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Promising hs student researchers from Saipan identified and praised by medical experts

By Lori Lyn Lirio

High school students from PSS and private school shortly after presenting their research projects to medical experts at the Memorial Park Theatre. In this photos, the students poses with NHI-NIDDK’s STEP-UP project directors Dr. Lawrence Agodoa and Dr. George Hui with PSS STEP-UP coordinators Asap Ogumoro and Annette Pladevega, Associate Commissioner Jackie Quitugua and research mentors. Photo by Lori Lyn Lirio

SIX underrepresented high school students from Saipan showed promise in their medical researches that a ranking health official recently encouraged them to live their passion and continue their medical research and lead the effort against diseases in the islands.

Minority Health Research Coordination director Dr. Lawrence Agodoa said praised the six high school students – De Faustina Camacho, of Kagman High School; Ian Cataluna, of Marianas High School; Tina Choi, of Marianas Baptist Academy; Jeni Costales, of Dr. Rita H. Inos Jr./Sr. High School; Natalie Montano, of Saipan Southern High School; and Britney Takai, Kagman High School – as he urged them to continue their passion in medical research.

The six students all participated in the 2018 Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons or STEP-UP program where they embarked on an eight-week research projects after which they presented the same to medical experts.

Drs. Agodoa and George Hui, program coordinator of the Pacific STEP-UP were on Saipan to hear the presentations, give constructive criticism and give suggestions to improve further the students’ work.

STEP UP is a component of the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The program provides short-term opportunities and training for high school and undergraduate students from racial/ethnic groups underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral research fields as well as from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ian Cataluna, who was mentored by Roy Adsit – a Biology and Chemistry teacher at Saipan Southern High School, worked on the effect of food consumption on electrocardiogram response (EKG) in young adults. The research aimed at getting further insight of the effect of certain tasks, such as eating, on the ECG and would aid in the identification of health behavioral patterns.

De Faustina Camacho was mentored by Public Health/HIV/STD Resource and Treatment manager John Moreno and Public Health Director Margarita Aldan. Her worked focused on Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project. The research’s goal was trying to determine if gonorrhea, the second most reported disease in the U.S. and the CNMI, show a resistance to the treatment in at least 15 percent.

Jeni Costales worked on the common eradication techniques used in the Pacific Islands for coconut rhinoceros beetle. She was mentored by Mark Manglona, technician coordinator for CRB, and Joseph Atalig, quarantine supervisor at the Department of Lands and Natural Resources.

In her research, Tina Choi tried to investigate the effect of air conditioning on radon, a radioactive noble gas that can easily seep into buildings. Excessive radon level can lead to lung cancer. Choi’s mentors were Captain Derek Chambers of Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, and Austin Flores of the Northern Marianas College.

Natalie Montano was mentored by DLNR’s Joseph K. Ruak and Jessy R. Hapdei. For her research, Montano tried to determine the relationship between the depth of the nest and the hatching success rate of green sea turtle on Saipan, Tinian and Rota.

Britney Takai was mentored by Amber Mendiola, of Public Health/ Diabetes Prevention and Control Program; Bradwell Batallones, and Margarita Aldan, of Public Health. Takai’s research is related on

areca nut or betel nut and its correlation to oral cancer. Her study focused on determining the level of readiness that the community members and leadership possessed in regards to betel nut use with tobacco and lime among high school students between 14-18 years old. Her objective was to create an action plan, depending on the level of readiness, to combat the issue.

In an interview, Dr. Agodoa said all high students’ research projects were all good.

“It is dealing with islands issues and problems and this is what we would like to see,” he said, adding “the CNMI and the Pacific Islands are bringing a different dimension to what they are trying to get the kids see problems in the community and how to use research to solve some of these problems.”

He also said STEP UP project is one of the ways to entice the students to consider going medical research and try to solve community health issues.

“Severe diseases affect underrepresented communities. Diabetes is one of the most problem issued that we have to deal with and yet we don’t have researchers to these communities that’s why we are getting down to these students to appeal to them to consider going to the medical research,” he said.

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Lori Lyn Lirio
Lori Lyn C. Lirio is a veteran newshen having worked for the People's Journal Tonight for more than 10 years. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications degree from the Lyceum of the Philippines University. She currently writes for the Marianas Variety, Saipan's number one community paper. .

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