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Faculty/Postdoc Travel and Research Grant Recipients

Jyoti Mishra, PhD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a global disorder prevalent in 5% of children worldwide. It is associated with poor academic performance and school dropout and further foretells poor overall life quality that persists into adulthood. Pharmacological treatments that are the standard of care in ADHD do not address the underlying neuro-cognitive problems in these children, and have many  long-term side-effects. Extant behavioral interventions are expensive and non-scalable. Here, we address the urgent need to develop scalable and effective solutions that are accessible to our global children struggling with ADHD. In our research, we have successfully translated digital interventions that enhance neuro-cognition to children with ADHD in a global health setting. These app-based interventions are accessible from any home computer or smartphone. In this project, we will conduct a fully-remote global trial that integrates parent-child paired digital attention training, with parallel participant enrollment in the United States and India. 

Adam Robinson, MD; Julie An, MD; Kathryn Fowler, MD; Albert Hsiao, MD, PhD; Dorathy Tamayo-Murillo, MD

Screening Hispanic/Latino Patients for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease using Butterfly iQ Point-of-Care Ultrasound: A Pilot Project 
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease, particularly among patients of Hispanic/Latino heritage, and can result in significant morbidity if not promptly recognized.  This study aims to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of the Butterfly iQ point-of-care ultrasound device as a screening tool for the detection of NAFLD in Hispanic/Latino patients using MRI proton-density fat fraction as a reference standard.  Hispanic/Latino patients scheduled for outpatient abdominal MRI exams will be concurrently scanned using the Butterfly iQ device, and the presence or absence of hepatic steatosis as determined by ultrasound will be compared with quantitative measurements of liver fat using MRI.  These ultrasound images will also be used to develop an AI algorithm for the detection of hepatic steatosis; this study hopes to demonstrate the viability of an AI-augmented point-of-care ultrasound program to screen for NAFLD among Hispanic/Latino patients in resource-limited settings.

Victor Lopez Del Amo, PhD and Xuechun Feng, PhD

Culex mosquitoes are vectors of multiple arboviruses including West Nile, Japanese Encephalitis, Western and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and St. Louis Encephalitis Viruses, as well as nematodes causing lymphatic filariasis, the Plasmodium causing avian malaria and possibly Zika virus. The current primary control strategies rely heavily on chemicals, however, the rapid development of insecticide resistance in Culex quinquefasciatus makes it urgent to explore novel strategies. CRISPR gene-drive technologies emerged as a promising tool for mosquito population control.  A key advantage is that this system would only require the release of a few engineered individuals to either suppress or modify a target population. The goal of this project is to build CRISPR tools and test a proof-of-concept gene drive system in Culex mosquitoes which has not been demonstrated so far. The development of these technologies will provide new approaches to the available toolkit to fight vector-borne diseases.

Janis Jenkins, PhD

In this interdisciplinary study, we are working within a Southern California middle school setting to gain an understanding of diverse cultural conceptions and practices in relation to well-being. We employ multiple methods in English and in Spanish, including ethnographic interviews and observations, as well as psychological screening questionnaires to gain the perspectives of a range of community members, including students, families, teachers, administrators at a culturally diverse middle school in which most of the students are classified by the school district as socioeconomically disadvantaged. We are pilot testing a brief meditation technique application called MoodmAPP. Hypothesized positive effects for academic, emotional well being, and social engagement status that include reduction in commonly occurring types of distress such as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, or inattention.  Knowledge from the study will be shared with school and community groups.

​Gertrude Ecklu-Mensah, PhD

Quantifying the contribution of gut microbe-derived amino acids to protein sufficiency during malnutrition
Inadequate dietary protein to meet metabolic demand is a major contributor to stunting and wasting in poor countries, but also underlies undernutrition in clinical settings in the United States. However, some individuals can maintain amino acid (AA) balance while on marginal dietary protein intake. Our working hypothesis is that under conditions of low dietary protein intake, the gut microbiota contribute to host protein homeostasis by both recycling AA from gut luminal proteins and de novo synthesis of AA. We will perform controlled feeding experiments in mice to dissect the contribution of the gut microbes under periods of protein restriction. We will use shotgun metagenomic sequencing to characterize the microbial community composition and function and stable isotope analysis to quantify microbiome contribution to host protein homeostasis. Our study is expected to have broader impacts as we globally strategize innovative dietary treatments to combat conditions of malnutrition and wasting disease states.

Gordon McCord, PhD
Low-cost drones are potentially a source of data for mapping land use to identify breeding sites and determine environmental risk factors for malaria risk. We aim to develop a low-cost surveillance system, and quantitatively test its predictive power over malaria risk based on environmental factors. Specifically, we propose deploying machine learning algorithms on high-resolution images collected with low-cost drones to predict changes in malaria transmission as an early warning system to improve the malaria surveillance system. Our longitudinal study will assemble aerial imagery and paired ground-based vector habitat mapping collected in different locations in the Peruvian Amazon. We will use a previously described framework extracting features with pre-trained Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) from tiles of high-resolution images in order to better predict malaria outbreaks in rural villages of the Peruvian Amazon.

Rachel Gershon, PhD and Ariel Fridman

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies and individuals appear to be changing their attitudes toward both vaccinations and other health and social issues. Some suggest that people may be less altruistic and trusting during pandemics, perhaps due to a fear of contagion and increased individual concerns. This study aims to measure changes in attitudes and behaviors as individuals respond to this global health crisis. In a longitudinal study over several months, we will quantify the impact of the virus spread on attitudes towards vaccinations. We will also examine health and giving behaviors and attitudinal outcomes, such as trust in media, government, and peers.

Erica Ambeba, PhD

Exploring Couples’ Perceptions of Partner Support in Hypertension Self-Management Among Refugees
Compared to the general U.S. population, refugees are at a relatively high risk for sustained periods of uncontrolled hypertension, increasing the risk for major adverse cardiovascular events. The strength of refugees’ personal social networks can play an important role in mitigating the stress of resettlement and embracing new health behaviors. There is an overall lack of information on perceptions that can inform couple-based interventions potentially critical to achieving hypertension management. Therefore, the aim of the study is to assess couples’ perceptions of implementing a couple-based intervention for self-management of hypertension among refugees. A self-report questionnaire will be administered to elicit various factors that present as barriers or facilitators to implementing a couple-based intervention. Ultimately, the results of this study will provide insights into the development of a future proposal to pilot test and rigorously evaluate a couples-based intervention for hypertension self-management within the refugee context.