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Medical student receives fellowship to study skin microbiome, diseases

Alpha Omega Alpha National Honor Medical Society recognizes Ahmad

by Kristina SauerweinFebruary 17, 2021

Courtesy of Faisal Ahmad

Faisal Ahmad, a second-year medical student at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is one of 55 recipients of a $5,000 summer research fellowship from the Alpha Omega Alpha National Honor Medical Society.

The Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship Award supports Ahmad’s research on the relationship between the skin microbiome and dermatological conditions such as eczema and acne. Ahmad uses computational and statistical analysis to decipher genetic information about how diseases and therapeutics affect skin bacterial communities. Ultimately, the findings may contribute to developing precision medicine to heal skin diseases.

Ahmad has been working under the mentorship of William H. McCoy IV, MD, PhD, research instructor in medicine in the Division of Dermatology. His research focus is microbial communities on the skin, with the aim of developing nonantibiotic treatments for common conditions such as acne. This is important because infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs can be hard or impossible to treat.

“Faisal is a phenomenal trainee to have in a research group,” McCoy said. “He elevates the work of everyone around him, including his mentor, to a higher level through his inquisitiveness, consummate professionalism and relentless work ethic. I believe his research will significantly impact the care of patients with skin diseases, ranging from life-threatening Staphylococcus aureus infections to pimples that plague nearly every teenager.”

The fellowship allows Ahmad to spend 10 weeks focusing on his research.

“I am grateful to Dr. McCoy for his remarkable mentorship and exposing me to the leading edge of microbial research,” Ahmad said. “I found it especially rewarding to use principles I learned in the classroom and apply them to work I did in the laboratory. This complements my desire to become a physician-scientist who can contribute to advances in medical research, which will result in my future patients living healthier and more fulfilling lives.”

Only one student per school is allowed to apply to the fellowship each year. Nominations were submitted by 67 medical schools.

“This is an ambitious fellowship because of the intense competition,” said the School of Medicine’s Allyson R. Zazulia, MD, a professor of neurology and of radiology, associate dean for continuing medical education, and councilor for the university’s Alpha Omega Alpha chapter. “We are excited for Faisal.”

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, ranking among the top 10 medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Kristina covers pediatrics, surgery, medical education and student life. In 2020, she received a gold Robert G. Fenley Writing Award for general staff writing from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and in 2019, she received the silver award. Kristina is an author and former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Los Angeles Times, where she was part of a team of journalists that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for breaking news. Additionally, she covered the 2014 Ferguson unrest for TIME magazine and, for eight years, wrote a popular parenting column for