Virtual research helps student pursue interest in global public health


Virtual research helps student pursue interest in global public health

Stephanie Greenfield

Stephanie Greenfield is a cognitive science major concentrating in neuroscience. Her interests in global health started early – in high school, when she went to Haiti, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic on medical missions. She has continued that path with her engagement with Center for Global Health. Through CGH Virtual Environments Initiative, she able to pursue her interest in global health this summer with a group of UVA doctors to understand malnutrition’s impact on tuberculosis in Tanzania.

Tell us about your global experience at UVA?

Greenfield: During my time at UVA I have volunteered at the children's hospital in the creativity zone taking care and playing with mostly preschool and elementary age children. I also volunteer in a cancer immunology research lab studying how disruptions in the gut microbiota affect tumor progression in mice. Most recently, I have engaged in a different side of nutritional research with the Center for Global Health.

This summer I have been working with a group of UVA doctors on a project involving children in Haydom, Tanzania to better understand how malnutrition affects health during tuberculosis treatment.

What sparked your interest in global research?

Greenfield: My interest in global research started in high school when I attended medical missions in Lamacette, Haiti, Waslala, Nicaragua, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. These experiences instilled a strong desire to continue engaging with different cultures while learning and contributing to the health sector.

One experience I cherish is going to Nicaragua to assist a dentist with tooth extractions and teaching dental hygiene. While I was there, I paid close attention to the communities eating habits and learned that they mostly depended on refined flour foods. I saw a similar pattern in Haiti where the community I stayed with mostly depended on an enriched rice supplement sent monthly to the church by an overseas NGO. This fostered my keen interest in nutrition. I could see that if a sustainable source of nutritional foods could be implemented in the community, could alleviate some of the reliance on international help and give the community their own source of healthier food options.

What are you working on now?

Greenfield: Throughout my undergrad at UVA I have been hoping to get involved with childhood nutrition in a global health context. I was thrilled when I found out I received the CGH scholar award and was so eager to get started on a project. But, given the circumstances of the pandemic and COVID-19, summer plans were a bit up in the air. So, receiving the notification about the CGH Research in Virtual Environments Initiative was the best news I had heard all summer!  

I worked with Dr. McDermid, Dr. Heysell, and Dr. Van Aartsen on a project to understand malnutrition’s impact on tuberculosis in Tanzania this summer. This research is important because in TB endemic areas, malnutrition is often prevalent as well. This connection between pediatric TB and malnutrition is still not fully understood. Therefore, our research aims to demonstrate how MUAC is an effective and clinically applicable biomarker of nutritional status and health that can be used to monitor malnutrition in children. MUAC has the potential to help clinicians and patients’ families evaluate how a patient's nutritional state will impact their response to TB treatment.

What would you like other students interested in global health to know? 

Greenfield: Speaking to other students interested in global health, I would urge them to reach out to the UVA Center of Global Health. A key factor that helped me figure out what project I wanted to be a part of was attending regular sessions hosted by CGH about the different initiatives led by UVA faculty and then following up with the faculty about their work.