Alcorn students travel to India, complete biomedical research

For the 13th year in a row, Alcorn students participated in the Minority Health and International Research Training (MHIRT) Program, traveling to Bangalore, India to train at one of the top medical educational institutions in the country – St. John’s Research Institute (SJRI), St. John’s Medical College (SJMC).

From June 1 – August 1, four students were trained on projects exploring various experimental protocols dealing with the health and well-being of human subjects. “This, in a way, was a very unique opportunity for our students,” explained MHIRT Program Director at Alcorn and Professor in Department of Biology Dr. Bettaiya Rajanna. “It was first time they had an opportunity to work in areas of clinical research using human subjects as research models.”

Students that participated were: Chiquita Thomas, a biology and nursing major from Lorman, Mississippi; Kierra Young, a pre-pharmacy senior from Vicksburg, Mississippi; Nefaterria Phillips, a junior biology major from St. Louis, Missouri; and Pandora White, a senior bio-chemistry major from Fayette, Mississippi. (A fifth student, Casey Brumfield, a biology/pre-med major, was unable to complete training due to personal health reasons.)

Each student was assigned a project and mentor(s): Thomas worked with Dr. Mario Vaz, professor of Nutritional Physiology and vice dean (SJRI) and Dr. Jean Frederick, M.D. served as her research mentor on “Cardiovascular Responses and Cardiac Work of Selected Daily Activities in Normal Healthy Indian Subjects”; Young worked with Dr. Sowmya, M.D., assistant professor with Dr. Sucharita M.D. Ph.D, associate professor and head of the Clinical Physiology Unit as advisors on the project titled “A Study to Assess the Final Heart Rate Variability in Mothers with Gestational Hypertension”; Phillips was assigned to Dr. Indu Mani, M.D., professor in Physiology on a project titled, “Study to Assess Serum Antioxidant Enzyme Activity in Subjects with Dyslipidemia”; and White was mentored by SJRI faculty Dr. Ragainin Macaden M.D., professor, Infectious Diseases Unit, and Salesh Chandran Ph.D., research scholar, on “Detection of Panton-Valentine leucocidin in Methicillian Resistant Staphylococcus Aurecus (MRSA) Isolated from Clinical Samples”.

“Our students were very fortunate to receive tutelage from such highly accomplished clinical research scientists,” shared MHIRT Program Co-director and Assistant Professor in Mathematics and Computer Science at Alcorn Sharada Rajanna. “They were impressed by the caliber and the intensity of the training and felt that it was very unique and enriching work.”

During their stay, students were exposed to a diversity of culture, language, food, living, style and heritage. Besides research, students visited such places as the ancient architectural monuments at Belur, Halebeedu, Somanthapur and Sravanbelagola; Talakad, the origin of river Cauveri; enjoyed the mangificient water falls at Shivanasamudra; visited the historical and world famous palaces, zoo and Brindavan Water Garden in Mysore; Lalbagh Garden in Bangalore; and an open safari in the Zoological Park at Bannerughatta. The group was also introduced to yoga, the well-known Indian stretching and breathing exercise. “In all, the students had plenty of opportunities to know, taste and enjoy the fruits of diversity of India,” shared Dr. Rajanna.

MHIRT is sponsored and funded by the National Center for Minority Health, Diseases and Disparities (NIMHD) of National Institutes of Health (NIH). The purpose of the program is to provide opportunities for minority students to gain experience in biomedical research in foreign countries who share the burden of inequity and disparity for access to quality health care by minority populations.

Alcorn’s participation in MHIRT began in 2000 when the University won a competition for its first international biomedical research training grant of $956,068 that was awarded for five years. Since then, 110 students have trained under MHIRT at research centers in India. Out of these, 12 are currently enrolled in an undergraduate program at Alcorn, 22 have either completed or are in graduate programs, 14 have graduated with a master’s degree, 14 are on a doctoral degree track, two completed a M.D., two are currently enrolled in a M.D. program; two have received a degree in dentistry, two are currently enrolled in a dental program; five are enrolled in a nursing program; eight are enrolled in pharmacy school; and one is in school for physical therapy. These trainees are also co-authors of 16 peer-reviewed journal papers; have submitted four manuscripts; and have made 89 presentations (with published abstracts) at national research conferences.

MHIRT related activities at Alcorn are evaluated to ensure appropriateness and effectiveness of the program in reaching its objectives. During its 2009 evaluation, the program received the highest score among all applications throughout the nation.

For more information, contact Dr. Bettaiya Rajanna at 601.877.6681 or Sarada Rajanna at 601.877.3984.

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Pictured (L to R): Vice Provost Dr. Donzell Lee (L) visiting SJRI, enjoying a reception with program participants Pandora White, Sharada Rajanna (Co-Director), Nafaterria Phillips, Chiquita Thomas, Keirra Young, Dr. Sucharita (SJRI), Dr. Indumani (SJRI) and Dr. Mario Vaz (SJRI).

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Pictured (L to R): MHIRT participants Broomfield, White, Phillips, Thomas and Young.