COPH doctoral student attends NIH research course

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DeAnne Turner, a USF College of Public Health doctoral student in community and family health, wasn’t exactly sure about her chances of getting selected to attend the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) prestigious clinical and translational research course.

After all, Turner is in the social and behavioral science field, with a focus on HIV and sexual health.

“I thought that learning about the clinical research related to my field—and how these findings were translated into practice—would be helpful. But I worried that others may not see the fit because I do not work in the bench sciences,” she explained. “I focus on increasing access to HIV prevention and care–not laboratory sciences.”

But Turner, who did her undergraduate work at the University of Florida and earned her master’s in public health from Tulane University in New Orleans, was one of 30 doctoral students—and the only one studying public health—from around the country chosen to attend the course, held last July on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD.

Doctoral student DeAnne Turner, MPH, poses in front of the library at the NIH. (Photo courtesy of Turner)

According to the NIH’s Clinical Center, which offered the two-week intensive program, the purpose of the course was “to demonstrate the role of PhD scientists in clinical and translational research, provide an overview and examples of how basic science and clinical observations lead to translational research, and increase awareness and access to PhD role models, research resources and potential career opportunities at the NIH.”

In addition to learning about study design, protocol development and the scientific and ethical review of research, Turner was able to take part in a kind of virtual-reality lab, called a bio-visualization lab.

“This was by far the most unique activity of the course,” said Turner. “You put on googles and you are transported into this lab. You can virtually handle the Zika virus, pick up a molecule and see, in 3-D, how a drug penetrates a cell. The NIH is trying to bring these virtual labs to places like Uganda so when an outbreak of something occurs they will know how to treat it.”

Turner in the bio-visualization lab at the NIH. (Photo courtesy of Turner)

Another highlight, says Turner, was meeting with chairs of the NIH’s institutional review board. “We got to review an already submitted research study protocol, discuss ethical concerns and suggest changes we would make or questions we would raise,” said Turner. “Then we got to compare our thoughts with those of the board, to see if we were on track.”

Turner, who has worked in public health in a variety of capacities—including with the Peace Corps in Kenya and the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County—has been focusing her PhD research on how pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is discussed during HIV testing.

PrEP is HIV prevention medication. When taken before exposure to the virus, it can be up to 90 percent effective in reducing the transmission of HIV in at-risk populations, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“The course taught me more about bench science terminology, about different statistical analysis programs and about intramural versus extramural research [research that’s funded from within an organization, instead of from outside it],” commented Turner, who hopes to pursue a career in research. “It helped me approach things from different angles. It helped me come full circle.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health

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