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Alexander Flowers

Conducting Research Overseas

MHIRT Program Sends Students to England, Argentina to Study Health Issues

July 20, 2010

By Russ L. Hudson

Jennifer Ledesma, left, working with University of Oxford post-doctoral student Alexander Lorenz

Eleven students from four universities went to England and Argentina for 10 weeks, sent by Cal State Fullerton’s Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training Program to work with scientists, universities and government agencies addressing health disparities.

Since the program began on the CSUF campus 13 years ago, about 160 MHIRT Scholars have conducted research overseas.

Alice Li, left, with University of Oxford biochemist Rodrigo Reyes.

Marcelo Tolmasky, professor of biological science, directs the campus program, funded this year at nearly $242,000 by the Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, a part of the National Institutes of Health. NIH founded, and funds, the national program. Cal State Fullerton administers the program for the L.A. Basin and at times accepts students nationally.

NIH created the program to help undergraduate and graduate students in the health professions who are from populations that suffer from health-care disparities and/or are underrepresented in basic science, biomedical, clinical or behavioral health research career fields.

Paola Fernandez, right, works with her mentor, Richard Farndale.

“MHIRT offers students invaluable experiences,” said Robert Koch, chair and professor of biological science. “They have the opportunity to interact with other scientists and with students from another culture, a chance to see both the differences and the universality of science everywhere."

Tolmasky added, “Health disparities are an international concern, and these students’ data will contribute to a better understanding of these disparities and to reducing and, ultimately, eliminating them.“ The students in this year’s program include:

  • Paola Fernandez of Whittier (B.S. biochemistry ’10), a CSUF master’s student in biochemistry, working with Richard Farndale, professor of matrix chemistry at the University of Cambridge, on the effects of specific proteins on calcification of blood vessels.
  • Alexander Flowers of Chicago, second-year biotechnology and chemical sciences graduate student at Roosevelt University, Chicago, working with biologist David Glover and post-doctoral researcher Helene Rangone at the University of Cambridge, investigating how enzymatic proteins affect cell division.
  • Jennifer Ledesma of Huntington Beach, CSUF senior of biological science, working with Matthew Whitby, geneticist, at the University of Oxford, researching the processes of DNA repair and what happens when repairs go wrong, which can cause breast cancer, Bloom’s Syndrome and Werner’s Syndrome
  • Alice Li of Buena Park, a senior physiological science major at UCLA, working with biochemist David Sherratt in a research project that also includes biochemist Rodrigo Reyes of the University of Oxford, Department of Biochemistry. Li investigates plasmids’ roles in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Angela Lin of Hacienda Heights, a second-year CSUF master’s in public health student, working with medical doctor Natalia Laufer, National Reference Center for AIDS and Hospital Fernandez, and the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research. The focus of her study is the barrier to hepatitis C virus treatment of HIV/AIDS.
  • Stacie Lomibao of Palmdale (B.S. Health Science, ’10) working with biologist Dario Dilernia of the University of Buenos Aires, the national AIDS organization, Huesped, and with the National Reference Center for AIDS. She applies the Health Belief Model to groups of people in Buenos Aires, a way of determining what people do and don’t accept as true and/or will act on, in regard to the relationship between knowledge, belief and action on HIV/AIDS prevention.
  • Christina Lopez of Lake Forest, (B.S. biological science ’10), working with biologist Carolina Carillo at the Instituto Fundación Leloir in Argentina on a parasite that affects human health in underdeveloped countries.
  • Hugo Medina, a senior biology major at Cal State Northridge, working with biologist Angeles Zorreguieta at the Instituto Fundación Leloir on bacterial pathogens.
  • Amanda Morales of Orange, CSUF senior biological science major, working with microbiologist Maria Soledad Ramirez of the University of Buenos Aires Medical School on the molecular basis for failed treatment of infections incurred during hospital stays.
  • Belinda Prado of Garden Grove, a second-year CSUF master’s in public health student, working with biologist Maria de los Angeles Pando in the microbiology department of the School of Medicine at the University of Buenos Aires. The epidemiological aspects of HIV in vulnerable populations such as sex workers and injection drug users is the focus of her study.
  • Catherine Tran of Orange, a CSUF senior biological science major, working with microbiologist Daniela Centron of the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine on the role of integrons, DNA elements that confer antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

MHIRT scholars, from left, Catherine Tran, Christina Lopez, Amanda Morales, Angela Lin, Stacy Lomibao, Hugo Medina and Belinda Prado, and Maria Soledad Ramirez of the University of Buenos Aires and CSUF’s Chandra Srinivasan, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. The photo was taken when the group stopped in Palermo, Argentina.

Media Contacts:

Marcelo Tolmasky, Biological Science, 657-278-5263, or
Russ L. Hudson, Public Affairs, 657-278-4007 or

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