Training fields

UMD students contribute to the fields of technology and health with summer research projects

As students in a research-intensive institution, many members of the University of Maryland community have continued their academic studies and research beyond the traditional academic year.

From medical studies to researching artificial intelligence, students at this university have been pursuing groundbreaking work in the summer of 2022. Tevin Okutoyi, a biology senior and French major, spent this summer as a member of a National Institutes of Health research program.

Okutoyi was paired with a mentor to study sickle cell anemia, a disease of red blood cells that creates a higher risk of clots and blockages. Blockages can limit the amount of blood reaching the brain, which can cause cognitive problems such as ADHD.

Using analysis software, Okutoyi reviewed data on children ages 8 to 12 with sickle cell disease at clinics in mid-Atlantic. He sought to determine whether cognitive tests for ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders could diagnose the same disorders in children with sickle cell anemia.

Tevin Okutoyi poses for a portrait in Hornbake Plaza on September 9, 2022. Okutoyi has cataloged data on sickle cell anemia relating to children and he has studied the accuracy of cognitive tests such as those that test for ADHD in children. (Autumn Hengen / The Diamondback)

Although the study showed mixed results, Okutoyi said his research had useful implications.

“It can really have an impact [children’s] ability to do well in school,” Okutoyi said. “If doctors can also use these tests to diagnose these conditions, it will ensure that children in the future will have access to the resources they need.”

This summer at the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems at the business school on campus, Tarun Mattikalli, a biology and management student, contributed to an initiative to improve access to artificial intelligence in healthcare health.

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AI could help doctors visualize images to diagnose health issues, Mattikalli said. Before this technology can be implemented, however, researchers need to address issues of bias in AI technology.

Mattikalli will continue to work with AI this fall, training the technology to make diagnoses using medical images. The research will serve as an aid to radiologists.

“A lot of radiologists have a long workflow with images and it takes a lot of time to go through them, so having that as a tool can be really helpful,” Mattikalli said. “There’s also a lot of potential… if it’s easy to get to, it gives hope.”

Many students in the Gemstone Honors program complete their four-year research projects at the start of this semester. Among them is Katie Brown, a specialist in cell biology and genetics. She and her research team are preparing to complete their project which examines how the lining of the gut heals from damage, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

“We study the recovery time and how the cells rejoin,” Brown said. “That information would then be used by scientists and medical experts to say, ‘What kind of drugs can we use to speed things up? How can we better study this? »

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Katie Brown poses for a portrait on McKeldin Mall on September 13, 2022. Brown has been conducting research on an ongoing project that uses lab tests on organoids to study how the intestinal lining heals after injury. (Autumn Hengen / The Diamondback)

For this research, Brown’s team used model organoids — artificially grown cells or tissues that resemble an organ — made from mouse colon stem cells and cultured in a 3D matrix. Their lab experiments mimic the process of gut injury and recovery. Brown and his team battled COVID-19 their first year, but persevered through online meetings and summer jobs. This fall, they will reach their final data collection and analysis. In the spring, they will present their dissertation.

Public Health Science Junior and Spanish Major Roman Kassaraba is also about to begin the data collection phase of his Gemstone Distinction Project. Kassaraba’s team studies perceptions of eating disorders in the male population. Most research on eating disorders focuses on young, affluent white women, Kassaraba said. Most research on how men view eating disorders is retrospective.

“There was a gap in information and data on a key population, which we hope to fill this gap with our studies,” Kassaraba said.

The Kassaraba team will begin surveying the young men at this university and collecting data when their research proposal has been approved. The survey will use scaling systems that are already available, but they will include demographic information, such as race, sexual orientation and economic status. Kassaraba said this will allow for a more comprehensive analysis that won’t let some groups slip through the cracks.

While it may seem daunting, Mattikalli offered encouraging words to other students hoping to pursue similar undergraduate research opportunities.

“I always encourage people to get out there and find out what they’re passionate about. Because there’s a lot of cool stuff going on, especially in Maryland,” Mattikalli said.


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