5th Semester Student Named ASCP '40 Under 40'
Fifth semester student Constantine "Aki" Kanakis has been named one of the American Society for Clinical Pathology's (ASCP) 40 Under 40.
The honor recognizes 40 high-achieving pathologists, pathology residents, and laboratory professionals under the age of 40 who have made significant contributions to the field. Five of the 40 honorees will be recognized during an awards luncheon at ASCP’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL on September 6-8, 2017.
Aki earned his bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and bioethics from Loyola University in Chicago and a master’s degree in medical laboratory science from Rush University. His undergraduate and graduate research focused on neurology of nematodes, enzymatic plant assays, social justice and urban planning, microbiological lab equipment development, and novel biochemical hematopoietic interventions. For nine years, he also worked outside of the lab in some of Chicago’s busiest hospitals.
Aki’s interests in clinical care, research, and social health convinced the 30-year old to pursue a career in laboratory medicine and pathology—the branch of medicine concerned with the causes, origins, and natures of disease. In September 2015, Aki made the decision to leave the blustery winds of Chicago for the trade winds of St. Maarten, where he enrolled at AUC.
Aki’s scientific curiosity and passion for public health have steadily grown while in medical school. He actively participates in Community Action Day, co-presided over the university’s American Medical Student Association (AMSA), and currently participates in a mosquito research and prevention initiative with the St. Maarten Ministry of Public Health, Social Development, and Labor.
Zika Virus Brings Timely Research Opportunities
Aki moved to St. Maarten just as the Zika virus outbreak was grabbing headlines in 2015. Rather than worrying about the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the pathologist-in-training considered the timing a “great opportunity to explore translational research and its direct impact on a local community.” So, into his second year at AUC, Aki approached Dr. Golden Jackson, Assistant Dean for Service-Learning and Community Affairs, with the idea for a service-learning project on Zika prevention and public education. With Dr. Jackson’s full endorsement and support, Aki’s project took off and is now a service-learning course open to second, third, and fourth semester students. The group of 15 affectionately refer to themselves as “Z-PACK.”
The Zika prevention project has also garnered the support of numerous government agencies, community partners, and student-led organizations at AUC. Toward the end of 2016, both the Ministry of Health’s Collective Prevention Services and the Sint Maarten Red Cross became involved and Z-PACK has recently joined forces with Healthy Me, a church-sponsored health education program for school-aged children, the Sint Maarten Red Cross, and the St. Maarten Islamic Center among others.
With the help of local partners, Aki and Z-PACK have been able to reach St. Maarten communities most affected by mosquito-borne diseases. Over a short span of time, they have participated in town hall meetings, volunteered at local health fairs, presented age-appropriate information to local schools, and gone door to door inspecting neighborhoods for potential mosquito breeding grounds.
>> Z-PACK Talks Mosquito Risk Reduction at Lion’s Health Fair and St. Maarten Islamic Center
“I couldn’t be more proud of the work my team has done to show the community that AUC medical students represent the very best ASCP qualities of advocacy, partnership, and outreach through science and education,” he said.
In addition to his service-learning project, Aki is back in the lab, working with AUC colleagues on Zika seroprevalence research. Under the guidance of Dr. Kathleen Shupe, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, he is doing immunological lab testing targeting IgM ang IgG seroprevalence of Zika virus. More than 200 blood samples have been collected throughout the AUC campus community alone and students are rescreening specimens collected back in 2014 for traces of Zika.
In February, Aki received AUC’s Social Accountability Scholarship Award for his work with Z-PACK and his leadership building community support for the Zika prevention project.
Recognition by ASCP as '40 Under 40'
For Aki, the “40 Under 40” honor from ASCP is both humbling and reassuring.
“Being recognized by the ASCP, an organization I have contributed to for several years, really validates my efforts as a laboratory professional and now a physician in training,” he said. “It’s also exciting to have AUC represented in this spotlight of national leaders in the field of medicine. AUC and ASCP both have high standards of training and promoting clinicians who engage their colleagues, advocate for patients, and contribute to the future of the medical profession.”
Aki also names Dr. Golden Jackson, Dr. Kathleen Shupe, Dr. Mohamed Aziz, Associate Professor of Pathology, and Dr. Cecil Cone II, Chair and Professor of Pathology as significant contributors to his success.
“I owe them a great deal of thanks,” he said. “They have been integral in encouraging and mentoring me along my way towards the field of pathology.”