Population Health

May 2, 2024

Honorees announced for 2024 undergraduate research recognition awards

A student presents their research posterThe University of Washington Population Health Initiative announced today the 27 students who received Population Health Recognition Awards as part of their participation in the 2024 Undergraduate Research Symposium.

These awards, which represent 21 separate projects, recognize each of the students for their innovative and well-presented research work.

This award was created in partnership with the Office of Undergraduate Research in 2017 as an opportunity for students across all three campuses presenting at the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, May 17, 2024 to be honored for their work.

Nearly 200 applications were received for this award and reviewed by Population Health Initiative leadership. The 27 awardees, as well as brief descriptions of their projects, are:

Jean Robinston, Investigating the Spatial Distribution of Mitochondrial Haplotypes and Their Forensic Applications in African Ground Pangolins Manis Temminckii

Our research on pangolin lineage distributions in Africa holds significant potential in addressing not only the conservation of pangolins but also in safeguarding public health and preserving ecosystems. Pangolins, like bats, are considered potential reservoirs for zoonotic diseases such as coronaviruses. Understanding the genetic diversity and distribution of pangolin populations is essential in understanding the dynamics of disease transmission and identifying potential hotspots for disease spill-over events. Studying the genetic makeup of pangolin populations can aid in understanding their susceptibility to diseases and potential interactions with other wildlife species, including those known to transmit diseases to humans.

By identifying key habitats and population centers of pangolins, conservationists can prioritize these areas for protection and implement targeted conservation strategies. Moreover, the data generated from genetic analyses can inform wildlife management practices and aid in combating illegal wildlife trafficking, thereby reducing the risk of disease transmission associated with the trade of pangolins and other wildlife species. Zoonotic diseases pose a significant threat to global public health. It is estimated that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, with over 70% of these diseases originating from wild species. By researching animal lineage distributions and genetic diversity, we not only contribute to the conservation of endangered species but also gain valuable insights into the ecology and behavior of these animals. By leveraging forensic science techniques to study wildlife populations, we can develop comprehensive strategies for wildlife management and disease surveillance, ultimately benefiting both animal and human populations.

Atreya Bhamidi, Falling Behind: The Impact of Tutoring Grants on Educational Achievement

My research explores the evolution of educational outcomes in the post-COVID U.S. The pandemic massively disrupted learning, causing lasting academic setbacks that will continue to impact outcomes for students. Learning losses, typically measured as drops in test scores, mounted between 2019 and 2022, and have been accompanied by other concerning trends such as increased chronic absenteeism. In theory, these learning losses could be made up if post-pandemic learning were intensive enough to cover the gaps caused by interrupted instruction. However, reports from several states indicate that learning is not accelerating – test score gains are positive but similar to pre-pandemic rates.

This paints a worrying picture for economic outcomes – a group of researchers projected a loss of $43,800 in expected lifetime earnings per student, or over $2 trillion nationally. Given the magnitude of learning losses, understanding policy action on educational recovery is of utmost importance in predicting population health outcomes for students. Tutoring programs such as Ohio’s Statewide Mathematics and Literacy Tutoring Grant hold the potential to uplift students and bridge the learning gap, but can also exacerbate inequities across gender, income, and racial lines. Through investigating its impacts, I hope to contribute to population health discourse relating to social and economic equity and understand how childhood poverty relates to their educational outcomes.

Lima Solimankhil and Khoa Van To, Age Distribution in a Complex Metapopulation of Oncorhynchus nerka in Lake Washington

One of the goals of population health is the focus on environmental resilience. Understanding the ages of salmon and distinguishing the taxonomy of salmon in the Seattle Great Lakes, as well as the timings of when kokanee and other species of salmon travel upstream can help us predict and prepare for upcoming environmental and ecological changes that may influence these already vulnerable populations. Analyzing these populations will allow us to pass better policies to help restore and maintain valuable subspecies of native salmon. The Oncorhynchus nerka known as Sockeye salmon have historically been divided into 3 runs. The “early”, “late”, and “middle” run had presence in Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish. The “early” run has been declared extinct, the “middle” run is uncertain, and researchers have been most keen on studying migration and spawning patterns in the “late” run. O. nerka are a genetically distinct population of kokanee that were assumed to have been extinct, but recent evidence suggests that there is a population which spawns every third year.

We are researching this population and analyzing the otoliths-structures in the inner ear of the kokanee which can be used to establish the age of the kokanee. We are comparing kokanee age distributions from 2022 and 2023 to find out what age is most prevalent during the run. By researching the O. nerka age distributions, we can present evidence to those who are skeptical about the kokanee populations and work on more projects that will help us restore native kokanee populations.

Nede Ovbiebo, An Evaluation of Agricultural Safety and Health in Pesticide Application Technology

In the Pacific Northwest, labor-intensive fruit commodities often put farmworkers and their families at disproportionate risk of pesticide-related illnesses via pesticide handling, drift, or the take-home exposure pathways. The long-term exposure to pesticides, even at the smallest levels, can result in devastating chronic health outcomes such as but not limited to: cancer, respiratory conditions such as asthma, as well as neurological disorders. Robots, drones, sensors, autonomous tractors, and other types of digital technologies are quickly changing the landscape of agriculture, including claims related to reducing pesticide use. These modern technologies continue to safeguard public health by aiding in disease prevention, protection of crops, and enhancing agricultural safety. Through the adaptation of new pesticide technologies, the effects of pesticide exposure may be decreased as well.

Pesticide drift disproportionately affects Latinx individuals, who make up a large number of the Pacific Northwest agricultural population. In addition to discrimination, language barriers, and low incomes, members of these communities are faced with limited access to healthcare. Research and surveillance into these communities continues to determine timelines as well as relevant risk factors associated with pesticide exposure. Community based participatory research such as bilingual survey deployment to farmworkers is essential in evaluating perceptions of current and emerging technologies. Through culturally diverse engagement, this research has the potential to help inform policy and educate community members about exposure risks. Understanding the significant challenges faced by vulnerable populations affected by pesticide drift can help decision makers to address disparities and improve state and nationwide environmental health outcomes.

Sophie Li, Strengthening Interventions to Reduce Sugared Fruit Drink Intake in Alaska Native Children

My research aligns with the theme of population health by employing an interdisciplinary approach to examining tooth decay and its disproportionate impact on Alaska Native children. Rather than focusing on individual-level care and treatment, this project emphasizes community-level prevention strategies. Children’s oral health is often influenced by factors outside of clinical contexts, including lack of access to nutritious foods and drinks. Recognizing these intersecting elements that influence health, our team engaged in qualitative research with hopes of generating knowledge that could be used to improve health and well-being of Alaska Native children and other vulnerable communities in which sugared fruit drinks are pervasive.

In particular, this research focuses on younger children ages 1-11, since they are more likely to still have primary teeth, more likely than older children to consume sugared drinks, and have the potential for a lifetime of benefit associated with reduced consumption of added sugar. Additionally, this project was guided by the community-based participatory research (CBPR) framework, which emphasizes partnering with community members in an iterative process to optimize collaboration, outcomes, and impact. Caregivers in local Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities provided critical, ongoing input. Indigenous community health workers with working knowledge of Yup’ik history and traditions also helped to ensure that the intervention was culturally appropriate. By addressing tooth decay from a population perspective, this research considers access to quality food and health-promoting resources in developing evidence-based interventions, with the ultimate goal of advancing health and social equity among historically underserved communities.

Amber Alcorn, CD40L Dual Costimulatory Receptors (DCR) Induce Macrophage Reprogramming to Promote Anti-Tumor Functions

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and although there have been advances in cancer therapies, there are still many patients who do not respond to traditional therapy. Common treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy can be difficult for patients to tolerate, both mentally and physically, and these approaches often induce toxicities and long-term negative effects. A less toxic alternative is adoptive cellular therapy (ACT), which involves harvesting patient’s T cells, genetically engineering them, then reinjecting them back into the patient. Our lab focuses on designing fusion proteins to engineer into ACT T cells to improve their anti-tumor function and persistence to assure long-term protection against cancer. Our proteins for ACT are successful in controlling tumor growth and extending the longevity of healthy armed T cells.

Improving T cell’s endurance in the body reduces the number of injections needed to eradicate the tumor, which in turn reduces the financial burden for patients seeking therapy from specialized institutes as well as the cost for each injection. As a result, T cell therapies are becoming a more affordable and accessible therapeutic option. Understanding how immune cells are reprogrammed to attack malignant cells will further advance cancer therapies and improve patients’ survival and quality of life. Because cancer therapeutics are not “one size fits all,” our mission is to develop a more tailored approach that can broaden the applicability of therapies across a broader range of patients with high efficacy and minimum toxicity.

Elise Soper, Kat Bogdanova, and Steven Neff, Is Less Than 2 C Warming Still Possible? Perspectives From Simple Climate Models With Sector-Based Phaseouts of Fossil Fuels

Climate change is the biggest issue facing our global population. The health of global populations is directly impacted by global temperature, in ways that are becoming increasingly apparent. Record summer temperatures pose a dangerous threat to lower-income and unhoused populations, particularly given current infrastructure. Our research breaks down global greenhouse gas emissions into industrial sectors to determine what changes should be prioritized to mitigate global temperature increase. Understanding the global effects of industrial emissions can inform decisions being made to support global populations. For instance, data on future temperature predictions can inform choosing construction materials and building techniques suitable for the future climate. These climate ramp-down models can predict the extent of damage caused by climate change on global population health. Climate change is a critical issue that is worsening exponentially and poses a serious potential danger to population health, requiring prompt attention.

Our models provide a framework for establishing long-term goals, setting a timeframe to decrease rates of harmful greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate permanent and irreversible damage to the global climate. The health of the population is critically dependent on the health of the global climate, and identifying which sectors of global economic systems are most directly impacting the warming of the planet is a large step into implementation of permanent solutions to the ever increasing crisis of global warming.

Amy Bosch and Koumudi Thanda, Nurse Identified Barriers to Implementing a Suicide Risk Screening Protocol at a Level 1 Trauma Hospital: Considerations for Equitable Access to Care

Suicide is a pressing global population health issue. Identifying individuals at risk of suicide often goes unnoticed unless they are directly asked about suicidal ideation. Universal suicide risk screening (SRS) is a common prevention strategy to identify those at risk. Hence, proper implementation and standardization of the screener is important. Hospital-based universal screening programs, validated at population level, can also improve health equity. These tools identify patients’ needs for additional services and the severity/degree of care needed. Then the patient can be referred to appropriate and effective services. Implementation of this protocol reduces health disparities in receipt of suicide-related and mental health care among the underserved and vulnerable patient population.

Despite the implementation of SRS, barriers to this standardized care are not highlighted in current research. As a result, there is a gap in identifying high-risk, hospitalized patients, reducing suicide prevention and treatment. This gap not only limits our ability to identify high-risk patients effectively but also undermines the broader goal of reducing the burden of suicide on vulnerable populations. Through the perspectives of acute care and intensive care nurses, our study aims to identify barriers to implementing SRS, which present challenges to equitable care. By investigating these barriers, we also highlight the complexities of psychiatric-behavioral care within healthcare systems. Furthermore, our research enhances suicide prevention efforts by ensuring equitable access to mental health care. This contribution is particularly significant as it aligns with the Population Health Initiative’s goal of addressing intersecting factors that influence health.

Maya Abhyankar, Investigating the Evolution of Gene Transfer Rates in Bacteria to Better Combat Multidrug Resistance

By examining the mechanisms behind the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes, this study contributes to a crucial aspect of human health – combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria which is a growing global health threat. AMR’s spread is significantly facilitated by plasmids, mobile genetic elements that transfer resistance genes between bacteria. These plasmids use a process known as conjugation, encoded by genes in the transfer (tra) operon. My project investigates how mutations in the tra gene affect the rate of both HGT and vertical gene transfer (VGT), the latter reflecting host bacterial fitness. Understanding this relationship is vital for addressing the spread of AMR, which corresponds to the Population Health pillar of human health. Antibiotic resistance impacts communities globally, disproportionately affecting marginalized and resource-limited areas.

By comprehending how AMR genes spread and evolve, we can develop targeted strategies to reduce their impact, particularly in vulnerable populations. This research, therefore, addresses social equity by expanding our knowledge of this area in hopes to help the global population as a whole. Environmental resilience, another pillar of the Population Health Initiative, is indirectly impacted by this research. The overuse of antibiotics, partly driven by the prevalence of AMR, has broader environmental consequences. Understanding and controlling AMR spread can reduce antibiotic reliance, thus contributing to a healthier planet. In summary, advancing our understanding of AMR gene dissemination, we can create the potential to inform public health strategies, promote equitable health outcomes, and contribute to environmental conservation, encapsulating the holistic approach of population health.

Anysiah Taylor, Seasonal Influence on Proliferation of Antimicrobial Resistance Alleles in Wastewater

My research project regarding the intricate dynamics of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and its implications on population health, align closely with the essence of population health. Antimicrobial resistance poses a significant threat to global health, leading to increased morbidity, mortality, and healthcare costs. By investigating the seasonal influences on the proliferation of antimicrobial resistant genes (ARGs) and alleles, my research aims to uncover critical insights into the transmission and spread of AMR within communities. Understanding the environmental factors that contribute to the dissemination of AMR is crucial for developing targeted interventions and strategies to mitigate its impact on population health. By utilizing advanced molecular techniques such as quantitative PCR and nanopore sequencing, I seek to identify patterns and trends in ARG prevalence and diversity in wastewater samples collected from municipal treatment facilities. Furthermore, my research elucidate the relationship between environmental variables, such as rainfall patterns, and the abundance of AMR genes in wastewater.

This exploration of environmental determinants of AMR transmission not only enhances our understanding of microbial ecology but also informs evidence-based interventions to combat AMR at the population level. Ultimately, by shedding light on the complex interplay between environmental factors and antimicrobial resistance, my research contributes to the broader goal of safeguarding population health and promoting sustainable healthcare practices. I am honored to be considered for the Population Health Recognition Award and am committed to advancing research that has tangible implications for public health and well-being.

Maya Leigh Ednie, Unraveling Renal Regeneration: Molecular Mechanisms in Spiny Mouse and Laboratory Mouse Kidney Cells Under Hypoxic Conditions

Understanding the regenerative capacity of organisms like the Acomys (Spiny Mouse) and its comparison with laboratory mice offers profound implications for population health and regenerative medicine. Kidney diseases, including chronic kidney disease (CKD) and acute kidney injury (AKI), affect millions worldwide, contributing to significant morbidity and mortality. Current treatments often manage symptoms rather than addressing the underlying causes, and transplantation remains limited by donor availability and immune rejection. The research delves into the molecular mechanisms underlying the Acomys exceptional regenerative response to kidney injury, especially under hypoxic conditions mimicking ischemic injury. By comparing the RNA expression profiles of Acomys kidney cells with those of laboratory mice under similar conditions, the study aims to identify key genetic factors and pathways associated with enhanced regenerative capabilities.

Insights gained from this research could lead to new regenerative medicine approaches for kidney diseases in humans. By pinpointing the biological determinants of regeneration, researchers may develop targeted therapies to improve tissue repair and regeneration in damaged kidneys. Moreover, understanding the differences between species could inspire novel treatments applicable to human patients, potentially reducing the burden of kidney disease on global health systems. By determining the molecular mechanisms underlying natural regeneration in Acomys spiny mice, this research is promising for the future development of innovative therapeutic strategies. This could significantly improve outcomes for patients suffering from kidney diseases, enhancing population health and quality of life on a global scale.

Mikko Epstein-O'Rourke, Exploring the Effects of Normative Aging on Memory and Attention

With recent advancements in medical technologies, better health outcomes have allowed people to live longer, and with a larger pool of aged adults, the issues surrounding cognitive decline have become more pronounced. My research introduces new ways to address memory impairment and cognitive decline by quantifying attention through eye movements in a normal aging model. It aligns with the UW Population Health Initiative’s three pillars of human health, environmental resilience, and social and economic equity. By investigating changes in oculomotor behaviors, we can develop an effective model to earlier predict symptoms of cognitive decline. Most elderly patients seek medical assistance only after they experience notable physical symptoms; eye data, on the other hand, can identify subtler changes before one notices.

Eye-tracking is a non-invasive and inexpensive diagnostic metric that most VR headsets and phone cameras can easily employ, and can be utilized for longitudinal study to monitor changes over time. This increases accessibility to costly and resource-intensive preventative health screening services to communities removed from it. Compare this to existing diagnostic technologies that can assess for mild cognitive impairment, such as MRI, an expensive power-consuming device that uses high amounts of helium, a non-renewable resource. Or MoCA, a written cognitive evaluation requiring full comprehension of the English language – something passive eye-tracking bypasses. By probing the mechanisms behind normative aging, my research supports the development of equitable health interventions that can mitigate the socio-economic impacts of aging on individuals and society, and help destigmatize the stress behind aging altogether.

Shivani Jayaprakasam, Evaluating the Neuroprotective Effects of Azithromycin Using a Ferret Model of Preterm Hypoxic-Ischemic Brain Injury

Preterm birth is the second most common cause of under-5 mortality in the US, yet there is currently no standard preventative care. Preterm babies have an increased risk of acute and chronic brain injuries, such as cognitive deficits and behavioral and cerebral palsy. Complications related to preterm birth are also a critical health equity issue. In 2022, the CDC reported that the rate of preterm birth among Black women was approximately 50% higher than among white women. Racial and ethnic minority women have significantly higher rates of premature births with lower birth-weight babies, considerably increasing the risk of prematurity-related brain injury. Indigenous American infants are also 50% more likely to die from complications related to low birth weight due to cost and discrimination. We need innovative research to reduce inequities to address national and global health disparities in neonatal support.

My research focuses on brain injury in preterm neonates. By repurposing azithromycin, an existing antibiotic known for its safety and accessibility, my study explores an avenue for potential neuroprotection. Drug repurposing enhances accessibility and cost-effectiveness, especially when using drugs such as azithromycin that are available as generic formulations. Since repurposed drugs are already approved for other treatments, they do not require phase 1 clinical trials and significantly reduce research and development costs. These affordable treatments are more accessible to vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in an expedited timeframe. Repurposing azithromycin could lessen the number of babies who die from the complications of preterm brain injury, improving health equity.

Ruby Whelan, Public Stigma and Reintegration: Does Gender Matter?

The stigma faced by formerly incarcerated individuals as they reintegrate into society is a significant challenge that has wide-ranging implications. Incarceration not only limits access to healthcare, housing, education, and employment, but also exacerbates existing stigmas related to mental illness and substance abuse. The multifaceted impact of reentry on individuals, communities, and societal structures underscores the urgent need for sociological research and intervention to address the health challenges faced by those returning from incarceration.

Research has found that women with incarceration history are more likely to be experiencing mental health disorders and addiction than men with incarceration history. Because of these higher rates of mental health disorders and substance use disorders, it follows that women would experience higher rates of stigma upon release than their male counterparts. Further complicating this issue is the societal perception of ‘women’ and its incongruence with the perception of ‘criminal’. Purely due to their status as female, women with incarceration histories experience unique gendered stigma accompanying their criminal history. The intersection of incarceration, mental health problems, and substance abuse disorders creates a complex web of stigmas that significantly hinders the reentry process for individuals returning home, particularly impacting women who face the additional challenge of gendered stigma. By studying the nuances of this intersectional stigma, I hope to inform policy that reduces stigma for formerly incarcerated individuals, and therefore positively impacts the life outcomes of this stigmatized population.

Katherine Buckley, Development of a Clinically Accessible Assay for Quantifying Integrase Strand Transfer Inhibitors in HIV Treatment

My research project aligns seamlessly with the theme of population health by addressing critical challenges in HIV care on a global scale. The effective treatment of individuals with HIV hinges on maintaining therapeutic drug concentrations, and my work focuses on overcoming barriers related to the cost and accessibility of current measurement methods, such as liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry(LC-MS/MS).

The INTEGRase activITY (INTEGRITY) assay, developed through this research, presents a groundbreaking solution. This 2-step assay, utilizing a DNA strand transfer reaction and quantitative polymerase chain reaction(qPCR), quantifies integrase strand transfer inhibitors(INSTIs), a pivotal class of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. By disrupting the strand transfer reaction and inhibiting full-length target DNA formation in the presence of INSTI drugs, the INTEGRITY assay provides a cost-effective and accessible means of monitoring therapeutic drug concentrations. My contribution to the project involved optimizing the limit of detection(LOD) of INTEGRITY through meticulous experimentation. Notably, pre-incubation of integrase and INSTI drugs for 5 minutes at 37 degrees Celsius significantly improved the LOD by an order of magnitude. This breakthrough enhances the potential for routine clinic-based drug level monitoring, promising to revolutionize HIV care globally. I am excited to share this innovative and interdisciplinary research at the UW Undergraduate Research Symposium. I believe that the accessibility and simplicity of the INTEGRITY assay have the power to make a tangible impact on population health, aligning with the goals of the UW Population Health Initiative.

Kristin Bennett, Ex vivo Brain Tissue Model of Multimodal Traumatic Brain Injury for Therapeutic Screening

The US averages 1.5M Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) each year at an annual cost of $40B, with no direct pharmaceutical treatment. Since 2003, there have been 138 clinical trials for a TBI treatment drug with a 100% failure rate. TBI is complex, with many possible modalities of injury. The primary damage to brain tissue may result from compression or shear stress and strain, followed by swelling that compounds into the secondary insult. The cascade of TBI causes additional neuronal death and dysfunction to complicate injury and treatment further. The range of unknown potential injury to the brain during a TBI makes a single TBI model too simplistic to represent the full extent of injury accurately.

I have developed a set of living-tissue organotypic whole hemisphere (OWH) brain slice models to mimic compressive damage with a whole slice and novel partial slice compression. The models simulate mild, moderate, and major TBI representing primary and secondary insult inflammation and cytotoxicity propagation across multiple brain regions. Future work will model shear strain damage and the neurochemical response to injury. This set of robust models will be used to screen treatments for TBI before in vivo and clinical trials to study how the compounds affect damaged tissues at a cellular and molecular level.

Alexandra Crooks-Moreno and Stuart Asplund, The Right to Seek Asylum and Disability: A Comparative Analysis of Asylum Procedure in Uganda and Colombia

In 2020, approximately 12 million individuals with disabilities faced the harsh reality of forced displacement, driven by persecution, violence, and human rights violations. This crisis encompassed those who were compelled to flee conflict, political oppression, or natural disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones, droughts, or floods. Some sought refuge in foreign lands, becoming asylum seekers and refugees, while others became “internally displaced people” within their own nations. Stateless individuals, without any nationality, also found themselves in dire straits. Additionally, returnees, refugees deciding to go back to their home countries, often required support. To safeguard and support these vulnerable groups, the United Nations established a specialized agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Among these populations, individuals with disabilities faced heightened vulnerability within conflict-affected and displaced communities, encountering formidable obstacles when accessing essential services, as noted by UNHCR in 2019.

Our research project’s primary objective is to assess the compliance of Colombia and Uganda’s current asylum laws with the provisions outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In cases where we identify accessibility barriers within these states, our aim is to develop precise recommendations to address these issues and present them to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This initiative strives to enhance the protection and support available to all those categorized as “persons of concern to UNHCR.” This diverse and vulnerable population merits our focused attention and united efforts.

Julien Goldstick, Abrogation of Mitochondrial Fission is Not Necessary for Hypoxia Resistance Produced by a Raptor Mutant

Deprivation of oxygen, known as hypoxia, disrupts cellular homeostasis and if not restored, inexorably leads to cell death. Strokes and heart attacks caused by hypoxic cell death are the most prevalent form of debilitating diseases in the United States. Currently physicians have no treatment options to prevent, treat, or palliate hypoxic injury. Mitochondria play a significant role in aerobic respiration and cell survival, making them key players in the cellular response to hypoxic stress.

In my research elucidating the role of mitochondrial dynamics in hypoxia response, sheds light on potential therapeutic targets for mitigating hypoxia-related pathologies. Moreover, the study’s findings on the involvement of the mTORC1 pathway in hypoxia resistance further contribute to our understanding of metabolic regulation under stress conditions. Dysregulation of mTORC1 signaling has been implicated in various diseases, including cancer and metabolic disorders. Thus, unraveling the interaction between mTORC1, and mitochondrial dynamics during hypoxia expands our knowledge. The goal of the Crowder Lab is to use genetic tools to discover novel mechanisms to prevent hypoxic cellular injury with the possibility that this might lead one day to the development of effective therapies and treatments for hypoxic injury of all communities.

Albert Shin and Anna Korolova, Modifying the CandyCollect Design and Candy Recipe for Faster Sampling Time

The COVID-19 pandemic has once again demonstrated the critical need for rapid, large-scale, and non-invasive methods for testing respiratory pathogens. Conventional approaches like nasopharyngeal swabs are often uncomfortable, especially for children, which reduces people’s willingness to get tested regularly. Prior research introduced an innovative saliva collection device called CandyCollect. This lollipop-inspired device, with its isomalt candy coating, is specially designed and processed to capture pathogens from saliva, providing a pleasant sampling experience, especially for kids. The limitation of this device was that its sampling time takes longer than conventional sampling methods which take up to 10 seconds.

Our newly introduced fast dissolving CandyCollect device with a new design and recipe will decrease the sampling time. CandyCollect with a faster sampling time makes frequent testing more comfortable and accessible at home or in clinical settings. The modified CandyCollect ensures a more comfortable experience, especially for children, which in turn enables more frequent testing and earlier detection of respiratory illnesses. The early identification and isolation of infected individuals enabled by this new CandyCollect helps reduce the spread of respiratory diseases. Ultimately, improved quality of life for those facing respiratory diseases may be achieved through the more convenient and effective testing process CandyCollect provides.

Anastasiya Polyakova, Investigating Primary Care Providers’ Decision-Making Regarding Autism Referral

In 2004 it was estimated that 1 in 125 children in the United states have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Later, in 2010 the estimate became 1 in 68 children. In 2024 it is now 1 in 36 children, almost 1 child in every classroom (Maenner et al., 2023). The rapid implementation of autism screening over the last two decades revealed that ASD affects a drastic proportion of the U.S. population, yet living with it remains extremely challenging. The lifetime cost of autism in the United States is estimated to be $1.4 million dollars, the biggest contributors being special education, medical appointments, and various therapies (Massachusetts General Hospital, 2024).

In accordance with the population health ideals, my research project will promote economic equity for individuals with ASD, along with an intervention helping children with autism live more healthy, meaningful and fulfilling lives. My research aims to increase access to Early Intervention (EI) services for children with ASD. Research has shown that participation in EI greatly improves social and cognitive abilities of the child, which can eliminate the need for certain future services, and thereby reduce the economic burden of ASD (Behavioral Innovations, 2023). Additionally, EI services contribute to social equity as they help children cultivate critical skills, enabling them to participate and prosper in society. The primary goal of my research is to improve the lives of children with autism and their families through helping increase the use of EI services, and therefore promote human health, economic and social equity.

Siqi Mao, Mindfulness Meditation and Long-term Memory: Exploring the Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Individual’s Rates of Forgetting

As per the 2022 report by the American Psychological Association, approximately 75% of adults in the United States exhibit indications of stress, encompassing physical manifestations like headaches and fatigue, as well as emotional manifestations such as anxiety and depression (American Psychological Association, 2022). Additionally, four in ten adults worldwide reported experiencing a great deal of anxiety and stress in 2021 (Gallup, 2023). Extensive research reveals that the notable increase in glucocorticoid levels triggered by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis response to persistent stress can yield deleterious consequences on the brain. These effects can culminate in compromised faculties related to long-term memory among individuals.

Mindfulness meditation, an old contemplative technique, has gotten a lot of attention because of its potential cognitive advantages, including stress reduction. My research endeavors to assess the extent to which mindfulness meditation can influence individuals by investigating changes in their rate of forgetting before and after engaging in mindfulness meditation. In practical terms, our findings hold implications for strategies aimed at enhancing memory. Previous research has assessed rates of forgetting in individuals dealing with mild cognitive impairment, utilizing a model-based, adaptive fact-learning system (Hake et al., 2023). If indeed mindfulness meditation influences individual rates of forgetting, it could be integrated into cognitive interventions designed to bolster memory retention. Such interventions might be particularly beneficial for individuals confronting memory challenges due to age-related cognitive decline, stress, or other factors.

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