Three Alcorn biology students participate in MHIRT program in India

Three Alcorn State University Department of Biological Sciences students are participating in the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT) at St. John’s Medical College Research Institute in Bangalore, India, June 9 through August 3, 2014.

Bobbie Ann Williams, a junior from Ridgecrest, Louisiana, Lauren Marie Long, a junior from Detroit, Michigan, and Shakyra A. Cooper, a junior from Jackson, Mississippi, were selected for their performances in academics and interest in biomedical research to participate in the highly thought-after eight-week training in biomedical and clinical laboratory research and specialized clinical instruction.

“Alcorn’s participation in MHIRT began in 2001 with the support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and the year 2014 is the last year Alcorn students receive training in India,” said Dr. Bettaiya Rajanna, professor and chair, Department of Biological Sciences, who serves as principal investigator and program director. “This prestigious program allows undergraduate and graduate students from health disparity background to receive high quality training in selected areas of clinical/biomedical research at foreign research centers. A focused aim of this program sponsored by NIH is to increase the number of clinical/biomedical research workforce belonging to health disparity background.”

St. John’s Medical College Research Institute is one of the top 10 research medical universities in India. Being trained there, Alcorn students receive mentoring from clinical professors/physicians in three research projects: a pilot study to assess the impact of maternal physical activity on autonomic nervous activity of healthy pregnant women; the reliability of a digital photographic methods to estimate the anthropometric indices of the medical longitudinal arch of the foot; and a pilot study to assess the fetal heart rate variability changes in mothers with signs of depression compared to age matched healthy mothers.

Each Alcorn MHIRT trainee is assigned to an independent research project with a clinical research faculty as a mentor and working side by side with medical graduate research associates. This arrangement allows our students to receive an in-depth research experience and to incorporate substantial amount of theoretical and analytical knowledge into the research projects.

Mrs. Sharada Rajanna, assistant professor of Computer Science in the Department of Mathematical Science, who serves as co-director of the Alcorn NIH MHIRT program, will mentor and supervise all activities that Alcorn students are involved in while in training.

During the training period, students will have a chance to hold at least two oral presentations of their research at midterm research meetings.

Dr. Rajanna states, “After their return to Alcorn, all three students will prepare their research data and make poster presentations at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) organized by American Society of Microbiology which will be held November 11-15, 2014, in San Antonio, Texas.”

“But it is not ‘all work, no fun’: students will participate in various activities including yoga, see cultural shows and go on several out-of-town culturally enriching trips. They will have plenty of time to explore the city and do dine and shop.”

Since the beginning of the Alcorn’s participation in the MHIRT program, a total of 113 undergraduate and graduate students have participated in variety of biomedical and clinical research projects offered at two research centers, Andhra University in Visakhapatnam, and St. John’s research Institute in Bangalore, India. The program has enriched and motivated a large number of participants to pursue professional carriers in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and other fields. Many of the program’s alumni have completed or are currently pursuing their doctoral degrees. MHIRT participants are co-authors of 20 research papers published in high impact research publications and have made 90 research presentations with published abstracts at national research conferences. Five of these presentations received best paper awards with cash awards and certificates.

For more information on MHIRT, please contact Dr. Bettaiya Rajanna at (601) 877-6681.