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Biology and Community Health Senior Research Symposium

Biology and Community Health Senior Research Symposium

During this fall semester the Biology and the Community Health Programs combined their capstone courses into one. This allowed the students to experience a more broad spectrum of topics. In this Senior Seminar, each student selects a research project that represents a challenge to the environment, medicine, science, health or healthcare. Students are encouraged to read widely to select their topic.Through their independent reading and research, students formulate a thesis statement and an outline of the paper.Students must show in their research and writing that the knowledge and skills derived from biology classes and other PMC classes have given them the support to design and accomplish the research project. Students are expected to read widely and deeply to create a healthy bibliography. Each student prepares a written report of 20-22 pages. This is a progressive mentored research report: interim themes and deadlines guide the students. Students also prepare an oral presentation for the mini Research Symposium at semester’s end.

This year’s Senior Seminar Research Symposium was held in the President’s Dining Room on December 16th.
The Dean of the College was present, as were Biology faculty, Sarah Woolf, Director of the Annenberg Library, Kelly Curtis, Biology tutor from the Brown Learning Resource Center and Dr. Tess Killpack, a former visiting instructor in the Biology Program.

Presentations were delivered in the following categories: (Click on the links to read the abstracts)

Infectious Diseases as Global Challenges

Pressing Issues Impacted by Political and Social Climate

Interplay of Social Values and Cultural Norms with Health

Diseases that Present a Challenge to Modern Medicine

Human Papilloma Virus and Cervical Cancer

Jacqueline de Oliveira

Cervical cancer is a highly preventable disease with proper screening and early intervention. Despite this fact, in 2013 there were approximately 12,340 new cases of cervical cancer in the United States (ACS 2013). Persistent infection with a high risk type of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is necessary for progression from a precursor cancerous lesion to invasive cervical cancer. HPV also plays a causal role in other lower genital tract cancers, including penile, vaginal, vulvar, and anal, as well as non-genital cancers of the oropharynx (EPVPD 2015). For a patient with cervical abnormalities and a positive HPV test result, ideal management must identify and treat abnormalities that are likely to progress to invasive cancer. Testing for HPV infection, screening for HPV related disease, and managing HPV associated conditions can be challenging for health care providers to master. This paper presents the realities of HPV transmission, its natural history, current recommendations for cervical cancer screening, and key treatments for HPV and HPV related diseases. The efficacy and safety of the HPV vaccine is also discussed. Approximately 95% of cervical cancers are associated with HPV; in another words this is a preventable infection. The early and repeated intervention of health care professionals is essential.

HIV/AIDS in Sub Saharan Africa

Carmele Thermidor

The prevalence of HIV infection in African countries such as Nigeria, Zambia and Botswana has impacted these communities in areas such as economic sustainability, political stability, social growth, and psychological health. People in these countries suffer from a high infection rate and decreased life expectancy. The treatments available disrupt the cycle of the virus, however they are expensive and often unavailable to most people living with HIV in Africa. A vaccine or a post-infection treatment to eradicate this threat would be a miracle from any point of view. An affordable cure is necessary to counter a pandemic; information and words of caution will not do as proven time and again in history. In the few decades following the apparition and propagation of HIV, most developed countries have put in place strategies to keep the infection rate at a manageable level. Currently there are about 35 million people living with HIV in the world, of which 70% are living in the African continent. Why is it so? What are the causes and consequences of such a high prevalence in Africa?

Tuberculosis: The Forgotten Disease

Anielly Zeferino

Although unknown to many, Tuberculosis is more of a crisis than one may think. The disease has become a global epidemic, with each corner of the world having reported numerous cases of infected patients. A third of the world’s population has been infected with TB, and annually there is an estimate of 9 million reported cases of the active disease, which causes roughly 1.5 million deaths. Death from tuberculosis is preventable since there is a treatment for it, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), this death rate is astoundingly high. Strategies have been created through the years to bring countries together to fight against the disease; however, there is an annual gap of $2 billion dollars to be filled, as countries contribute less and less to the cause. Without global collaboration, Tuberculosis won’t be eradicated in the near future as many would hope.


Rosalie Sinclair

Hydroponics is a term for alternative plant cultivation through a multitude of different methods known for allowing growth without soil. This method uses only water, nutrients, and types of growth medium in some cases to replace the soil, hence the root of its name “hydro” for water and “ponos” for labor (Learn to Grow). Hydroponic farming has been dated to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in 600 BC and further developed by early people worldwide to combat farming struggles. In-depth scientific research began in the 1620s and has strengthened over time (Hershey, 1994). Six key system styles, best possible alternative growth mediums, and nutrient solution requirements have all been developed. Hydroponics can be contrasted with currently used traditional agricultural methods, many of which were developed back during the industrial revolution (Rorabaugh 2002). It is popularly known that food security is a global issue. Soil quality and space decrease. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals literature projects that food production will have to be doubled to meet population growth by 2050. Hydroponics paired with Vertical Farming (VF) can reach and exceed these requirements (Banerjee, 2014). Hydroponics is capable of branching outside of the small scale into commercialized farming to combat food security though it will most likely not be successful. In the US and other countries, agriculture is heavily funded by the federal government. In the US, the federal government views current farming as a form of revenue and is resistant to change. The US government’s resistance paired with society’s lack of education and cultural fear of change keeps hydroponics as a boutique small at-home hobby.

Healthcare Disparities

Amber Sims

Healthcare disparities among various groups is a complex issue caused by lack of resources including money, social stigma, discrimination, unequal availability of doctors and the government. Healthcare disparities began with the inability of certain groups to gain access to quality healthcare creating the “haves” and “have nots.” The causes of these disparities are amplified after a natural disaster. There have been numerous attempts to create a universal healthcare law to eliminate these disparities, but none has succeeded until the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed by US congress in 2010. The Affordable Care Act has caused much controversy. Will its universal healthcare goal be the solution to eliminating healthcare disparities?

Childhood Obesity

Roxana Chavez

Childhood obesity is a major global health issue. From 1980-2012 childhood obesity has increased almost 18%. With more than one third of children in the United States overweight or obese, the cost of this epidemic in the US is staggering (Han, J., 2010). Childhood obesity alone has an annual cost of $14.3 billion dollars. Obesity overall is costing the United States $215 billion dollars annually (Hammond Levine, 2010). Although poor diet and lack of exercise are some causes of obesity there are many other components that contribute to the issue. One must consider environment, psychological, genetic and physiological factors as well. Treatment and prevention are both elements that are necessary, yet will also contribute to the cost of obesity. These statistics leave one to wonder, which is the bigger issue? Should the United States be more concerned about the dollar cost of obesity or the health consequences of the American youth who are larger than ever before? And what is the government doing to resolve the issue?

Medical Cannabis, A Continuing Controversy

Anastasia Walker

The topic of medical cannabis like CBD raises much controversy in the United States today. There is a vast history behind the medicinal use of marijuana for many diseases dating back to BC times, but in recent years medical cannabis has brought forth may issues. These issues include side effects, control and regulation, and addiction. Because of these issues, this controversial topic has created a large debate, and there is doubt that there will be a nearby end or solution to this controversy.

Tobacco Directly Linked to Lung Cancer

Majida Goummih

Smoking became popular and known in 1492 and people in the American colonies grew tobacco to make a great profit. In the 1920’s tobacco was viewed as providing health benefits and was socially popular especially for women. Franz Hermann Muller compared the lungs of 86 smokers to cancer-free controls and was able to link smoking to lung cancer. Lung cancer is defined as cancer that develops in the tissue of lungs or in the cells lining the airways. Specific chromosomal and genetic abnormalities such as inactivation of specific tumor suppressor genes, activation of specific oncogenes, the expression of hormone receptors, and growth factor production are all associated with the development of lung cancer. There are two different types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Tobacco causes cancer through the effects of strong substances known as carcinogens. The effects of smoking apply pressure on the health care system and other aspects of the global economy. Not only is the global economy affected but personal finances are effected by smoking addiction. Why is smoking tobacco still a major cause of lung cancer? People smoke for a variety of reasons. Smoking is a not only a cultural practice but is also a socializing habit. Tobacco companies continue to launch targeted advertising campaigns that succeed in increasing the numbers of smokers every day. Currently tobacco farming is growing on a global scale. Yet research shows that tobacco smoking causes major health issues and can lead to death.

Female Genital Mutilation

Ashley Tavares

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a procedure in countries where the exclusion of women’s rights together with cultural beliefs, and traditions play a tremendous part in their lives. FGM has a significant amount of history but not much of it is recorded. There is a great deal of controversy regarding FGM. Currently, 28 Africa countries allow FGM and the WHO estimates that currently there are 140 million women, children and babies who have undergone this procedure. FGM has been practiced for over 2000 years. Learning and Interpreting the history of FGM in a cultural context is necessary in order to gain an understanding as to why this procedure is performed and accepted. FGM itself involves four different methods and has no health benefits. Movements to ban this procedure do exist. Yet the pros and cons on this topic reveal the complexity of the issue and the difficulties faced by initiatives to ban this procedure. It appears impossible to successfully stop FGM. This research paper will discuss the history of FGM, the procedures and their physical and psychological impacts on women and how critical are the cultural beliefs to those communities that endorse Female Genital Mutilation.

Obesity and Epigenetics

Stephanie Derolus

This paper will explore epigenetics and its link to obesity. Epigenetics is the study of mitotically and meiotically heritable change in gene function that cannot be explained by changes in DNA sequence. Many diseases, behavior, and health indicators have been linked to epigenetics. The history of our species indicates that this extra deposit of fat was once necessary for survival, but as humans are constantly evolving, the cause of current obesity has become a large interest for many researchers. Obesity can be caused by poor diet, a result of another disease, and genetics. Researchers have discovered many genes linked to obesity that are heritable, causing many to believe that genetic markers are largely responsible for the growing obesity epidemic. As the our evolution is ongoing, will we eventually produce healthy obese individuals, and if so will society still discriminate against obese or over weight individuals if the health risks are eliminated?


Shaniesha Williams

Epilepsy has been traced back to 2,000 B.C. There were many different thoughts on what epilepsy could be, and what it meant. Many scientists have played a role in our understanding of epilepsy. Epilepsy is a condition of the nervous system that affects about 2.5 million Americans. Epileptic seizures are caused by a disturbance in the electrical activity of the brain. There are different types of seizures and also different types of epilepsy. Specific classes of seizures create different consequences for the body and brain. Some people can grow out of epilepsy, and others cannot. Diagnosing epilepsy is difficult yet when epilepsy is diagnosed, immediate treatment is necessary. Genetics plays a role in epilepsy. Several types of epilepsy have been linked to defective genes for cell membrane ion channels. Some infants have Dravet syndrome, associated with seizures before the age of one. Dravet is associated with a mutation in the SCN1A gene, one member of a gene family that codes for cell membrane sodium channel protein. There are still many ongoing questions about epilepsy; will there ever be a cure?


Lauren Chase

The diagnosis and treatment of Endometriosis in women has been greatly impacted by societal views of women. In ancient times Endometriosis was mistaken as hysteria, meaning fabricated symptoms of pain. Women who did not reproduce were perceived as not fulfilling the purpose of a woman because the uterus was practically incompetent. Many cases of endometriosis, hysteria, and other misunderstood disorders were interpreted as signs of witchcraft or demonic possession. In the 1800s, Sigmund Freud misdiagnosed many women with hysteria that often led to fatal consequences. Only in the twentieth century was endometriosis recognized as an actual medical disease. There are more than six million endometriosis cases reported annually in the United States that drastically affect women and girls. Medical personnel know endometriosis is a chronic, painful, gynecologic disorder that particularly affects the pelvic area of women; however, this disease can be found in any organ system in a women’s body. With proper research, education, and technology, society is enlightened with accurate information making women’s health improve tremendously. However, while there are many treatments for endometriosis, there is still no cure for the disease.

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