Population Health

May 9, 2023

Honorees announced for 2023 undergraduate research recognition awards

A student presents their research posterThe Population Health Initiative announced it has granted Population Health Recognition Awards to 26 students – representing 20 different projects – who are participating in the Undergraduate Research Symposium. These awards recognize each of the students for their innovative and well-presented research work.

This award was created in partnership with the Undergraduate Research Program as an opportunity for students across all three campuses presenting at the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, May 19, 2023 to be honored for their work.

More than 100 applications were received for this award and reviewed by Population Health Initiative leadership. The 26 awardees, accompanied by a brief description of their projects, are:

Rona Guo, A Study to Evaluate the Utility of an Online Survey in Collecting Data from a Remote Alaska Native community

The Arctic region is warming up four times faster than the rest of the world, and the data related to water, climate, and its effect on human populations in that region will offer us insights into how we can tackle the adverse effects of climate change on our planet. With melting permafrost and warming weather, communities, especially Indigenous, that reside in the Arctic region have to deal with increasingly frequent biological contamination in their water system with microbial, which thrive in extended warmer weather. Underserved communities often bear the brunt of the negative consequences of climate change, such as the lack of access to clean water. This is especially an issue with remote, rural Indigenous tribes, who are largely on their own and lack the resources or infrastructure.

This study is taking place in the Akiak Native Community, an Indigenous community in Southwest Alaska. Like many tribes in the region, ANC deals with water security issues – their water supply is deemed unsafe to drink as they are often murky and odorous (Alaska Public 2019). The tribe was frequently under “boil water advisory” warnings that make residents skeptical of their tap water. According to The Global Goals, SDG #6, Clean water is a basic human right as it is fundamental to enabling people to have a healthy living. Our project implemented a rainwater collection cistern in collaboration with ANC to help the community members get a safe source of water, in the absence of current safe sources of water.

Nede Angel Ovbiebo, Black Carbon and Performance Based Physical Function in the Adult Changes in Thought Cohort

Previous research studies have shown the link between air pollution exposure and its effect on human health. The risks associated with air pollution exposure in adults aged 65 and older are numerous, as exposure to air pollutants such as black carbon and ultrafine particles has been linked to diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This study is of interest to the themes of population health because it seeks to understand how exposure to black carbon in an urban setting contributes to worsening health in adults.

Black carbon, which is easily found in vehicle exhaust emissions, is a traffic-related air pollutant and has harmful long-term health and environmental impacts. In major metropolitan areas such as Seattle, traffic emissions serve as one of the main causes of air pollution. It is important to consider the combined and individual effects of this pollutant on vulnerable populations such as older adults in order to address adverse health outcomes and to better determine the personal risk for early onset respiratory illness and chronic disease. Analysis of the relationship between black carbon exposure and physical performance helps us to understand the negative health impacts of emissions from road traffic. The use of mobile monitoring to measure these pollutants and evidence from health measures such as cross-sectional physical performance tests help population health research to influence government bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Research within this population assists in taking the necessary steps towards policy implementations that combat the associated morbidity from pollutant exposure.

Faiza Amodia Awale, Determining the Sources and Quantities of Household Fecal Contamination as an Important Exposure Pathway for Enteropathogens in Ecuadorian Households

My research centers around determining the sources and quantities of fecal contamination, an important exposure pathway for enteropathogens, in Ecuadorian households. Historically, enteric infections and diarrhoeal diseases have increased the global burden of disease and mortality rates in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). The burden of diarrhoeal diseases and enteric infections exacerbate the effects of malnutrition, which is driven by poverty. Poverty can be attributed to the lack of regulation and implementation of water accessibility, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions which affect how well a community can defend/prevent diarrhoeal diseases and enteric infections.

The goal of my project is not only to determine and assess fecal contamination, but to also apply my findings to develop or refine relevant public health interventions centered around building social and economic resiliency among marginalized communities, strengthening the overall health of not only Ecuadorians but, also those that reside across all LMICs, and addressing structural inequities that perpetuate poor conditions such as poverty and the absence/lack of WASH which both intensify poor health conditions and outcomes in LMICs.

William Blakey, Experiences and Viral Loads of Patients Receiving Low Barrier HIV Healthcare in Tacoma, WA, 2021-2023: A Descriptive Clinical Profile

My research has given me an opportunity to extensively work on a project that encompasses the interconnected factors addressed by the Population Health Initiative. My work has focused on human health and socio-economic equity among patients receiving continuous HIV healthcare specifically in Tacoma, WA. Many of the patients I have had the privilege to work with belong to marginalized and underrepresented groups such as the LGBTQ2+, transgender, Native American, and those experiencing houselessness, substance use, and unaddressed mental illness. This has allowed me to evaluate my project from the overlapping and intersecting perspective that uncovers systemic inequities and access to HIV treatment.

One of the most powerful aspects of my research has been the ability to not only collect quantifying data but being able to extensively interview those whose lives are affected the most by HIV healthcare. I have been able to follow the journeys of these patients over a two-year period through a more intimate connection, seeing firsthand how the critical issues of poverty, equity, policy, and healthcare access play into individual and community health outcomes. I am truly grateful for my experience. Most importantly, it has allowed me the opportunity to share my findings with others, a story that is unfolding within our own local community. Leading with my process of active learning and focus on population health, it is my hope my research will keep others aware and possibly catalyze further interest for someone else to begin or continue research within this field.

Lucy Yue Gao, Nationwide CAP Law Impact on Gun Storage in Youth Firearm Suicides

In my research project, I looked at the impact of Child Access Prevention laws on firearm storage in households. Storage can be a key factor in preventing suicides, especially for children who are living under the same roof as a gun owner. Although my findings were inconclusive, the high level of data missing supports the need for more research and resources regarding this topic. Specifically, identifying why these policies are not currently effective will help to inform future improved policy changes. Using policies as an upstream intervention can be effective, but only if implemented equitably and in a community-based format.

Youth suicides involving firearms are an incredibly prevalent issue that can be addressed through mental health and injury prevention policies that are informed through scientific findings. Especially in the United States, this intersection of firearm violence and mental health is an urgent issue in public health. Mental health is a part of experiencing a healthy life and can be impacted through multiple socioeconomic factors within a community. Additionally, gun policies although heavily influenced by politics, result in extreme health outcomes through severe and fatal injuries. Therefore, although this project is centered around public health, it is extremely applicable to population health as it represents the culmination of several related factors of health, policy, and social justice.

Moeko Agata, Rab5a Is Differentially Expressed in Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Resistant Individuals and Is Essential for Type I Interferon Response

Tuberculosis (TB) is a leading infectious killer and is responsible for an estimated 1.5 million deaths each year. Although TB is curable, curbing transmission is complicated by drug resistance, poor infection control, and long treatment regimens, particularly in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). After heavy exposure, most individuals become infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the bacteria that causes TB, as evidenced by conversion of tuberculin skin tests (TST) or interferon-gamma release assays (IGRA).

The Hawn Lab has studied unique individuals who have extreme Mtb exposure yet continue to test negative by TST and IGRA, and accordingly, can be characterized as naturally resistant. We have identified candidate resistance genes including Rab5a that are enriched among Mtb-resistant subjects. By characterizing mechanisms of natural resistance, we may identify novel therapeutic targets to curb global transmission or disease. My research studies the pathways by which Rab5a modulates the macrophage Mtb response which may identify host targets to augment protective responses that may serve as adjuncts to current TB treatments and vaccines. By harnessing natural resistance pathways, host-directed therapeutics could augment the efficacy of existing antibiotics, shorten treatment duration, and boost activity against drug-resistant strains to reduce the spread of TB worldwide. As LMICs account for 98% of TB cases worldwide, there is a large demand for research such as this to provide these populations with more accessible modes of treatment and prevention to slow the increasing mortality due to such a curable disease and improve population health.

Angelina Pogosian, School Lunch With a Side of Stigma: Policy Impacts on Social Stigma and Student Meal Participation

Schools across the country struggle with meal debt and lunch shaming practices used to discourage the accumulation of negative meal balances. These practices include dumping students’ trays in the trash upon non-payment, requiring students to work off their debt, or publicly shaming them. Although lunch shaming was banned in Washington State in 2018, the impacts of this policy shift have not been studied. High-poverty schools have shifted to government-subsidized universal school meal programs (USMP) to address students’ food insecurity. Studies show USMP significantly increases the meal participation of students who were already enrolled in free lunch programs. While scholars speculate stigma might explain this phenomenon, it has not been studied directly.

I explore the role of stigma as a barrier to school meal participation by studying two populations; students who are considered non-poor with meal debt and students enrolled in free and reduced priced meal programs. Through in-depth interviews and observations over a 2-month period, I investigate how schools who are ineligible for USMP develop their meal debt policies, how kitchen staff execute those policies, and how social stigma may continue to be a barrier for student meal participation despite state policies and programs that call for equity. My study contributes to population health by intersecting social and economic equity, education policy, and child mental and physical health. My study directly aligns with the Population Health Initiative’s goal of improving health outcomes by understanding barriers to food security and recommending solutions to ensure no child slips through program cracks.

Ingrid Jeacopello, Victoria Ane Mie Shinkawa, Mason Locknane, Studying Inflammatory Response to Wildfire Smoke Using homeRNA

Over the last 20 years wildland fires have increased in frequency and intensity. As this trend continues, a larger portion of the population is exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5. The nature of wildland smoke exposure being episodic and not immediately life threatening makes its effects challenging to study and quantify.

With the homeRNA kit we are attempting to gain knowledge of the immune response before, during, and after smoke exposure to better understand how these infrequent occurrences are having an effect on health and wellbeing. The participants of our research represent a broad population: people who live in both rural and urban areas, as well as multiple ethnicities, ages, and sexual identities. The goals of our research are to test the homeRNA kit for usability, assess the willingness of communities to use it during a disaster event, and to gain quantifiable insight into the immune response to wildland fire smoke. In addition to many other use-cases, the homeRNA kit may be able to help close the gap in care for those populations that are not able to reach in-person clinics, therefore improving the accessibility of healthcare for many.

Mahika Rao, Urban Trees and the Future of Green Cities: Examining the Relationship Between Canopy Cover and Pediatric Asthma Rates

Urban nature is an increasingly relevant subject as populations move away from rural and more natural areas and towards the urban core. A contradictory phrase in and of itself, the term brings together the growing necessities of urban living and the research-backed health benefits of being in nature. As air quality worsens, the climate changes, and urbanization appears inevitable, urban trees present a mitigation strategy that addresses both the cause and the effect of the issues. Trees can help manage air pollution, acting as carbon sinks that take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the structures of the trunks and roots. Air pollution directly impacts health outcomes such as pediatric asthma, rates of which shift easily and reflect the structure of a neighborhood.

By increasing the urban tree canopy cover in major cities, I propose that we can reduce the levels of air pollution-related health impacts and work towards a healthier atmosphere overall. Through my research, I hope to show associations between tree canopy cover and asthma rates, and further examine the relationships between canopy cover and demographics. Urban trees are strongly correlated with wealthier areas, so greenery in cities is an equity issue as well. With impacts in the fields of public health, climate change, and environmental justice, understanding the impacts of urban tree planting as a policy tool is increasingly useful. My research shows that urban trees present an interdisciplinary strategy to constructing livable cities of the future.

Anika Desai Mehta, A Survey of the State of Reproductive Rights in OECD Countries

My research on the state of reproductive rights in OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries is intrinsically connected to the theme of population health as the recognition and codification of reproductive rights as human rights is the driving factor of reproductive health, which serves as the foundation of population health – healthy communities cannot exist without having access to reproductive healthcare. The facets of reproductive rights that my research will explore, including abortion access and family planning (e.g., access to contraception and comprehensive sex education) are woven into some of the key issues of population health, such as poverty and childhood health, location and lifespan, and maternal health. Reproductive rights, as a vehicle for reproductive health, allow for the full social, economic, and political participation and mobilization of individuals, especially marginalized communities such as women of color, in society.

The interdisciplinary approach I will utilize in conducting my research will involve the examination of the primary sociopolitical and economic forces that may inhibit or encourage international governments from granting their citizens reproductive rights. The tabular and geographical data visualizations that I will create as a product of my research will serve as innovative methods of representing the complex and nuanced story of reproductive rights in OECD countries. The ways that reproductive rights are protected and supported in various countries and contexts determine the extent to which people are afforded access to reproductive healthcare services, and thus deeply impacts the health status and health outcomes of a given population.

Ruohan Hu, Community Level Genotype Surveillance of β-lactam Antimicrobial Resistance Gene (ARG) Alleles in Wastewater

The first antibiotics were used in the 1910s, since then they drastically reshaped modern medicine and became a common treatment for bacterial infection. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) emerges as bacteria develop resistance towards antibiotics. AMR infections are difficult to treat, causing extended hospitalization, increased morbidity and mortality, and higher medical expenditure. Huge inequalities exist in this global health challenge – lower and middle income countries bear the highest AMR burden, especially sub-saharan Africa. Lack of access to good quality healthcare services leads to overuse and misuse of antibiotics that facilitates the AMR mutation and transmission. Moreover, current time-consuming, expensive, and biased detection methods focusing on hospital settings and requiring cell culturing exacerbate the problem, weakening policy makers’ ability to make effective public health precautions and responses.

The method we are developing addresses these deficits – it is fast, less expensive, and directly detects community AMR alleles from wastewater. Not only could this tool encourage the establishment of comprehensive surveillance networks that inform policy makers to develop regional-specific intervention programs, it has the potential for wider adoption in low resource areas. Furthermore, together with the application of this method in natural reservoirs, we can address the current research challenge in the AMR transmission at human-animal interface. As a significant amount of shared allele types among humans and animals are observed in rural areas, studying the direction and pathway of transmission between humans and the environment is critical in providing those communities guidance on the management of their animals, farms, and community infrastructure.

Hayoung Jung, Geolocation Audit of YouTube for COVID-19 Misinformation: A Comparison Between South Africa and the United States

In the current global pandemic, the widespread COVID-19 misinformation on YouTube regarding the treatment, spread, and origins of the virus undermines trust in public health institutions and poses a serious risk to population health. Audit research creates the necessary pressure for accountability on social media platforms. However, much of the world’s audit research is limited to Global North countries, leading to unequal pressure on containing COVID-19 misinformation in the Global South. Therefore, holding YouTube accountable in the Global South is essential for containing COVID-19 misinformation globally.

Combining approaches from computer science, information science, and social science, this project addresses the Population Health Initiative’s key issue of Location and Lifespan by developing a novel, interdisciplinary method to conduct an audit for COVID-19 misinformation in South Africa and the United States. As online misinformation fuels vaccine hesitancy and distrust for public health institutions, access to high-quality, scientific information shapes the health of the population in a given country. My research performs an ethical and scalable audit of YouTube, collecting search results from 48 curated COVID-19 misinformation search queries across the top three most affected geolocations in South Africa and the United States. The collected data provides insights into how much YouTube differs in the factual quality of search results between different locations. My project pushes further accountability on YouTube for COVID-19 misinformation and paves the way for future audit work in different geographic locations other than the Global North.

Ajay Sandhu, Daniella Marie Yago Paulino, Giselle Man Mak, Anisa Dahir, Tiffany Nguyen, University of Washington Bothell Photovoice Project

The goal of this project is to bring awareness to the unique challenges faced by the many minority groups on the University of Washington Bothell campus. Students of color, LGBTQ students, Muslim students, and first-generation college students are often groups that are marginalized regarding success academically, socially, and financially. Recent publications of photovoice projects at universities have yet to focus on these groups and their experiences on campus. We intended to fill this gap in knowledge and share the experiences expressed by students participating. In terms of population health, this project tries to address health disparities and promote equity by having discussions regarding the experiences and perspectives of students from marginalized backgrounds. By highlighting these unique experiences, we are able to address systematic barriers that can prevent students from performing well and succeeding.

The strength of this project is involving students from the UW Bothell campus, allowing us to learn about the experiences of the general student population. While studying the project, we found themes that overlap between the groups. The three notable themes in this project were (1) The disconnect between faculty and students, (2) Expectations of what students should have and have access to, and (3) Struggling in finding ways to express oneself. We are empowering these students to share their ideas about the university. By providing this information to UW Bothell, we are able to promote changes in the university regarding well-being, health, and academic success. This benefits the overall health of the UW Bothell student population.

Catherine Nguyen, Amyloid Inhibitor Peptide-releasing Alginate Porous Scaffolds as Anti-biofilm Wound Dressings

In most healthcare settings, patients are vulnerable to the risks of biofilm formation and subsequent infection. The microbial species that form biofilms are responsible for nosocomial (i.e., hospital-acquired) infections, which are associated with high mortality rates. The precise rate varies greatly between ethnic populations, and is estimated to range from 12 to 80%. This astonishing variation is influenced by procedural and post-operative risk factors, which vary with access to medical and hospital resources. To illustrate, the risk of nosocomial infection among hospitalized patients was estimated to be 15.5% in developing countries, compared to 3.2% in the US in 2015.

An anti-biofilm wound dressing could help to alleviate this health inequity, as it targets a common barrier to infection clearance. Because inexpensive materials were chosen during the design process, the economic barrier to this product is minimized. For the patient, these wound dressings would be less costly than hospitalization due to sepsis and/or other complications of biofilm formation. For the hospital, wound dressings could be used in tandem with antibiotics, requiring no specialized training or storage equipment. There are also no environmental concerns during disposal, since the wound dressing materials are biodegradable and non-toxic.

Khloe Sytsma, Assessing User Experiences of Self-guided Hearing-aid Fitting Using Smart Phones

Age-related hearing loss is a highly prevalent public health issue. It impacts the quality of life for a majority of older adults by making it harder for them to contribute to social interactions and community spaces, and it creates a significant risk factor for dementia. Despite that, only a small fraction of the population who could benefit from hearing aids uses one, partly because of the inaccessibility of hearing healthcare. The cost of the device and care is a barrier for many to seek out help, and on top of that, those that may feel inclined may be limited by unequal distribution of hearing healthcare professionals. In October of 2022, over-the-counter (OTC) hearing devices received approval to be sold in the United States, which has the potential to greatly promote accessibility. Technologies that enable self-directed hearing aid fitting are crucial for lowering the service cost of these OTC devices while maintaining high quality care.

Our project aims to identify the appropriate design for a mobile application, ensuring accessibility and inclusivity, that would allow older adults to self-fit their devices to meet their individual needs. Results from this project would likely contribute to relieving social and economic inequities in hearing healthcare by making quality and affordable care available, which will greatly impact the health of people living with hearing loss, so they can continue to be long-lasting members contributing to their communities.

Francesca Wang, Denoising and Extraction of Local Circuit Spatio-temporal Dynamics in 2-Photon Calcium Imaging Datasets Using Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN)

The research project of Denoising and Extraction of Local Circuit Spatio-Temporal Dynamics in 2-Photon Calcium Imaging Datasets Using Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) has the potential to make a significant impact on the understanding and treatment of opioid addiction, which disproportionately affects low socioeconomic backgrounds. By utilizing advanced CNN in imaging denoising and neural circuit analysis techniques on rodents’ neurocircuit function, this research can support cellular analysis of neural circuit function at the high temporal and spatial resolution necessary to advance our understanding of addicted brain function, including changes in neural circuitry controlling motivated behavior. This can inform the development of novel therapeutics that target these mechanisms, potentially leading to novel treatments.

Improving our understanding of addiction and developing targeted treatments can have a significant impact on population health. Low socioeconomic backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to widespread problems like opioid addiction. Effective treatments for addiction can improve health outcomes of individuals and decrease healthcare costs. Furthermore, the open-source working example for the classification and feature extraction of two-photon imaging neural activity recordings that will be developed as part of this research has the potential to be applied in other areas of neuroscience and psychiatry. This could inform the development of treatments for a wide range of disorders that also disproportionately affect low socioeconomic backgrounds, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. By improving our understanding of these disorders and developing effective treatments, we can make a significant impact on population health and well-being of individuals and communities around the world.

Shima Shaporifar, Fine Mapping of MUC5AC to Define a Functionally Active TB-meningitis Susceptibility Polymorphism

Infection from Mycobacterium tuberculosis caused over 2 million deaths globally in 2021, and a disproportionate number of these deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Furthermore, in 2021, over two-thirds of the world’s new tuberculosis (TB) cases occurred in eight LMIC countries. However, lack of accessibility to care and low funds have impeded the World Health Organization’s goal of reducing TB death and incidence by 90% and 80%, respectively, by the year 2030. Currently, treatment for tuberculosis includes a regimen of four antibiotics over at least six months, but treatment complexity compounded with muti-drug resistance and co-morbidities makes treatment difficult and expensive.

A better understanding of factors that increase susceptibility to M. tuberculosis infection, disease, and death is critical to improving tuberculosis disease outcomes. Genetic polymorphisms may impact response to M. tuberculosis therapy. For example, genotypic variation at a functional single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the promoter region of LTA4H, a gene controlling pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory signaling molecules, is associated with variation in patient response to treatment of tuberculous meningitis in the presence of dexamethasone, which is a current standard-of-care drug. My project aims to identify the functional SNP in MUC5AC, a secretory lung mucin, in order to better understand how variations at this SNP can inform novel, individualized TB therapeutics. The use of targeted therapies to improve treatment success, when coupled with equitable access to care, may help reduce the burden of TB worldwide.

Omeed Yazdani, Optimization of a Mannosylated Polymer with Endosomal Release Properties for Peptide Antigen Delivery

Cancer encompasses a broad range of diseases characterized by abnormal cells that have lost cell cycle control, and thus divide uncontrollably, spread throughout the body, and destroy normally functioning body tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the US alone this year. Additionally, there will be about 600,000 new deaths accompanying the diagnoses, with this frightening number only getting larger. Therefore, it is imperative that preventative measures that can be taken against cancer are found soon in order to stagnate these large numbers. Vaccines are a commonly used tactic to fight disease by training one’s immune system to recognize antigens and respond by releasing antibodies.

The project I am currently working on is to develop and optimize peptide cancer vaccine platforms for immunotherapy, which are designed to train one’s immune system like any other vaccine. Specifically, these formulations work to activate cytotoxic T-cells located in the lymph node through antigen presenting cross-presentation pathways, which ultimately results in effective tumor eradicating responses. This work is extremely relevant to population health due to the fact that cancer virtually affects the entire population in some way or another, transcending socio-cultural boundaries in the process. Unfortunately, treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy can be extremely expensive and cause a plethora of unpleasant side effects. Having a simple and effective vaccine would lessen the burden of the cost and be less invasive, leading to increased availability regardless of socioeconomic status.

Christine Ruibing Wu, Visualizing Single-Cell Drug Uptake and Distribution with Stimulated Raman Scattering (SRS) Microscopy

The cancer drugs we use are a class of tyrosine-kinase inhibitors (TKI), which are known for targeted cancer therapeutics by inhibiting the human Epidermal Growth Factor (EGFR) signal cascade. Stimulated Raman Scattering (SRS) microscopy, as a label-free imaging tool, can achieve the quantification of intracellular drug exposure and drug response of different kinase inhibitors treatment in tumor cells. This project will advance knowledge about the pharmacokinetics of kinase inhibitors and their drug efficacy on tumor cells using in vivo mice Dorsal Skinfold Chamber (DSC) model.

Imaging in this manner allows for the quantification of drug sensitivity heterogeneity. The DSC model also closely mimics the in vivo environment of native tumors. In other words, the model is a more direct reflection of tumor growth in the human body environment. The goal is to determine the heterogeneity of tumor cells in the tumor’s core layer and find the optimal drug concentration that can enter the inner layer of tumor cells without harming the host body’s healthy cells. The broader impact of my project is that, through treatment with chemotherapeutic drugs, cancer cells may exhibit acquired resistance that hinders the advancement of effective treatments and leads to patient cancer recurrence. Understanding the direct causes of drug resistance is hindered by our inability to measure native intracellular drug concentration. The proposed research would develop a novel quantitative imaging tool to create effective treatments.

Sheharbano Jafry, Developing a Peptide-based Therapeutic that Inhibits the SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated health disparities along ethnic and socioeconomic lines. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that African Americans are 2.1 times more likely to be hospitalized and 1.6 times more likely to die from SARS-CoV-2 than white, non-Hispanic Americans. In addition, there are obstacles in the healthcare system that prevent underserved groups from accessing high-quality care. My research project aims to help solve these disparities through a scientific approach.

As part of my research, I am developing peptide inhibitors against the SARS-CoV-2 Mpro protease. Through effective inhibition of the protease, these peptide inhibitors will be able to prevent viral proliferation. Ultimately, these peptide inhibitors can serve as the basis for peptide-based therapeutics. Currently, two of the primary medications that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to treat people infected with SARS-CoV-2 are Molnupiravir and Remdesivir. However, both have disadvantages, due to the former’s potential mutagenic effects and the latter’s manufacturing inefficiency. On the other hand, peptide-based therapeutics, which have low immunogenic response, better bioavailability, relatively high specificity, and low production cost, can offer a safer and more readily available alternative. Because of these advantages, peptide-based therapeutics can be distributed widely and at an affordable cost. With more people having access to these treatments, there can be a reduction in severe illness and deaths due to SARS-CoV-2, especially among underserved populations. Ultimately, this treatment will help improve the health of individuals from all backgrounds.

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