Research Spotlight: Cailee Dean, inaugural OMM Research Fellow

What drew you to Campbell?
The people.
Everything I heard during Interview Day.  At lunchtime, we had the opportunity to eat with some of the current students, and I asked them, ‘Every single thing I’ve heard so far has all been positive – is there something negative you could come up with?’ and they couldn’t come up with anything.  That seems kind of ridiculous, but the worst thing they could come up with was, if you don’t want to take an extra course, maybe don’t consider a DO school because you have to do OMM.  But, that was a big draw not a negative for me – I knew I wanted to be a DO and use OMM!  Not to mention, all of the students I met just seemed so happy and approachable. 

Also, the three people who interviewed me, I had really good conversations with each one of them, and they all three were really different conversations. 

The location.
I’m from a rural area in western Massachusetts and this was a rural program.  I want to serve the underserved, which fit well with what I had hoped to be able to do one day. 

 Why DO v. MD?
My aunt is a practicing DO and part of my pre-med program was very adamant about introducing us to MD and DO programs.  We had several guest speakers, and one DO from UMass Memorial shared a story about a colleague who identified exactly where one suture was wrong inside the abdomen on a patient who was having tons of issues and pain post-op.  The DO worked with the surgeon to identify a suture that was out of place and with it’s removal, her pain was gone. 

It seemed crazy, but hearing how the DO was able to use this extra skill to help a patient, that’s what I wanted for my career.  I tell this to the 1st and 2nd years in lab all the time, it’s so powerful that you can go into a patient encounter and offer something to make somebody feel better – even if its temporary – using only your hands.  

 Did you know you were interested in doing a gap? 

I wanted to be an OMM TA to have extra OMM practice and more hands-on experience as well as more time with the faculty to get an idea of each of their different approaches to OMT.  Unfortunately, due to COVID protocols, TAs were not assisting with lab; we had Friday sessions where we reviewed papers or specific topics.  I tried to get as much out of it as I could, but it also was difficult because there is no true replacement for hand-over-hand teaching.  Also due to COVID, we had a single partner for a year and no conferences where we would typically get more hands-on training and experience. 

I continued to express interest with the OMM Department faculty about more OMM training, and after a couple months passed, I got an email about the new fellowship opportunity.  I read the program description and thought, ‘Wow, this experience would fit really well with my coaching at Mount Holyoke College before I came to Med school.  It would be combining different experiences in the past…I need to try’. 

Also, I’ve always wanted to do a research project, but I’ve never really had the opportunity to take something from the very start in the planning process to results in publishing a paper – as a fellow, I will get this experience. 

And, I am getting tons of OMM practice with Dr. Motyka, so it is everything I have wanted but never have quite been able to do. 

student and professor adjust motion capture cameras

As the first fellow, what were you envisioning the experience to be like and how is that playing out?
I think I was kind of shocked when I was selected.  And to be the first, I cannot believe I’m here!  I can’t believe I’m doing this. 

I want the fellowship to continue and be sustainable.  I want to do my best to set the fellowship up and make it easier for the fellows going forward.  We worked through some kinks – the initial paperwork, building access, and just the transition from student to staff and back to student. I think now that I’ve done it once and worked through those things it will go smoothly.  That’s something I considered going into it – can I deal with that potential headache? And, I decided it was definitely worth it – 100%! 

What projects are you involved in and what is your role?
There are multiple projects with the overall goal to perform more research into the mechanism behind prolotherapy. Prolotherapy involves injections of dextrose into and around an injured joint resulting in clinical findings of decreased pain and increased stability. Although it has promising clinical outcomes, the limited published evidence of the mechanism continues to be a challenge. Currently, this treatment is not covered by insurance. We hope to change that through these and future research projects.

Cell Research
With Dr. Hinkelman, I am investigating prolotherapy at the cellular level. To do this, we have grown a few different fibroblast cells lines. Fibroblasts are heavily involved in the repair process and help to coordinate the function of surrounding cells by a variety of secreted factors. To understand how these cells respond to prolotherapy and mimic the dispersion of the injection, we expose them to different concentrations of the prolotherapy solution for a variety of time points. After the fibroblasts are exposed to the solutions, we perform assays to characterize the change in expression and/or viability of the cells. This data provides insight into the signaling mechanism of prolotherapy and will help inform future studies of other cell lines.

Animal Research
With Doctor Foster, I am working on a rat-based research model. This study involves surgically inducing osteoarthritis in rat hind limbs – specifically in their knee joint – which will then be treated with prolotherapy. In this model, we plan to investigate the mechanism of prolotherapy by studying changes in gait and ultimately through visualization of the joint itself. We hope that by establishing the efficacy of prolotherapy in an animal models, it will provide support for future human studies and help gain insurance coverage.

Motion Capture Human Research
With Doctor Motyka, I’m working on a markerless motion capture research IRB proposal. We are investigating how traditional methods of documenting range of motion (ROM) compare with this novel markerless motion capture system. Traditional motion capture systems are used in a fixed location and require trained professionals to place markers on the subject. This new Optitrack system with Theia3D software is free of both those constraints. Our first step is to learn the system by establishing a comparison to traditional ROM methods. Then, the possibilities are endless! From epidemiologic ROM studies to osteopathic manipulations, it’s really exciting what this system can tell us if we ask the right questions.

My favorite tenant of osteopathic medicine is the body is a unit.  I appreciate how it reminds me to look at the complete picture in front of me, and I think it’s even reflected in the way these projects have come together.  We have all three aspects of research happening –  from the cellular level all the way to the potential patient impact level.  

Impact of COVID-19 on Research:
We have definitely felt the impact of COVID even in the lab; something as simple as pipettes.

We never thought getting them would be an issue, but we put in an order in May and were still receiving items in November!  Typically, you order something in the lab, and it comes two or three days later. 

So it’s it’s been an interesting time to be working in research when the supply for basic things in the lab is not readily available. We’ve been creative, and so far, we’ve done pretty well with everything.  We’ve learned to plan ahead!

What’s next for you after the fellowship?
I will begin my third year rotations in July in Goldsboro – picking up my plans where I left off last June.

Learn more about research at Campbell Medicine:

Learn more about the $1.1 million gift that launched the OMM Research Fellow position and current projects: