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Research Participants Find Mentorship and Inspiration to Pursue Career in Medicine

Chance FriesenParticipation in Research Sparks Interest in Medicine

The first time Jansynn Radford and Chance Friesen participated in medical research, they were just a couple of kids in middle school.

Valentina Shakhnovich, MD, Physician-Scientist at Children’s Mercy with the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition and the Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutic Innovation, was looking for volunteers to test two different devices that measured metabolic rate, the rate at which the body burns energy and calories.

Her findings would help with future research on how the body metabolizes, or processes, medications in children of different age and size.

That’s where Jansynn and Chance came in. Both had connections to Children’s Mercy and the Gastroenterology Division. Jansynn’s mom is nurse practitioner Kim Radford; and Chance’s dad is Craig Friesen, MD, Division Director of Gastroenterology. Kim signed up Jansynn and her brother to help out with research, and Dr. Friesen enrolled Chance and his twin, too.

Even though their role in that study only took a day, it made a lasting impression on their young minds. “I remember Dr. Shakhnovich had a medical student with her who was helping with the research,” Jansynn said. “I was already interested in science and medicine, and I thought it was cool to see a medical student in that role.”

Fast Forward …

For many kids, that might have been the end of the story, but not for Jansynn and Chance. Both followed their instincts, pursing their interests in science, and then medicine.

While still working on her undergraduate degree, Jansynn returned to Dr. Shakhnovich’s research team, first as a volunteer, and then as a summer scholar in 2018.

Chance followed in Jansynn’s footsteps, coming on board as a research assistant in June 2019, and staying through spring 2020.

For Jansynn, the experience taught her about the Institutional Review Board requirements to conduct research. Plus, how to collect and analyze relevant patient data, and perform tests in the laboratory. “The coolest thing for me was that I learned how to read MRIs for liver volume and blood flow before I even applied to medical school,” she said.

Chance credits Jansynn with teaching him the ropes. “She showed me how to process blood and urine samples, calculate lean and fat mass in order to dose the patients, keep detailed diet records during the study day, and even measure the participants’ basal metabolic rate using the same technology we tested when we were kids,” Chance said.

Dr. Shakhnovich loved watching Jansynn and Chance get involved in research and “connect the dots,” between science and medicine. She said both were very valuable members of her research team.

“Any task we asked of them, they were game for it,” she said. “Processing urine, spinning blood, learning to pipette, taking a patient to Radiology, getting a video for a patient to watch during the 10-hour study day, playing games with them to help the time pass. They were up for anything and everything, and did it with enthusiasm. That kind of team mentality and work ethic will translate well to any team they work with throughout their medical training and beyond.”

Long-Term Connections

Today, Jansynn and Chance are both first-year medical students—Jansynn with the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, and Chance with the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

Thanks to their long-term involvement with Children’s Mercy and research, they both have gained great experience that will help them as they continue their careers in medicine.

“I texted Tina the other day that we’re talking about the CYP drug metabolizing genes and the liver in medical school,” Jansynn said. “I didn’t understand the technical biochemistry side of the research we were participating in when I was 11, but I do now. It’s been very exciting to make that connection.”

Chance commented on how important it was for him to learn to review scientific literature and present the information in a meaningful and understandable way.

“Presentation skills are extremely important in medicine,” he said. “I get really nervous when I have to talk in front of a group. I had to give a presentation to the GI Division last year, and Tina helped me through it, making sure I was telling a story with our data that was easy to follow and comprehend.”

Those are examples of the kinds of skills and lessons they’re both thankful to have been able to learn from Dr. Shakhnovich and Children’s Mercy.

“Tina is incredible. I know that for every interview I had for medical school, I talked about her,” Jansynn said. “She can do anything and is an inspiration as a woman in medicine who is doing really big things!”

Chance admires Dr. Shakhnovich’s determination. “If a problem comes up, she just drives through it. I really don’t know how she does it all.”

Jansynn and Chance are still exploring the different possibilities a medical career has to offer, but they’re both interested in pediatrics, and Dr. Shakhnovich thinks they’ll be wonderful additions to the profession.

“Jansynn and Chance both relate well to children. They have a natural curiosity and a thirst for knowledge,” Dr. Shakhnonvich said. “That’s what will make them exceptional physicians who will go above and beyond for their patients to provide the best care.”

“At the end of the day, not everyone is going to be a researcher, but I think the integration of research and clinical practice is dependent on current and future medical care providers understanding what science can and cannot do,” Dr. Shakhnovich said.

“In clinical practice, it’s important for prescribers to question whether they’ve picked the right drug at the right dose for the right patient. Understanding these concepts and how they apply to everyday clinical care is an extremely important part of providing individualized medical care to patients.”

Through their work with Dr. Shakhnovich and her team, Jansynn and Chance both have had the opportunity to become published authors in science and medicine. In their most recent publication, Chance took the lead on writing a commentary about the critical need for developing medications to treat fatty liver disease in children.:

  • Friesen CS, Chan SS, Wagner JB, Hosey-Cojocari C, Csanaky IL, Shakhnovich V. Critical need for pharmacologic treatment options in NAFLD: A pediatric perspective. Clin Transl Sci. 2021 Jan;00:1-3. https://ascpt.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cts.12952/.

Chance and Jansynn are also co-authors on two abstracts that will soon be published and presented virtually at the 2021 American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (ASCPT) Annual Meeting in March. They are:

  • Shakhnovich V, Abdel-Rahman S, Chan SS, Mardis N, Pearce R, Williams V, Friesen CS, Radford J, Leeder JS. Hepatic adiposity is associated with decreased pantoprazole clearance in-vivo. Winner top poster ribbon award.
  • Hosey-Cojocary CM, Friesen CS, Chan SS, Robinson A, Williams V. Swanson E, O’Toole D, Radford J, Mardis N, Johnson T, Leeder JS, Shakhnovich V. Anthropometric estimators of liver volume in normal-weight, overweight, and obese children.



About Us

Children’s Mercy Kansas City is an independent, non-profit, 390-bed pediatric health system, providing over half a million patient encounters each year for children from across the country. Children’s Mercy is ranked by U.S. News & World Report in all ten specialties. We have received Magnet® recognition five times for excellence in nursing services. In affiliation with the University of Missouri-Kansas City, our faculty of nearly 800 pediatric specialists and researchers is actively involved in clinical care, pediatric research and educating the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists. The Children’s Mercy Research Institute (CMRI) integrates research and clinical care with nationally recognized expertise in genomic medicine, precision therapeutics, population health, health care innovation and emerging infections. In 2021 the CMRI moved into a nine-story, 375,000-square-foot space emphasizing a translational approach to research in which clinicians and researchers work together to accelerate the pace of discovery that enhances care.