Population Health

May 11, 2022

Honorees announced for 2022 undergraduate research recognition awards

A student present their work at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in Mary Gates HallThe Population Health Initiative has awarded Population Health Recognitions to 20 students – representing 16 different projects – participating in the Undergraduate Research Symposium for their innovative and well-presented research work.

In partnership with the Undergraduate Research Program, this award was created as an opportunity for students across all three campuses presenting at the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, May 20, 2022 to be honored for their work.

More than 70 applications were received for this award and reviewed by Population Health Initiative leadership. The 20 awardees, accompanied by a brief description of their majors and projects, are:

Youssef Beltagy (Computer Engineering, Mathematics), Sarah Panther (Computer Engineering), Smart Asthma-Inhaler

In the US alone, asthma affects 26 million people, around 1 in 13. Asthma causes 14.2 million doctor’s office visits, 1.8 million emergency department visits, 3,500 deaths, and economic damage of $81.9 billion, annually. Children with uncontrolled asthma are 3-6 times more likely to be hospitalized because of COVID-19.

We developed a system to track when and why rescue inhalers are used. The Bluetooth-enabled inhaler sends when it was used to the android app we developed. The android app retrieves location, weather and air-quality information from the web. To inform users about their immediate vicinity, we built a Bluetooth-enabled wearable sensor that measures particulate matter in the air to detect asthma triggers like pet dander. Similar devices to our smart-inhaler produced excellent results.

In an asthma reduction initiative, the participants experienced an 82% reduction in rescue inhaler usage, doubled their symptom-free days, reported better sleep with an average of 19% and 29% of them gained control of their asthma. But our system is more ambitious. A nebulizer (a prototype was developed by another team) will replace the inhaler delivery mechanism for a more comfortable user experience. Additional sensors (a VOC sensor for one) will be added to the wearable. The wearable will be miniaturized and upgraded to warn the wearer of the presence of asthma triggers even before an asthma attack occurs. A new team is already working on this multi-disciplinary project.

Kaya Bramble (Industrial Engineering, Data Science), Are There Disparities in Air Pollution by Historic Redlining in Seattle?

One key issue highlighted by the UW’s Population Health Initiative is “location and lifespan.” My project analyzes how historic redlining is related to air pollution. In other words, how do past urban planning decisions, which affect where people live today, relate to a person’s exposure that impacts their health and lifespan? Throughout cities in the United States during the 1930s, redlining reduced accessibility of mortgage financing for racial minorities and immigrants. Modern neighborhoods still have distinct racial-ethnic and income demographics as a result of redlining. Further, people of color and low-income communities have been disproportionately exposed to higher concentrations of air pollution. Air pollution can decrease a person’s lifespan because it leads to respiratory effects, cardiovascular effects and total mortality. Communities that live in areas with high levels of multiple types of pollutants may be at higher risk for health effects.

Through my project, I aim to grow a better understanding of the air pollutant mixtures at different locations within Seattle and how they relate to geographic covariates such as a neighborhood’s distance to airports, roadways, greenspace, and more. This understanding can help contribute to improving the quality of life in our communities because it can lead to regulation, policy making, and urban planning decisions that most equitably improve the cleanliness of the air we breathe and reduce disease.

Shelby Carpenter (Psychology, Diversity), Arieh Lisitza (Biology), The Transition Pipeline Project: Organizational Dynamics as Predictors of Veteran Mental Health

The Transition Pipeline Project aims to assess how demographic factors and organizational dynamics impact soldiers’ mental health during the transition process from the Army to civilian life. We performed secondary data analysis of preliminary results from The Network Study, a longitudinal study of mental health, alcohol use and socioeconomic stressors in veterans transitioning out of the Army. We found a statistically significant relationship between positive relationships with superiors within the military and lower rates of depressive and anxiety symptoms (as measured by PHQ-9 and GAD scores). We are additionally analyzing demographic variables as potential moderators of this relationship. Findings from the data were used to develop questions for interviews with recent veterans, intended to further elucidate the mechanisms by which this association occurs.

The negative emotional states measured by the PHQ-9/GAD are themselves suggestive of mental health issues and are furthermore risk factors for substance use, suicide and various physical health issues. By identifying a potentially modifiable predictor of depressive and anxiety symptoms, our research suggests these negative post-transition health outcomes may be prevented via interventions in the military environment. Sociological theory additionally predicts that relationships with supervisors are influenced by social capital and marginalization status within the military. Our research, therefore, identifies a pathway by which marginalized groups may acquire differential vulnerability for negative health outcomes later on and in doing so explores the intersection of human health and social equity.

Chen Samuel (Mechanical Engineering, Chemistry), Osmotic Processor for Enabling Sensitive and Rapid Biomarker Detection via Lateral Flow Assays

Tuberculosis (TB) is a leading cause of death with 10 million infections and 1.6 million fatalities each year. Over 95% of all TB cases occur in low-and-middle income countries (LMICs) due to the inability to reliably diagnose infected individuals at the point-of-care. In my undergraduate research, I applied my engineering skills to develop a urine specimen processor to concentrate a target marker in TB patient urine, to improve the accuracy of TB rapid tests for point-of-care testing. Throughout the research, I had the opportunity to connect with infectious disease experts, clinicians, rapid test manufacturers, global health non-profits and regulatory officials to hear patient stories and understand the perspectives of stakeholders outside of the engineering field. By understanding the challenges faced by underserved populations in high-endemic countries and the dynamic relationships among stakeholders that are behind the fundamental global health barriers, I learned to develop accessible engineering solutions with heavy consideration of usability and clinical diagnostic workflow, to include features beyond the basic specifications of diagnostic accuracy and speed.

At the same time, this experience allowed me to realize the outcome of my research is not simply a new approach for better TB diagnostics, but a solution that can improve the quality of life and alleviate the economic and disease control burden among disadvantaged populations. With a broader perspective on the global healthcare landscape, I am determined to continue my research efforts in creating accessible, cutting-edge technologies to address health disparities in communities around the world.

Chloe Sze Ying Chiu (Chemistry, Chinese), Investigating the Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Glymphatic Clearance System Using Non-Invasive MRI Techniques

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a devastating neurodegenerative disorder with no known cause or cure. It accounts for 60-70% of total dementia cases in the world. During the late stages of its progression, the disease renders the affected person unable to perform basic bodily functions and ultimately causes their death. Currently, over 6 million Americans are afflicted with AD, and it has only been exacerbated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The regression of the glymphatic system has been suggested as an early mechanism resulting in the pathogenesis of AD, i.e., accumulation of amyloid plaques and tau tangles. The glymphatic system functions as a brain clearance mechanism to wash out toxic proteins like amyloid and tau. Thus, early markers indicative of an impaired glymphatic flow can provide information for early diagnosis of AD. Intrathecal contrast injections are often used in imaging to study glymphatic flow, however, this procedure is time-consuming and impractical to use for extensive MRI studies in healthy individuals.

My research investigates the applications of a rapid, non-invasive MRI method that can serve as a quantitative biomarker of glymphatic function to determine the risk of developing AD. This work is at the forefront of addressing key issues related to population health. My research could advance early diagnosis methods of Alzheimer’s and help those affected have more time to prepare for the future, benefit from treatments, and, most importantly, spend time with loved ones. Through my research, population health will vastly improve, and healthier communities will be promoted.

Emelin Yakira Delgado (Anthropology), Relationship of Housing Conditions with Sleep Duration for Washington State Farmworkers

Although housing conditions are important for maintaining human health, proper living arrangements are not always upheld. This is often the case for farmworkers who experience living in substandard housing conditions, which can affect health, including sleep. Unfortunately, there is limited research on farmworker housing conditions and sleep-related research concerning farmworkers, especially in the Pacific Northwest region. For this reason, we investigated how housing conditions such as crowding, temperature and humidity variability, and access to cooling impact sleep duration for farmworkers in Central Washington.

We found crowding and max sleeping temperatures to be highest in barracks and sleep duration to be lowest in barracks. This study aligns with the theme of population health in all respects, from its definition to the three pillars. We observed intersecting and overlapping factors influencing health when we examined multiple housing characteristics and considered the ways in which they can affect health in terms of sleep. Our outcome measure of self-reported sleep hours is interconnected with health, as sleep deprivation can lead to workplace injuries and influence the risk of heat related illness. Farmworkers are vital to our food system, and resilience to projected climate conditions is needed to continue to safely provide sustainable foods. We seek to raise awareness about the housing inequalities farmworkers experience and how their health is impacted with the hope that farmworkers receive equitable housing and improved health.

Ethan Eschbach (Engineering Undeclared), Using Quantitive Structure Property Relationships to Predict the Redox Potential of Organic Molecules

The large-scale implementation of redox flow batteries and the discovery of more economically and environmentally effective ways of developing such tools would be beneficial on a large scale. Through developing methods of effective energy storage, the need for environmentally harmful energy production would decrease. More specifically, our research on the viability of organic molecule use in redox flow batteries would—if successful—contribute to the decrease in invasive energy source acquisition methods, such as: drilling and refining crude oil, the mining of rare earth metals and more.

Traditionally, these harmful processes affect low-income areas and underdeveloped countries the most; this would suggest that our research would directly improve the lives of people in such areas. In University of Washington Population Health terms, these ideas would line up most with the correlation between lifespan and location. When a solar grid builds excess energy, the redox battery systems would be able to store this energy for later use. Although redox flow batteries themselves do not produce energy, they can easily be adapted to a solar grid, ensuring that a lack of sunlight would not require a power grid to shift its consumption to rely more heavily on fossil fuels. Our research seeks to provide cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative methods to long-term energy storage, which would lessen the impact that harmful processes have on underprivileged communities.

Skyler Lynn Groenier (Microbiology), Investigation of Inflammation and Neuroinflammation During SIV-ZIKV Co-Infection

Despite significant advancements in biotechnology and medicine, viral infections continue to be one of the most devastating risks to the population. Researching how viruses cause disease and understanding the body’s immune responses are instrumental to developing effective prevention and treatment methods. HIV/AIDS has been a significant global epidemic since its discovery in the 1980s. Currently, about 37.7 million people are living with HIV. About 25% were not accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART), posing a greater risk for severe clinical outcomes to bacterial and viral infections.

One risk to the HIV-positive community that has not been adequately researched is flaviviruses, which are present in >100 countries, many of which have a high HIV prevalence and insufficient access to treatment. Climate change is contributing to a shift and expansion of flavivirus-carrying mosquito populations, creating a greater global concern for increasing rates of flavivirus infections. We sought to develop a non-human primate model of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)-Zika virus (ZIKV) co-infection to better understand the effects of SIV-induced immunosuppression on ZIKV pathogenesis. This research is a stepping stone in discovering the public health risk of HIV-flaviviruses co-infections. By understanding the pathogenesis and immune responses during SIV and ZIKV infection, we can inform avenues for viral treatment and prevention methods and make predictions regarding the severity and risk of ZIKV to HIV+ individuals. My work on assaying the cytokine responses during SIV-ZIKV co-infection is just one piece in the puzzle to understanding the immune responses of ZIKV and how SIV may impair or alter them.

Flora Hu (Bioengineering, Philosophy), Directed Differentiation of Mammary Organoids from Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Breast cancer became the most common cancer globally as of 2021, accounting for 12% of all new annual cancer cases worldwide. An estimated 43,250 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2022 from breast cancer. Partially due to lack of diversity in clinical drug testing, there are significant gaps in mortality rates for breast cancer with Black women with mortality rates approximately 40% higher than White women in 2021. The majority of genetic data is of European ancestry and so precision medicine is skewed towards that subset of the population. For example, in a common breast cancer gene, BRCA1 mutations that have been identified in studies with Caucasian female populations might have variants that are different from the variants present in minority populations.

A diverse background in clinical testing is important to not increase health disparities. My project concerns the overlap of human health and social equity. We seek to produce in vitro models for breast cancer with human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived organoids. We studied relevant signaling pathways at each step of development and will look to see how they are deregulated in breast cancer. Genome editing can be done on iPSC and drug screening can be done on the differentiated organoids. iPSCs can be derived from a diverse population of individuals and in differentiating them in vitro, we can model the difference in how breast cancer mutations affect people.

Lia Kaluna (Nursing), Identifying Landmarks and Events of Central District’s Historically Black Neighborhoods through Community-Based Participatory Research

This research project is in partnership with the Sharing History through Active Reminiscence and Photo-imagery (SHARP) Study, demonstrating the theme of population health by engaging elder Black communities in the Central District through community-based participatory research. This project aims to engage and benefit community members in the development of a multimodal brain health intervention. The SHARP intervention incorporates physical activity, social engagement, and reminiscence therapy into its model, all of which promote cognitive health. The intervention is culturally celebratory by involving community-identified reminiscence prompts and generating an oral history archive from the walks.

The SHARP Project acknowledges the systemic inequities contributing to African Americans’ higher risk of cognitive decline, such as the impacts of systemic racism and gentrification. These systemic inequities influence the perceived risk of developing dementia-related illnesses, access to culturally relevant health information and increased risk of conditions contributing to cognitive decline, such as cardiovascular disease. African Americans are also under-represented in healthy aging research despite increased risk. By addressing African American cognitive health through the development of a community-centered and culturally celebratory brain health intervention, this project demonstrates a focus on health and social equity.

Haleigh Maughan (Psychology, Diversity), Evaluating the Longitudinal Associations of ADHD Symptoms, Marijuana Norms, and Marijuana Use Among College Students

The rise of marijuana use is an issue of population health. According to the 2020 Monitoring the Future survey, marijuana use among the college student population was at an all-time-high; 44% reporting using the past year and 8% reporting daily use. Among high school students, marijuana use also increased with estimates of 35% of 12th graders using; and 4-7% of 10th-12th graders using daily. Research estimates that 17% of teenagers who use marijuana and 25-50% of daily users will develop cannabis use disorder. Cannabis use disorder has implications to student life, health and well-being. Additionally, state legalization of cannabis has led to more selectively potent strains, with higher levels of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.

In the 1990’s, the potency of THC in marijuana was about 4%. However, the average THC potency in Washington state is about 20%. This increase in THC potency makes marijuana users more at risk to develop dependence. Previous research has demonstrated self-reported symptoms of ADHD among undiagnosed college students prospectively relate to increased marijuana use, which was mediated by changes in perceptions of typical peer marijuana use. Our project seeks to disentangle the relations between ADHD-related symptoms, marijuana norms and marijuana use. Therefore, this study may have implications for norms-based interventions and evaluating the risks of frequent marijuana use. These interventions could encompass public education efforts to discuss the actual marijuana use among peers, to minimize misconceptions and educate the long-term effects of memory, impulsivity and other ADHD-related symptoms in association with marijuana use.

Angela Elvira Munoz (Anthropology, Chemistry), Spinal Osteoarthritis Prevalence by Occupation

My family has been part of agricultural work my entire life and I began taking part when I was very young. Throughout my time in the fields, I saw the impact that picking apples and cherries, pruning trees, thinning trees and more had on the body. Osteoarthritis forms from overuse injuries all over the body due to wear and tear on the bones themselves. However, people in agriculture are often not informed of the signs of early osteoarthritis, nor of what resources are available to them for prevention and treatment. In addition, most of the people working in agriculture are immigrants who may or may not have their documentation to be in this country. This leads them to experience greater health disparities since they may not seek medical care when needed due to fear of deportation. People working agriculture, and in other areas of manual labor, may additionally struggle to find time to see their primary care physician, let alone a specialist.

The analysis of this study will demonstrate how a person’s occupation impacts their physiology and biology. The impact on their physiology is seen through the prevalence and severity of osteoarthritis in the immigrant population. Learning about the causes, impacts and rates of osteoarthritis in heavy-lifting occupations will allow society to truly understand the impacts of the infrastructure on these populations since most of them do not have access to appropriate health care.

Aitong Ruan (Biology), Overcoming Cell Therapy Barriers in the Suppressive Tumor Microenvironment with Engineered Switch Receptors

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, which poses a tremendous burden not only on individuals but also on the healthcare system. Adoptive cell immunotherapy has shown impressive efficacy against some cancers. However, its efficacy in solid tumors can be limited by restrictive tumor microenvironments (TMEs), with increased inhibitory signals, reduced T cell infiltration/accumulation and inadequate metabolic substrates. Upon binding to receptors on T cells, the inhibitory ligands can instruct T cells to self-destruct, diminishing an effective immune response against the cancer cells. The Oda Lab develops novel switch receptors, which combine an inhibitory signaling ectodomain with a pro-survival co-stimulatory endodomain, onto T cells to alter the TMEs and turn a negative signal into a positive one. When the ectodomain encounters an inhibitory signal, the co-stimulatory endodomain is activated, which gives the T cell an activation boost.

This T cell engineering strategy may help overcome the restrictive TMEs, catalyze an endogenous immune response and greatly improve T cell anticancer efficacy. Our study will contribute to an advanced and effective treatment against cancers, improving the health and quality of life of patients and their families. This will take a burden off the healthcare system and make it more sustainable, resulting in greatly enhanced population health.

Rachel Shi (Bioengineering, Applied Mathematics), Developing a Polymeric Membrane for Selective Nanofiltration of Toxins in Dialysis

My research is an integral step in the mission to create a portable dialysis device. By generating an inexpensive solution for continuous dialysate replenishment, I hope to alleviate many of the socioeconomic barriers that dialysis patients face currently; even current home dialysis remedies are associated with racial and income disparities because of large equipment size, costs and maintenance. My research objectives heavily integrate engineering strategies and the healthcare field by opening a new avenue of patient treatment that enables greater independence and self-directed care. It requires a critical reevaluation of patient prognoses where healthcare facilities must design plans that balance patient freedom, clinic exposure and interaction with professionals.

A portable dialysis device flips the idea that patients with kidney failure must meet regularly with clinicians and technicians for their survival. In doing so, my research is conducted with the input of experts in nephrology who are knowledgeable about patient experiences. Beyond renovating healthcare policies and standards for kidney failure, we also seek to work with insurance companies and forge business partnerships to ensure that our solution is not only functional, but financially and geographically accessible. My work thus lies under the theme of population health in that I am researching a solution that either currently lies or will inevitably lie at the intersection of engineering, healthcare, business and policy while seeking to allow greater patient freedom across environments and combatting barriers to dialysis access.

Selina Teng (Mechanical Engineering), Natalie Dean (Mechanical Engineering), Yusuf Rsyid (Aeronautics &Astronautics), Design and Evaluation of an Automated Module for Bioaerosol Collection

Bioaerosols refer to any airborne particles that carry biological materials. Many bioaerosols are hazardous to human health when inhaled, including certain bacteria, viruses, pollen and fungal spores. In the current global pandemic, the transmission of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 through inhalation of airborne virus particles represents an especially serious health risk. Airborne particles can spread rapidly through indoor spaces and linger for several hours. Therefore, a way to rapidly identify the presence of infectious particles is essential for informing safety measures in our schools, hospitals and public spaces.

This project addresses the Population Health Initiative goal of COVID-19 Rapid Response by developing a device to collect target bioaerosols for laboratory analysis. The Novosselov Research Group’s automated collection module satisfies existing benchmarks for particle collection efficiency while significantly reducing the time, labor and technical expertise needed to run experiments. The collector is compact and battery-powered to enable deployment in various environments, including via drone or inside a building’s HVAC system. Leveraging new advancements in microfluidic technology, we also achieve a tenfold increase in sample concentration compared to conventional aerosol filters. Our work is realized through a collaboration among researchers in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, as well as a research partnership with the UW Army CCDC Chemical Biological Center. Currently, we are validating the initial prototype in bench and field tests. By making progress towards a fully operational and scalable collector, we are engineering a product that creates myriad new possibilities in virus and pollutant detection.

Fred Zhao (Geography, Informatics), A Comparison of Contact Tracing Apps and COVID-19 Control in Shenzhen and King County

The research focuses on the Contact Tracing Apps’ (CTAs) effectiveness in controlling the Covid Pandemic, comparing King County, WA, and Shenzhen China, which relates to the theme of population health. The research is divided into three parts. The first parts examine the government’s policies related to Covid, including procedures of informing close contacts detected by CTAs. The second part focuses on the effectiveness of CTAs. The research will employ proxy variables such as hospitalization, the number of people in quarantine, daily confirmed cases and overall death percentage to evaluate the potential positive effects of CTAs. The third part of the research will examine the CTAs’ impacts on society of the two areas, mainly focusing on employment and transportation. This part of the research will give us insights into the possible social inequalities created or enlarged by using CTAs.

Overall, this research will show us what government policies will be most efficient when cooperating with CTAs, what design and mechanism that the CTAs use can utilize its functionality and what the possible drawbacks are of the usage of CTAs in society.

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