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Medical student receives prestigious fellowship to research nerve injury

Alpha Omega Alpha National Honor Medical Society honors Alexandra Keane

by Kristina SauerweinJuly 21, 2016

Washington University School of Medicine

Alexandra Keane, who this fall will begin her second year as a medical student at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is one of 50 recipients to receive a $5,000 summer research fellowship from the Alpha Omega Alpha National Honor Medical Society.

The Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship Award supports Keane’s research on neuromuscular junction recovery following peripheral nerve injury, which affects more than 20 million people in the U.S. and can result in weakness, loss of function or paralysis.

“We are proud of Alexandra’s accomplishment and stellar representation of Washington University School of Medicine,” said Alison K. Snyder-Warwick, MD, an assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and director of the Facial Nerve Institute at the university and at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “The results of this research may have important functional benefits for patients recovering from peripheral nerve injuries.”

Keane said her research was inspired by her mentor, Snyder-Warwick, as well as other Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery physicians – including the division’s director, Susan E. Mackinnon, MD, the Sydney M. Shoenberg Jr. and Robert H. Shoenberg Professor of Surgery, who is recognized globally for pioneering techniques to treat peripheral nerve injury.

“After hearing Dr. Mackinnon give a lecture about peripheral nerve injury and surgical repair in an anatomy class, my interest and awe in this field were taken to an entirely different level,” Keane said. “The ultimate goal of the research is to improve patient treatment options and outcomes after devastating peripheral nerve injuries.”

For the fellowship, 90 medical schools submitted nominations. Only one student per school was allowed to apply.

“The competition is rather awesome,” said the School of Medicine’s Morton E. Smith, MD, professor emeritus of ophthalmology and visual sciences, associate dean emeritus and councilor for the university’s Alpha Omega Alpha chapter.

The fellowship allows Keane to spend 10 weeks focused on the research. “I am excited to acquire new laboratory techniques and concepts, and to learn about the fascinating and innovative field of plastic and reconstructive surgery,” she said.

Washington University School of Medicine‘s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth 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