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Vol. LXII, No. 21
October 15, 2010
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‘No Cannot-Dos’
Pacific Island Students Find that Labs And Lab Coats Suit Them

On the front page...

Through time zones, cultures and continents, Salefu Tuvalu left her native American Samoa to come to NIH to make her mark in the world of science.

This summer, under a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases program designed to attract underrepresented minorities to the medical sciences, the Idaho University student found that mark in NIDDK’s Phoenix branch, where she worked to identify genetic explanations for why an American Indian tribe in Arizona has higher rates of obesity and diabetes than many other groups.

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  Salefu Tuvalu  
  Salefu Tuvalu  

With the help and mentoring of NIDDK researchers such as Dr. Leslie Baier, Tuvalu studied a gene, ALMS1, which previously had been shown to cause the rare genetic disorder Alstrom syndrome. Children with the syndrome are insulin-resistant and often develop type 2 diabetes. Tuvalu wanted to investigate whether inherited variations in this gene also have a role in diabetes or obesity among the tribe.

“I want to make a difference,” she said after presenting her research to an assembly of other Intramural Student Internship Program participants and NIDDK scientists recently on campus. “This program is like—there are no ‘cannot-dos.’”

Her program is one of three this past summer that hosted students from among the farthest reaches of American territories, Guam and American Samoa, in an effort to get more Pacific Islanders to consider medical science as a career and NIH as a destination.

“Pacific Islanders were totally underrepresented in biomedical sciences,” said Dr. Lawrence Agodoa, director of NIDDK’s Office of Minority Health Research Coordination, which sponsors the programs. “But they all deserve to be included in these programs and given opportunities that are available to all U.S. high school and undergraduate students in NIDDK programs.”

Last year, the program’s first, Tuvalu was one of two students from American Samoa participating. This year, while she’s moved on to the college program, 10 high school students from the territory have swelled the ranks of the Pacific Island/Alaska Native Summer Internship program, researching close to home and then presenting together to Agodoa and others in Samoa.

Ten high school students from Guam visited in August to cul-minate their participation in NIDDK’s Pacific Island/Alaska Native Summer Internship program. The students spent the summer researching in labs in Guam and then presented their findings at NIH during the annual Short-Term Educa-tion Program for Underrep-resented Persons conference. The students are (bottom row, from l) Christina Vasques, Cynthia Zapatos and Jamie Pangelinan; in second row are (from l) Pollara Cobb, Katrina Quinata, Stacey Taman, Joseph Chargualaf, Anibelle Libranda and Josephine Meno. At rear is Andrew-Jerome Charfauros.

Ten high school students from Guam visited in August to cul-minate their participation in NIDDK’s Pacific Island/Alaska Native Summer Internship program. The students spent the summer researching in labs in Guam and then presented their findings at NIH during the annual Short-Term Educa-tion Program for Underrep-resented Persons conference. The students are (bottom row, from l) Christina Vasques, Cynthia Zapatos and Jamie Pangelinan; in second row are (from l) Pollara Cobb, Katrina Quinata, Stacey Taman, Joseph Chargualaf, Anibelle Libranda and Josephine Meno. At rear is Andrew-Jerome Charfauros.

In a separate NIDDK program, also in its second year, 10 students from Guam spent their summer doing research at the University of Guam before coming to NIH to present their research during a scientific session for the Short-Term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP) in mid-August. Wearing crisp white lab coats, the students presented to peers from around the country and to NIH researchers and answered questions from their audience.

Stacey Taman was among the 10 Guamanian high school students who visited Bethesda, her first visit to the continental U.S.

She’d been interested in science since she was in junior high school and opened up a science textbook showing a picture of test tubes filled with chemicals. “It made me want to do that and learn what each one was, and just basically to become a scientist and do lab work,” she said.

Taman spent her summer studying whether diabetes and ethnicity are risk factors for hepatitis C infection among end-stage renal disease patients on Guam. She found that hepatitis C infection is very common among Guam’s indigenous population.

“The program has enhanced my interest in a science career because, through my research this past summer, I got first-hand experience on what the science field is about, and trying to get results was all so fun,” she said. “This is a first step for me to be what I want to be.”

For Andrew-Jerome Charfauros, the program helped him see the diversity of options he has for pursuing a career in science. He spent his summer studying patients in three hemodialysis centers on Guam. “My study was to establish the prevalence of diabetic end-stage renal disease (kidney failure) among the dialysis patient population,” he said. “I found that 79 percent of all dialysis patients on Guam have kidney failure attributed to diabetes.”

Charfauros believes the program, with its link to NIDDK’s mission, will attract many students from Guam as news of the opportunity spreads. “Most of the families of Guam have family members afflicted with diabetes, digestive or kidney disease, so I’m more than certain that should this program be made well-known among the student body, there would be a greater interest than in any other area.” NIHRecord Icon

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