9/3/2012 0 Comments
Week 7: A Strong Female Power
by Riana Balahadia
There have been several interesting people working with me this summer. However, the most inspiring and determined person I’ve met would have to be Dr. Janina Galler. Dr. Galler is the director and brains behind the Barbados Nutrition Study and is essentially my “boss.” Over 42 years ago, she came up with the premise of a having a longitudinal study to determine the effects of early malnutrition in Barbadian children. Today, that study (the Barbados Nutrition Study) has had numerous publications on novel findings about different topics, and acts as a reference for present research. It currently collaborates with other labs and professionals to gain a consummate view of perinatal malnutrition’s effects on later life. Indeed, founding and managing such a large, complicated study are enough reasons to admire someone. Yet it is Dr. Galler’s personal story and dual role as a supportive mother that connect with me most.
8/25/2012 4 Comments
Week 6: Developmental Origins of Health and Disease: The Adaptive Response of Diabetes?
by Riana Balahadia
An important concept that has unified my research is the idea that one’s early environment can affect adulthood outcomes. The Barbados Nutrition Study elegantly revealed that malnourished children had higher rates of attention deficits and metabolic syndrome as adults. Other famine studies have shown how children born during a famine also had greater
risk for obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic diseases. As I mentioned in earlier posts, my summer project was working on the actual mechanisms behind such mental outcomes via epigenetics. I am seeking to answer why stress and malnutrition at early developmental stages have such long-lasting, adverse effects. Can there possibly be an adaptive reason for it?
The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease is a recent, exploding field in Darwinian biology that gives an evolutionarily sound explanation for the rising rates of obesity and chronic diseases. It stems from the Barker Hypothesis (or “thrifty phenotype hypothesis”). Basically, an unfavorable intrauterine environment causes adaptive changes in metabolism and physiology that theoretically “prepare” the individual for a similar post-natal environment. However, if the fetal setting does not match the adult setting, chronic diseases (like those we see today) can arise.
8/19/2012 0 Comments
Week 5: Lessons learned
by Riana Balahadia
Hey Scientistas! So the summer’s winding down now, and my internship actually ended on Thursday, August 9th. There will be a nice dinner reception for all the SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) students at Harvard Medical School, which will then be followed by everyone’s poster presentations. This past week my co-workers, Sarah and John, and I have been working hard to consolidate all our work into a concise, 3ft x 4ft poster. I’m really excited to present what I’ve been working on!
Overall, this summer has been a great learning experience. I didn’t just learn about the Barbados Nutrition Study (BNS). I learned how to think critically like a scientist and how to conduct good research. Working at my job taught me how to look at a piece of data and see the important connections about the lives it represents. Dr. Galler has been a wonderful mentor. I think watching her work really gave me insight into how a successful, longitudinal study works—especially one that’s lasted for so long! By having repeated observations of the same variables over a long period of time, you can make valuable
conclusions about the adult effects of an early stressor. My project with the prenatally malnourished rats somewhat models the participants of the BNS.
8/13/2012 0 Comments
Week 4: The Ins and Outs of Beantown
by Riana Balahadia
When I found out I was staying on campus this summer, I was very excited—finally, the
chance to explore Boston! I consider myself a city girl, having grown up where New York City was only a subway ride away. Yet, I craved the flavor of a new town, with a different urban experience. My expertise in Boston/Cambridge locale was limited since I had hardly ventured beyond Harvard Square since freshman year (wow, time really flies by). And so, with a monthly T pass in hand, I set out to explore what I could during my weekends and after work.
The best thing I’ve discovered about the area this summer is that everything is so convenient and walk-able! During the school year, I only relied on the T subway system, not really understanding where the stops were in relation to each other. Now, I’ve been walking when I can and using the buses more often. The city of Boston is significantly smaller than the bustling Big Apple. In fact, other cities connected by the MBTA (Metro Boston Transportation Authority) have almost melded together to make up a larger “Boston.” Several towns I’ve explored so far include Cambridge, Allston, Brookline, and Brighton—each delivering a different “Boston experience.”
7/30/2012 0 Comments
Week 3: A Talk with Dr. Galler
by Riana Balahadia
Hey Scientistas! This past week has been a very productive one so far. We’ve been working at Dr. Galler’s office in Brookline, looking through the file cabinets and organizing the data. Luckily, I was able to catch an interview with Dr. Galler in between patients. Check it out!
How did your interest in child malnutrition lead to the Barbados Nutrition Study?
I’ve always been interested in studies about developing countries and poverty and in children. But it was somewhat accidental. I was actually studying neurochemistry and ended up working with a professor who encouraged me to set up a rat laboratory for him. Four years later, when I was a resident, my mentor passed away and I salvaged his data in order to continue working on prenatal malnutrition in rats. But a new opportunity arose: to work on a human study in parallel to my rat studies. In the beginning of 1973, I received funds and visited countries in Latin America
and the Caribbean to search for a place to set my study. I serendipitously ended up in Barbados through a recommendation from a friend who knew Dr. Frank Ramsey, my future collaborator. Up until his death 3 years ago, Dr. Ramsey was a local Barbadian who was very involved in public policy and was the head of the medical school and Nutrition Center. He was a trained pediatrician in Barbados interested in doing research on malnourished children. And I was on the other end in the U.S. with a neurochemistry background in rat infant and prenatal malnutrition. It felt like a meeting of minds, and so we joined forces. That was how the Barbados Nutrition Study began.
7/24/2012 0 Comments
Week 2: A Day in the Life...
by Riana Balahadia
Sites of Translation: Unraveling the Genes of Barbados
It’s hard to define a “typical day” working for the Barbados Nutrition Study—and that isn’t a bad thing. This internship allows me to work in three different locations: Dr. Galler’s office in Brookline, Judge Baker’s Children Center in Mission Hill, and UMass Medical School in Worcester. Aside from the newly-increased MBTA fares, the change in scenery keeps things interesting and exciting. Even more importantly, working in multiple environments has made the
connection between an evolutionary perspective and global health clearer to me.
Dr. Galler’s office basement holds towers of data since the 1970s, from teacher assessments of post-malnourished children to the psychiatric clinical interviews of those same kids later as adults. My two co-workers and I are working on organizing this data and making sense of it for future papers. It’s actually quite enlightening sifting through this history; we’ve seen some interesting commentary on people potentially undiagnosed with some mental or heart disorder. Here, the connection between the papers I’ve read and the Barbadian people come alive. Collectively, those musty, yellowed pages reveal the lasting impact of child malnutrition. The truth is, this impact goes beyond the sad infomercials about starving boys and girls
7/9/2012 6 Comments
You may have heard of the double burden of disease and malnutrition. This describes the co-existence of both undernutrition and overnutrition which leads to the rise in noncommunicable diseases. For example, numerous developing countries are undergoing a shift towards Westernized fast food or packaged foods, which are cheaper and more available to people of low socioeconomic status. Such countries who have traditionally suffered from malnutrition and infectious diseases are now experiencing incredible rates of metabolic syndrome (obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases) at the same time.
The Lab Journal
Welcome to the summer internship series of 2012! Follow 9 Scientista bloggers through their summer internships to catch a glimpse of what it is like to be a scientista^TM.
- India Presents: A "New World Symphony"
- Through The Lens: The Intricacies Of Diabetes
- Do Nanoparticles Glow?
- Using Unusual Animals to Study Human Disease
- Using the Hubble Telescope
- You Think What You Eat
- Experimenting With the Life of a Scientist(a)
- 18.085: My Summer at MIT
- Science Heals: A Summer of Global Health Research
Amy Beth Prager
The Network for Pre-Professional Women in Science and Engineering
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