Population Health

May 6, 2020

Awardees announced for 2020 undergraduate research recognition awards

Students present their work at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in Mary Gates HallThe Population Health Initiative today announced the award of Population Health Recognition Awards to 10 students participating in the Undergraduate Research Symposium for their innovative and well-presented population health research work.

This award was created in partnership with the Undergraduate Research Program and was open to students from all three campuses who are presenting at the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, May 15.

More than 75 applications were received for this award. The 10 awardees, their majors, and their projects are:

Abby Snyder (Industrial Engineering), Route Visualization for Efficient Vaccine Distribution in Mozambique

My research seeks to make it easier to distribute vaccines to health centers in rural Mozambique. With the help of Python and an API route service called OpenRouteService, I have written code that takes latitudes and longitudes of health centers and outputs a map of the health centers and a matrix of the distances between all of the health centers.

My code and outputs will be used by a graduate student’s interactive optimization tool to create optimal routes for delivery of vaccines and other medical supplies to health centers based on distances and available vehicles. The interactive tool will provide optimal routes that could save the distributors travel time and get the vaccines quickly to those in need, thereby improving the health and lives of the community. My Python code provides a visual map of the optimal routes, facilitating the acceptance and execution of the recommended distribution plan.

The research I have been doing directly aligns with the Population Health Initiative’s goal of creating a world where all people can live healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Alexis Michelle Florence (Psychology), Prevalence of Safe Sleep Behaviors and Factors Associated with Infant Second Sleep Locations

Infant safe sleep is integral to population health as sleep-related death is a leading cause of infant death nationally. Infant mortality rates are commonly used as a measure of population health since it showcases the availability of quality health care in a community. Nationally, rates of infant sleep-related death have not significantly decreased in the past decade. In order to reduce infant sleep-related deaths, the American Academy of Pediatrics has created resources to educate families on infant safe sleep behaviors. The most recent safe sleep guidelines recommend that parents place their infant: supine sleep position, alone and on a firm surface to minimize sleep-related deaths.

The research I submitted for the symposium addresses an important issue related to infant safe sleep, namely second sleep locations. Infants commonly wake up after initial sleep onset, therefore second sleep locations after a nighttime waking may add another risk factor to the likelihood of infant sleep-related death. We found that less than 10% of parents we surveyed reported using all three safe sleep behaviors at the start of the night and at the infant’s second sleep location. This knowledge brings awareness to the prevalence of unsafe sleep behaviors used by parents during the night, impacting the stable rates of infant mortality. Addressing this gap in our population health care could have a positive impact on decreasing infant mortality rates and increasing population health for the long term.

Britney Michelle Ellisor (Biochemistry), Resilience, Distress, and Psychosocial Comorbidities in Adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes: Exploring Associations with Glycemic Control

Our research has identified a group of individuals, adolescents between the ages of 10-17, who are at risk of developing poor physical and psychosocial outcomes following their diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. Specifically, we have determined that a crucial period that will influence the patient’s projected physical and psychosocial outcomes occurs within the first year of their diagnosis.

Understanding this, we can preemptively work with patients and physicians to introduce targeted psychosocial interventions with the goal of boosting resilience and decreasing diabetes-related distress within the first year. By doing this we can improve long term outcomes and reduce health concerns that are common within this specific patient population.

This relates to the theme of population health by its very definition, as we have a goal of improving health outcomes in this specific patient group. By detecting patients who are at a higher risk early, we can help reduce patients’ diabetes-related burden and help provide the opportunity for adolescents to develop healthier and more fulfilling lifestyles.

Hua-Shiuan Hsieh (Biochemistry), Ferrate Synthesis and Application of Ferrate in Wastewater Treatment

Wastewater treatment has been a major issue in undeveloped countries. Many of those countries don’t have well-furnished water filter system to treat wastewater. This issue has caused them not having clean water for drinking or daily uses. In particular, sewage water contains many bacterias and pathogens that bring diseases to humans.

To resolve this issue, Ferrate has been considered one of the safest and most eco-friendly chemicals to treat wastewater. In this research, it studies the chemical structure/stability of ferrate as well as developing an efficient way to synthesize ferrate. Being able to synthesize ferrate on a larger scale, it can be used to treat wastewater efficiently. Ferrate can be transported easily to low- resources countries to treat wastewater. I believe that having clean water resources for people will potentially benefit population health.

Lucas Bjorkheim (Pre-Major), What Stands in the Way of Physical Activity?

My current research focuses on barriers to physical activity (PA) engagement among rural women. I am doing a thematic analysis of the physical activity (PA) barriers that these middle-aged women identify in response to a direct question addressing this issue. Through my research, I have found that these women have many barriers that stand in the way of their participating in physical activities. The physical health barriers are both acute and chronic health problems and examples of these conditions include back pain, fibromyalgia and arthritis.

These health problems have been indicated as barriers for these women, and directly relate to population health – more specifically, human health and the factors that influence health and wellness. My current research directly relates to the human health pillar of the Population Health initiative.

In my research, I evaluate the factors that are limiting these women’s activity and leading to obesity among other health issues. I am able to directly speak for this community by looking at some of the physical factors that stand in the way of older rural women leading healthy lives. My research can help to see the factors that relate to low physical activity, as well as seeing the connection to chronic disease outcome. Seeing these factors will help improve population health by helping the public understand how chronic health conditions can lead to less preventive care behaviors like physical activity which is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Pallas Burhen (Biochemistry), Evaluating Antiretroviral Drug Resistance in HIV-2 Group B

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) remains on the forefront of research due to the ongoing global epidemic. HIV is comprised of two genetically different types, HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-2 is inherently resistant to some classes of antiretroviral drugs, and many HIV-2 patients develop drug resistance to first-line and subsequent regimens. HIV-2 can further be divided into two distinct genetic groups: A and B. While both are endemic to West Africa, group A accounts for the majority of infections and remains the most studied of the two groups. In-depth knowledge of drug resistance in HIV-2 group B is lacking, as only a few patients with drug-resistant virus are described in literature and there have been no systematic efforts to characterize the drug resistance patterns of HIV-2 group B isolates in cell culture.

My project goal is to build drug resistance mutations, documented in literature, for HIV-2 group A into a full-length HIV-2 group B infectious molecular clone. Those results will be used to compare the relative drug resistance conferred by those mutations to phenotypes observed for equivalent mutants of HIV-2 group A. Inhibitors targeting reverse transcriptase, protease and integrase of HIV-2 will be evaluated. The resultant drug resistance profiles will be compared to those found in published datasets for HIV-2 group A to determine how HIV-2 group A and group B mutants differ in terms of the magnitude and/or scope of drug resistance. These data are essential for developing evidence-based treatment guidelines for HIV-2–infected patients that harbor drug-resistant group B strains.

Robbie Nixon (Biology), A New Method for Genotypic Drug Resistance Testing in HIV-2 from Dried Blood Spots

HIV-2 is endemic in resource-limited West Africa, with 1-2 million cases, but has achieved limited spread in the developed world. As a result, few resources and little effort is devoted to developing HIV-2 diagnosis, treatment, and drug resistance testing capacity. Underfunded national AIDS programs in West Africa are forced to pick first-line HIV-2 treatment regimens based in large part on what is stocked for second-line HIV-1 treatment, and the lack of HIV-2 drug resistance testing virtually assures that second-line therapy is a gamble, at best.

Our study, developing and validating a dried blood spot (DBS)-based approach to HIV-2 drug resistance testing, addresses two of the pillars of population health: human health, and social and economic equity. Not only would DBS-based testing assist in making timely and effective treatment decisions for individual patients, but the ease and relative inexpense of DBS-based testing compared to previous methods makes possible extensive population-based studies of common patterns of resistance seen in patients failing first-line ART. These studies could be used to develop effective second-line recommendations on a programmatic scale.

Moving beyond HIV-2, the concept of diagnosis and drug resistance testing using DBS shipped to developed countries could be applied to other neglected tropical diseases, for which resource-limited countries shoulder a disproportionate burden. DBS-based testing would permit these regions to diagnose and treat such diseases without the financial burden and considerable technical expertise required to utilize high-tech molecular testing platforms while freeing up those resources to address other concerns.

Sanne Marie Casello (Neuroscience), Stress Activates Dynorphin Release in the Prefrontal Cortex and Kappa Opioid Receptor Activation Disrupts Cognition

Currently, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older. The Chavkin lab works at the molecular, cellular, and behavior levels to research stress and addiction hoping to help the 18% of the United States population struggling with depression and anxiety. It is known that stress induces the release of hormones and neuropeptides including dynorphin, which activates Kappa Opioid Receptors (KOR) in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Previous experimentation has shown that aversive effects of stress are blocked by KOR antagonists which suggests that these agents may be potential therapeutics for stress-related conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

In this experiment, stress induced dynorphin release in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) was investigated. These experiments detail dynorphin/KOR actions in the mPFC that were not previously understood, and future experiments will utilize this to understand the role of dynorphin/KOR in cognition. This research project’s specific study of dynorphin-KOR circuitry in combination with other research efforts in the Chavkin lab, is helping scientists to better understand and combat depression, anxiety, and addiction in hope to improve overall public health.

Thelonious Lyle Goerz (Communication, Sociology), Examining Mental Health Outcomes of Undergraduates in the UW College of Engineering

My research examines mental health outcomes of undergraduates in the College of Engineering. Mental wellbeing is a vital and important aspect of health that can be overlooked in institutions and systems. Because the UW boasts one of the most competitive and high-stress engineering departments in the country, there is a clear need for thoughtful study and proactive examination of resources.

My research relates to population health because the implications of this work affect over 5,000 undergraduates at UW and many more across the country. There have also been documented differential outcomes for students who identify with queer and non-normative identities compared to their cisgender counterparts, which makes studying these identities in engineering all the more important. It is important to have reliable data on these populations because they are often under surveyed, to better understand mental health, its effects, and the resources that institutions can provide. Furthermore, it is important to understand the hierarchical nature of group health; having data on both dominant and minority identities are crucial to providing care and access that is inclusive and comprehensive.

The outcomes of my research will help make a difference in the type of care and access that are available to undergraduates and contribute to an area of research that is emerging and in need of further study.

Yusra Iftakhar (Healthcare Leadership - UWT), Perceived Barriers to Healthy Eating among Rural Communities

The purpose of my study is to identify the barriers that middle-aged and obese rural women face in terms of healthy eating. The definition of Population Health includes three pillars, Human Health, Environmental Resilience and Social/Economic Equity. The social and economic equity aligns with my research when we consider health inequity, disparity and social determinants of health. Residents in rural settings face barriers to getting healthy food options due to limited access linked to higher cost of nutritious food. Additionally, time constraints and economic pressure influence people to rely on quick prepared meals from restaurants.

Addressing the disparities and inequalities might help public health professionals make changes to the social and economic environment. Economic development such as increased incomes, improved transportation and revitalized grocery stores can substantially improve access among residents of rural communities. Furthermore, providing education to the retailers in under-served communities can enhance local economic development.

Please visit our funding page to learn more about these awards.