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Vol. LXIV, No. 20
September 28, 2012
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Students from Diverse Backgrounds Learn About NIDDK Research
These high school students were in NIDDK’s Short-Term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons. This is a photo of the University of Hawaii cohort, which includes all the students from the Pacific Islands.

These high school students were in NIDDK’s Short-Term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons.


This is a photo of the University of Hawaii cohort, which includes all the students from the Pacific Islands.

Photos: Bill Branson

On the surface, Camille Miller and Yvonne Johnny appear to have little in common. Miller is an American Indian, lives in the dusty deserts of Arizona and is enrolled in college to be a registered nurse. Johnny hails from the tropical paradise of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), a U.S.-affiliated territory, more than 5,000 miles away. She hopes to pursue science education when she graduates from high school. But both young women share one important similarity: each of their communities suffers from unusually high rates of diabetes and its complications. And each student spent the past few months looking for a way to change that.

This summer, both participated in NIDDK programs designed to diversify the research field. Miller studied type 2 diabetes through the NIDDK Summer Internship Program (SIP) at the institute’s Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch (PECRB). Johnny researched type 2 diabetes through the Short-Term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP) in her native Micronesia. Both presented their work at conferences at NIH in August.

Yvonne Johnny of the Federated States of Micronesia in the Pacific gives a presentation on her summer work.

Yvonne Johnny of the Federated States of Micronesia in the Pacific gives a presentation on her summer work.

Photo: Jennifer Curry

The two programs are designed to provide research opportunities for students from groups underrepresented in biomedical research, including certain racial and ethnic minorities. SIP students conduct research related to NIDDK’s mission either at a lab on the main campus or at PECRB; STEP-UP students work at one of several NIDDK-funded labs in the United States and its territories. This year, STEP-UP welcomed students from the Marshall Islands, the FSM and U.S. Virgin Islands for the first time and NIDDK established a new molecular biology lab in the Marshall Islands.

Dr. Lawrence Agodoa directs NIDDK’s Office of Minority Health Research Coordination, which manages both programs. He said having a diverse pool of researchers to tackle some of science’s most pressing issues is crucial.

“People of all walks of life need to come together and think about how to solve these problems,” he said. “Many chronic diseases such as diabetes affect minority communities disproportionately. Having friends and family who are affected by a disease often gives people extra motivation to pursue biomedical research.”

Miller and Johnny concur. Part of Miller’s passion for her research on type 2 diabetes in Pima Indians comes from having experienced the disease within her own American Indian community, the Cocopah tribe, and even closer to home.

“Diabetes runs in my family, and my grandparents were amputees from diabetes complications. They ended up dying from diabetes. I really think that my family and tribal members could benefit from my research,” she said.

Miller’s research this summer at PECRB was her first foray into the world of medicine and she hopes to apply for an NIH grant one day to resume her investigations.

Johnny also hopes to continue her research.

“I want to find a cure for diabetes to help my family and friends back home,” she said. “I see myself as the future of diabetes research.”

Learn more about the NIDDK Office of Minority Health Research Coordination summer programs at www2.niddk.nih.gov/OMHRC/OMHRCHome/OMHRCHome.htm.


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