Trainee Bios

Avendano, Belen

Taiwan Team Hello! My name is Belen Avendano and I was an MHIRT fellow this past summer. If you’re wondering if I loved the time I spend in Taiwan… the answer is YES! Being in this program helped me become a better researcher and overall it challenged me, took me out of my comfort zone, and it helped me expand my horizons. The objective of my research project was to screen for genetic polymorphisms of BTN2A1 in patients with CKD and verify whether BTN2A1 is associated with CKD. Even though it was challenging at times, I loved working on this project. After graduating, I plan on joining the Peace Corps and then come back and continue with grad school. So, yea. That’s a little preview of who I am and I hope you do apply to this program! This was a life changing experience.

Begay, Cynthia

Uganda Team Nakwangtalungva, Nuu Cynthia Begay pahan matsiwa. Nuu Hopi, niikung Daahsavuu. Nuu Sipaulovi ahh siino, nuu qalwunga. Greetings! My name is Cynthia Begay. I am from the Hopi and Navajo tribes. I am from the village of Sipaulovi in Second Mesa, AZ. I am from the Sun Forehead clan.  I am a second year epidemiology graduate student in the masters of public health program at San Diego State University.  During the MHIRT 2016 program, I travelled to Uganda, Africa to work on a program evaluation of the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV program.  In addition to the PMTCT project, I also worked with the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) on several HIV youth oriented empowerment projects.  I will be graduating in December 2016. I will be working in data analytics in Kern Country after graduation, while I prepare my application for a PhD program in epidemiology/biostatistics.

Betancourt, Carlos

Taiwan Team I am Carlos Betancourt. I was a MHIRT Fellow for the Taiwan site in 2016. I researched at Kaohsiung Medical University in Kaohsiung. My research topic was the screening of genetic polymorphisms of the CETP gene, a gene involved in the susceptibility to chronic kidney disease. Overall, I used restriction digest to cut DNA samples at various sites and, judging by the fragment sizes present, deduce what genotype was present in each sample. This was done in order to build a database of the different genotypes present in the Taiwanese population and, in the future, study the effect of mutations on chronic kidney disease susceptibility. Currently, I am in Portland, beginning my PhD  in Molecular and Medical Genetics at OHSU. Among other things, MHIRT helped me explore a different area of research and keep fresh on working in a lab environment prior to beginning graduate studies. Talking about a research experience abroad was also very helpful during PhD interviews, as it helps distinguish oneself from the rest of the candidates.

Famutimi, Cindy

Ghana Team Hello everyone, My name is Cindy Famutimi and I am a Biology major at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I was lucky enough to be a part of the Summer 2016 SDSU MHIRT cohort where I traveled to Cape Coast Ghana during the summer before my senior year. My research focused on the healing properties found in the plant Zanthoxylum fagara. In order to do so I had to isolate and extract the compounds found in this plant (surprisingly for me, a few of my extracts formed crystals). I chose this plant because it is known to have healing properties on Sickle Cell Disease- a genetic disorder that affects a large amount of West Africans. My experience in lab taught me endless lessons about education and science cross culturally. While outside of lab I experienced countless amounts of laughs with our glorious SDSU Mentor Dr. Martin, met new friends who reminded me that we are all connected in one form or another, and most importantly, I learned to appreciate the simple and calmer things such as the animal life that surrounds us and the sweet serenity of Lake Nzulezo. Ultimately this experience has provided me with time to reflect on my values and remind me of what it is that I love most about the sciences. I will be graduating May 2017 and from there I will take six months- one year off to figure out exactly what I want to do career wise. In that time I hope to find a job/ internship in an Emergency Room so I can experience all aspects of a hospital setting at once, and from there be able to chose exactly what I want to build my career off of.

Gilbert, Kevin

My name is Kevin Gilbert. I am a senior at UCSD studying Pharmacological Chemistry. Some of my future goals include becoming a Medical Doctor, so that I can practice medicine in the military. Hopefully, I have the privilege of becoming a Professor at a Medical School, so that I can help develop the next generation of bright minds. The MHIRT program has allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for the research behind the medical practices. Behind the scenes you are allowed to see and participate with researchers that have tedious passion and unquestionable work ethic. My personal experience has shown that these researchers want to add to the growing academic literature  with the hopes that one day it will bring positive solutions to people’s problems in the future. Cultural diversity and immersion is another crucial component that MHIRT has allowed me to experience. Interacting face-to-face with international citizens in their home environments has brought more educational and personal value than I could have asked for. I have and will continue to recommend SDSU MHIRT to my friends and colleagues because the growth you gain through this program is terrific.

Hernandez, Nicholas

Mexico Team Hello, my name is Nick Hernandez and I am a fourth year biology major at San Diego State University. I currently work in an organic synthesis lab, whose goal is to derive synthetic routes to chemically produce natural products. I am working on synthesizing a product call Micromide, an anti-cancer compound that works as a cytokine against tumors. I recently traveled to Ensenada for two months to conduct research on marine cone snail conotoxins at CICESE. We collected various species of cone snails and dissected their venom ducts to collect sample of their venom. We then purified the venom via HPLC and tested the effects of the venom through in vivo and in vitro models. Certain peptides within the venom, through previous research, have shown potential for anti-nociceptive effects and for resistance against photo-aging. These peptides fall into a family of peptides which all the share the commonality of being rich in cysteine residues, and thus have a large amount of disulfide bridges. The lab at CICESE was very sophisticated, and filled with great people who are very smart. They are involved with several biomedical projects that are all very interesting. I would highly recommend research at CICESE if you have the opportunity, and to stay in beautiful Ensenada! After returning from Ensenada and MHIRT, I am finishing my degree at SDSU and applying to medical school in the summer. This program helped me in many ways, both academically and socially. I learned a lot of techniques and procedures at CICESE that have complemented my school labs and classes very well. The research in Mexico also have me a sound understanding of what I was doing, and it’s significance. MHIRT specifically helped me as well by giving me this research opportunity, and by being very supportive before and after the experience. I met a lot of great people through the program and it was a pleasure to spend time with fellow biologists and chemists.

Jacinto, Alberto

Uganda Team Alberto Jacinto is pursuing a Master of Science in Health Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Alberto has been working full-time at the Latino Commission on AIDS (the Commission), where he first started as an intern Fall 2014. At the Commission, Alberto works as a Research Assistant in the Research and Evaluation Department and is currently completing his practicum there. He took a leave of absence from work to join two other fellows for MHIRT – Uganda, where his project looked at TB prevalence in an HIV care setting. “My MHIRT experience in Uganda gave me the opportunity to experience public health in action. I got to work with TASO Tororo—a non-governmental organization—and the Ugandan military, both of which were two very unique and humbling experiences.” Alberto will be applying to PhD programs in Public Health beginning Fall 2016.

Lujan, Sean

Ghana Team Akwaaba (Greetings)!  My name is Sean Luján and I was in Dr. Tayman’s natural products research lab at the University of Cape Coast studying local medicinal plants.  The purpose of my research was to extract, isolate and identify the chemical constituents responsible for the medicinal value of the specific plant I selected. I was particularly interested in plants used to treat cancer and diabetes.  For that reason I studied a plant called Ricinus communis.  R. communis is commonly known as Castor Oil plant and it is thought to have anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. My MHIRT experience has helped me learn more about the value of medicinal chemistry, the ideas and scientific reasoning behind traditional plant medicine, and techniques used to identify the chemical compounds.  Additionally, how I as a future health provider may incorporate and offer herbal medicine as an alternative to my patients before turning to synthetic drugs. I graduated this May from New Mexico Tech with my bachelors in Biology, minors in Chemistry and Spanish.  I plan to use my degree and research experience for a career in healthcare.  Specifically, my future plans are to attend medical or pharmacy school. I am taking a year to study for my exams, work as a medical scribe or pharmacy tech, volunteer, and now that I have the travel bug most likely spend some more time overseas!  The opportunity to do research, further achieve my career goals and entirely immerse myself in a new culture was exciting and is an experience I will always be grateful for.

Martinez, Omar

Taiwan Team Dear Prospective MHIRT Fellows, Congratulations on accepting this great opportunity! My name is Omar Martinez, I am a fifth year Health Science undergraduate with an emphasis in Community Health, and a minor in Biology at California State University of Long Beach. My MHIRT research involved analyzing the Stewart Platform at Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan and comparing its effectiveness to a non-commercial video-oculography. The purpose of my research was to collaborate with nearby Universities in Taiwan on improving methods to assess nystagmus, which is an involuntary movement of the eye. The MHIRT program has given me a platform to build from, my current plans are to continue research at my University. My future goals are to apply to a PRIME school program, a five year medical school where it focuses in serving underserved communities and obtaining a secondary degree in Public Health. In Gratitude, Omar Martinez  

Fatimata, Sanogo

Ghana Team Hello, my name is Fatimata Sanogo and I was a 2016 Participant in the summer program for the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT) Program in Ghana. My home institution was the University of Cape Coast, located in the town of Cape Coast. I worked in the organic chemistry lab of Professor Tayman. For my project, I worked on Scoparia dulcis, Linn, a traditional medicinal plant that is used in Ghana to treat many diseases including diabetes, cancer and hypertension. Scoparia dulcis, Linn is also used in India to treat diabetes Mellitus and in Taiwan to treat hypertension. During my time in the lab, I attempted to extract and then isolate active chemical compounds presents in the plant that can potentially treats chronic conditions like cancer and diabetes. Using flash chromatography, I was able to isolate and crystallize a compound. However, due to time constraints and lack of apparatus, I was not able to characterize the chemical structure and identity the isolated compound. I hope my lab mentor Akrofi continues working on the project, perhaps, a MHIRT fellow next year will be able to continue the work I started. I am now in the United States and I have started my PhD program in Epidemiology at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Epidemiology aims to study the distribution and determinants of health and health related events and then apply its science in order to prevent disease occurrence. Just like a sick individual is a patient for a doctor, for an epidemiologist his/her patient is a defined population. Therefore, my work is in the domain of preventive medicine and I will be training conduct population health research and contribute to providing better preventive health care to our population.    

Shad, William

Jordan Team I am a graduate student at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. My research has focused on preventative health behavior. I had developed an interest in cancer prevention and improving outcomes for those diagnosed (and I had long been interested in the Middle Eastern populations) when I was informed MHIRT had added Jordan as the new research site. I wrote a proposal to improve screening rates for colorectal cancer in Jordan and, fortunately, my plan was very much in line with the plans of the researchers at the cancer center. My onsite mentor and I designed surveys for patients and their companions to gain knowledge about the attitudes, behaviors, and needs regarding colorectal cancer screening which, altogether, is providing us with evidence to move forward with designing better education for cancer prevention.  MHIRT helped me find the opportunity I needed to take my theoretical learning and apply it in the clinical setting (within a particularly demanding work environment) in my region of interest, which was a very valuable experience.      

Tran, Sophia

Taiwan Team Ni Hao! My name is Sophia Tran. I was a part of the Orthopedic Research Center. During my stay in Taiwan, I was assessing the pathway signaling of rat bone marrow stem cells to determine whether certain drugs could inhibit or increase stem cell differentiation into osteoblasts, creating methacrylate hyaluronic acid hydrogel scaffolds, and observing the structure of human adipose tissue derived stem cells for tissue cartilage regeneration. This specific research incorporated microbiology and biochemistry. My career intention is to apply to medical school and I plan on using my research experience obtained from the MHIRT program and apply it to my future practice and ability to engineer and advance in medicine. My MHIRT Experience During my 10 weeks in Taiwan, I was able to immerse in the culture and also the research-work environment. I found out that my post-doc and I had a similar hobby playing badminton so we basically played badminton every week along with a few other lab mates. While playing badminton, I was invited to play with other advanced badminton players including a Taiwanese athlete that played for Nationals. Basketball is a very popular sport in Taiwan. I would see many KMU students play and asked if I could join. I also met quite a few friends from the Taiwan Tech Trek (TTT) and we basically explored Kaohsiung every day. We would meet at the cafeteria for lunch and also meet for dinner every day at 6pm. We all got along very well to the point where I traveled to Taipei for the weekend to visit them while they attended a conference. I made very lasting relationships with these friends. I had other close friends I met in Taiwan who are Taiwanese but lived in different countries for a short amount of time. We would drive around the city to different places including eating fries from McDonalds and watched the planes fly and land at the Kaohsiung International Airport. After my stay there, I flew back knowing that I made long connections with many different people including my own cohort. I was able to visit one of the TTT students in Los Angeles and showed them around San Diego.      

White, Jacquellyn Peery

Uganda Team My name is Jacquellyn Peery White and I am a member of the Tribe of Peoria Indians of Oklahoma. Currently, I am a senior majoring in Medical Anthropology at Cal State San Marcos in California. This summer I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the MHIRT program where I spent two months researching adolescent adherence to HIV antiretroviral therapy in Uganda, Africa. This field research experience solidified my future goals of continuing on to graduate school where I plan on earning my MD/PhD. I currently work as a research assistant at Indian Health Council on a community based participatory research program that addresses the misuse and abuse of prescription medications within the local American Indian population.      

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