Doctoral Students on the Path to Discovery

Doctoral Students on the Path to Discovery
Illustration by Scott Roberts

Eight doctoral students at the School of Nursing are recipients of National Research Service Awards (NRSA), given by the National Institutes of Health. These fellowships provide tuition, stipends, and research support for approximately one third of the school’s PhD students to undertake biomedical and behavioral research under the mentorship of a member of the School of Nursing faculty. Three projects currently under way:

Jason Farley, MSN ’03, MPH, CRNP, is examining an antibiotic resistant form of staph infection among prison inmates in Baltimore. “Approximately one percent of the U.S. population is colonized with Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA),” says Farley. “But it is a growing problem within the prison system. Correctional outbreaks result in yet another health concern to a system that is overly burdened with infectious disease.”

Working with faculty member Gayle Page as his mentor, Farley seeks to examine the monthly prevalence of MRSA wound infection among detainees and prisoners, determine risk factors for infection, and assess the potential for prison-based transmission.

With her study “Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Korean American Immigrants,” Gina Pistulka hopes to cultivate a better understanding of diabetes in Korean American immigrants in hopes of decreasing morbidity and mortality in this population.

“Diabetes is an emerging health problem in many immigrant communities,” notes Pistulka. “While considerable progress has been made in many areas of chronic disease management nationwide, Korean American immigrants continue to have a high prevalence of Type II diabetes and complications from inadequate management of diabetes mellitus.”

Pistulka will use qualitative research methods to study immigrants ages 44 to 62 who have diabetes. Many in the population she is studying are self-employed, often working long hours and having no insurance. She will examine how the study participants manage their diabetes and hypertension and the barriers they face in doing so.

“There is an urgent need to understand the experience of Korean American immigrants,” says Pistulka. “With this understanding, we can ultimately develop strategies that address those components essential for the provision of culturally appropriate care.”

In her study “Epigenetic Modifiers of Breast Cancer Risk,” Theresa Swift-Scanlan is looking for new ways to predict and characterize breast cancer. With the guidance of her faculty mentors Victoria Mock and Saraswati Sukumar, she will explore whether the presence of methylated tumor control genes can predict breast cancer development.
The genes she is studying have been altered by a process called DNA methylation. “Methylation is one of several regulatory changes that happen during a cell’s normal processes,” she explains. “But sometimes this normal process can go awry, in effect silencing the good genes needed to fight cancer from developing.”

Swift-Scanlan will compare the methylated tumor control genes in breast tissue from a group of higher risk women with tissue from a group of women at normal risk. She will also examine other factors that may help predict breast cancer, such as hormone use, family history of ovarian or breast cancer, and past breast cancer screening.

“The results of my study may assist nurses and physicians who advise women on breast cancer prevention strategies,” says Swift-Scanlan. “The information may lead to a better understanding of the best screening and prevention practices, ultimately helping women make better decisions for risk reduction.”


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