Melanie Sabado, Ph.D., M.P.H. IRTA Postdoctoral Fellow
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
Project Title: Assessment of Mental Health Behaviors and Stigma Among Young Adult Pacific Islanders
About 1.5 million Americans identify in whole or in part as U.S. Pacific Islanders, but this population is very underserved and underrepresented in health research. Until recently, Pacific Islanders were lumped together with Asian American groups in census data and epidemiological studies, resulting in skewed perceptions of this unique population. Researchers have recently learned that Pacific Islanders face higher rates of mental distress, depression, and anxiety than most other racial groups in the United States. Pacific Islanders are also less likely than many other racial groups to access mental health services, because of poverty, social stigma, and misunderstandings about mental illness.
Researchers will study several aspects of mental health in young adult Pacific Islanders, including how often mental illness occurs, how the culture affects attitudes and behaviors toward mental illness, and barriers to treatment. Community health workers who have established relationships with the local population will assist researchers in recruiting subjects between the ages of 18 and 35 who self-identify as Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, or Chamorro. The team will collect information on a variety of measures, including demographics, barriers to care, mental health status, and ways of coping and getting treatment. Researchers will analyze the relationship between behaviors and the frequency and degree of mental health distress. This data will serve as a baseline for future studies on mental health and the Pacific Islander population, as part of an effort to create a culturally sensitive plan to reduce mental health stigmas, improve access to care, and mitigate the impact of mental illness on other chronic diseases.
Tracy M. Layne, Ph.D., M.P.H. CRTA Postdoctoral Fellow
National Cancer Institute
Project Title: Prospective Serum Metabolomic Profiling and Prostate Cancer Risk in Black Men
Previous studies have shown that Black men are about twice as likely as White men to have prostate cancer and die from it, but there is a lack of research about why Black men tend to have more aggressive forms of the disease. Metabolomics, the study of metabolites (compounds within cells) and their biochemical reactions within cells, can help identify targets for prostate cancer prevention and treatment. Previous metabolomics research has allowed scientists to pinpoint prostate cancer’s progression and invasiveness. But none of these studies evaluated Black men specifically.
Researchers will analyze specific metabolites in Black men with prostate cancer. By examining two previous large-scale prospective studies on prostate cancer metabolites, the team will aggregate data from nearly 500 Black men with cancer and match them against control subjects. The researchers aim to identify which metabolites are associated with overall prostate cancer risk in Black men and which are associated with the more aggressive forms of the disease. The team hopes that the data can help create “metabolic profiles” to identify risk factors unique to Black men, as well as shine a light on the biochemical basis underpinning racial disparities in prostate cancer.
Candace Middlebrooks, Ph.D. IRTA Postdoctoral Fellow
National Human Genome Research Institute
Project Title: Investigation of Genetic Risk Modifiers of Leg Ulcer Development in Sickle Cell Patients, Using Whole Exome Sequencing and Microbiome Characterization
Sickle cell disease affects more than 100,000 people in the United States, as well as millions worldwide. It is more common in people of African descent. Sickle cell disease happens when a genetic abnormality causes red blood cells, which are normally round, to become distorted into sickle shapes. The sickle-shaped blood cells can get stuck inside blood vessels and pile up, preventing blood and oxygen from flowing. This can cause extreme pain, stroke, organ damage, and leg ulcers, among other conditions.
Of all the complications that result from sickle cell disease, leg ulcers are the least studied. Leg ulcers are hard to treat, can take months or years to heal, and tend to recur. Previous research on this topic has hinted that a person’s genes may influence whether leg ulcers develop and possibly even what kinds of bacteria live at the ulcer site.
Researchers plan to study the genetic information of sickle cell patients who participated in a previous clinical trial on leg ulcers. The team will compare the genes of patients who had or didn’t have leg ulcers to find differences that may point to increased risk for ulcers. The researchers will also study whether these genetic differences are related to the types of bacteria present at the ulcer sites. The team hopes this data can help other researchers pinpoint gene-based risks for other complications caused by sickle cell disease.