NIH Intramural Research Trainees Present Virtually for 2020 Poster Day

Each year, the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) hosts a poster day for recent college graduates across the different NIH Institutes to present their research. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, OITE held the event virtually over 3 days, rather than hosting the event in person on the NIH campus. A total of 875 researchers-in-training shared a variety of studies conducted under the supervision of NIH faculty. Eleven of the trainees were mentored by lead investigators in NIMHD’s Intramural Research Program (IRP), including one who was co-mentored by the NIMHD Director and a researcher at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Poster of postbac presenters
The postbac presenters: Charmaine Chan, Jackie Bonilla, Sangheon Lee, Isaiah Brown, Koya Ferrell, Aniruddh Ajith, Aaron Broun, Danielle Duarte, Toluwa Omole, Saida Coreas and Zahra Ansari

The NIH Postbac Intramural Research Training Award Program is a 1- to 2-year research program for recent graduates (“postbacs”) with bachelor’s or master’s degrees. It is open to those who have been accepted into higher-degree programs and wish to delay entrance for up to a year to pursue a biomedical research project at NIH. The program matches the postbacs to a project of interest in one of NIH’s more than 1,100 laboratories and research projects. Each project is led by a principal investigator at an NIH Institute or Center who mentors the postbacs. At NIMHD, there have been 16 postbacs since 2016.

At this year’s meeting, three NIMHD postbacs shared their research in cancer-related health disparities. Charmaine Chan, from Vassar College, New York, in the lab of Sherine El-Toukhy, Ph.D., M.A., analyzed the individual and environmental factors that influence colon cancer screening. Chan used national survey data to identify disparities. Jackie Bonilla, from the University of Georgia, under the preceptorship of Scientific Director of the Division of Intramural Research Anna M. Nápoles, Ph.D., M.P.H., discussed the need for promoting patient engagement to reduce disparities in quality of care and information, emotional well-being, and physical health in Latina breast cancer survivors. Sangheon Lee, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, in the lab of Jung Byun, Ph.D., presented his study on the use of biomarkers associated with environmental risk factors linked to breast cancer mortality, which is higher among African Americans than among European Americans.

Postbacs from the lab of Sharon H. Jackson, M.D., presented their research on diabetes and metabolic disease. Isaiah Brown, from the University of Kentucky, explored differences in quality monitoring of diabetes among U.S. adults who visited a physician in the past year. The study used national survey results to determine disparities related to race/ethnicity, education, and health access. Koya Ferrell, from Georgetown University, the District of Columbia, who looked at the association between inflammatory biomarkers and abdominal obesity, found that the association did not vary by age, gender, race/ethnicity, income, or education level.

Four postbacs from the lab of Kelvin Choi, Ph.D., M.P.H., shared their research on smoking and e-cigarette use. A study by Aniruddh Ajith, from the University of Maryland, College Park, showed that adolescents who smoke during high school and whose parents have less than a college education are less likely to complete college. These adolescents are at risk of experiencing further disparities in health and education. Aaron Broun, from Oberlin College, Ohio, presented research findings showing that more frequent encouragement from parents to not smoke reduces young adults’ likelihood of smoking but does not affect e-cigarette use. The small study sample did not allow testing for socioeconomic differences but offered future research directions. Danielle Duarte, from the University of New Mexico, examined how state tobacco control efforts are linked to education-related disparities in smoking, based on state-level data across the United States. Toluwa Omole, from Arizona State University, studied trends in e-cigarette use among youth based on statewide clean indoor air policies and e-cigarette taxes.

In addition, Saida Coreas, an NHLBI postbac from the California State University in Los Angeles, presented on tobacco-related disparities. Coreas was co-mentored by NIMHD Director Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., and Erik Rodriquez, Ph.D., M.P.H. She used data from the nationally representative Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study to identify factors of susceptibility to cigarette smoking among youth. Coreas’ research showed that tobacco industry-related marketing influenced experimental smoking among diverse youth. Encouraging physicians to ask questions during routine care visits about the factors she found could help identify adolescents at risk

Patient–clinician communication is vital in establishing patient-centered care. Language barriers and lack of health care access make it difficult for people in vulnerable populations to get proper medical treatment. Zahra Ansari, from the University of California, Berkeley, presented her research on individual and environmental factors of patient–clinician communication, based on findings from a national survey. Her study in El-Toukhy’s lab showed that individuals with limited English and poor health and those without a regular provider or access to electronic health records were more likely to report lower-quality patient–clinician communication.

As part of the NIMHD IRP, the postbacs aim to continue their research training and professional development. “I came into my fellowship with a desire to build upon my current experience and to learn the different aspects of research, but also make sure I see myself and my community in my work,” says Coreas, adding that she did all of this during her past year in the IRP. “My fellowship has challenged me in many ways, [and] it has helped mold me into a better researcher and critical thinker.”.

Presenting one’s research offers an opportunity to recap lessons learned and receive critiques. This year, two NIMHD IRP postbacs, Ajith and Omole, received Outstanding Poster Awards, which go to the presenters whose posters were scored in the top 20% by a panel of researchers. “We are proud of our postbacs and glad that they were still able to share their work, despite the current pandemic,” says Nápoles.

The goal of the postbac program is to teach people taking the first steps toward a career in science how to conduct biomedical research, with the hope that they will eventually lead their own projects. “It is a pleasure to watch next-generation researchers grow in our program and become successful investigators addressing minority health and health disparities,” says Nápoles.

Posted July 15, 2020