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Double doctorate no match for LoBianco

A Lyon College education prepares students for the rigors of graduate school, even the long road to a double M.D.- Ph.D.

Francesca LoBianco, ‘15, said she was drawn to the physician-scientist program because it combines her passions for research and helping patients.

“When I was in a lab doing research for my master’s program, I missed the experience of interacting with other people,” she said, “so I thought ‘Okay. I’ll go to med school. I’ll try that.’ ”

“In med school, I realized that I missed the research—delving deep into and critically thinking about the material.”

The physician-scientist path seemed perfect, LoBianco said, because she could obtain her M.D. and Ph.D. at the same time. However, the program also meant eight years of graduate school.

Fortunately, Lyon prepared her for the challenge.

“Throughout my master’s program, the courses were not anymore difficult than a Lyon course,” LoBianco said. “I felt comfortable and like I could easily manage the course load and my research load, too.”

Lyon taught her skills in analysis and critical thinking that helped her obtain an M.S. in interdisciplinary biomedical science, she said, and finish her thesis project in two years.

LoBianco said Lyon also imbued her with a volunteer spirit that she has carried on in medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

“I’m constantly volunteering at the UAMS student clinic. I saw three patients last night, and it was great.”

LoBianco is even serving as the president of the American Physician Scientists Association (APSA) chapter at UAMS. She said the organization is vital because meeting other physician-scientists helped her realize the program was something she wanted to do and not just more school.

“Our meetings are about inspiring our M.D.- Ph.D. students because it’s such a long, difficult road,” she said. “It’s easy to forget your end goal when you’re bogged down in grad school with experiments not working.”

She has conducted research at the University of Illinois with Dr. Ron Gaba, sponsored by the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR) Foundation. She is also conducting research at UAMS with her primary advisor Dr. Nukhet Aykin-Burns through the College of Pharmacy Division of Radiation Health.

Her research has explored radiation-induced liver diseases and how to prevent damage to healthy tissues when patients receive radiation therapy for cancer treatments.

“We cure your cancer, but then we hit a lot of normal tissue on the way, especially in the liver,” LoBianco said. “So we cured your cancer, but now you have fibrosis and liver sclerosis.”

“A lot of my research is focused on developing and classifying animal models for radiation-induced liver disease so we can work on therapeutic methods to relieve the damage to normal tissue.” 

She will be presenting on her research experience at colleges this fall, potentially including Lyon.

“It would be awesome to present at Lyon,” LoBianco said. “There are a lot of great research opportunities I had absolutely no idea about as a student. I didn’t know about the M.D.-Ph.D program.”

Lyon produces excellent students who succeed in all sorts of things, LoBianco said, and she is excited to pay her own experience forward.

“Lyon really helped me realize my ability to connect to the community around me and succeed in school.”