interdisciplinary team that included pathology, endocrinology, radiology and critical care neurology.

“We can collect data points about different endocrine disorders and conditions, but to be able to understand how valid our data set is and how meaningful those data points are in the context of current care standards, we needed to consult an endocrinologist,” she said. “And it’s that same type of effect with everyone that became involved in the project.”

Since starting this pituitary adenoma research, she has presented one domestic and three international posters, in addition to giving two domestic oral presentations. And, per Dr. Lynn, winning recognition like the Oldendorf Award in one’s first year of medical school is remarkable.

“Natasha Topoluk has established herself as a strong advocate for patient-oriented outcomes research,” said Dr. Lynn.

Now in her first year at the USC School of Medicine Greenville, Topoluk is able to continue her research with the neurosurgeons at GHS, given the medical school’s location on GHS’ main campus.

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