Biomedical Sciences

The School of Public Health is a unique partnership between the New York State Department of Health and the University at Albany and offers an education based on cutting-edge research and practice-based experience. The Department of Biomedical Sciences also works closely with the Cancer Research Center. Coordinating with the faculty and resources of this wonderful wealth of opportunity, as well as many other connections throughout the world, our Internships and Career Services places students in real world, challenging, and exciting field and research positions. Below are some examples of past experiences our students have had, preparing themselves to be exceptionally qualified as they enter the field of public health.

Student Experiences

Lindsey Zehr

Internship Title: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF): A comprehensive evaluation of disease pathophysiology, biomedical research, and clinical observation

Internship Mentor: R. Matthew Kottmann, MD, University of Rochester

Summary: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a progressive scarring disorder of the lungs that is characterized by the proliferation of interstitial fibroblasts and deposition of extracellular matrix. IPF is a serious and ultimately fatal disease with most patients living only 3-5 years after their diagnosis. The pathogenesis of IPF is variable and depends on certain individual factors such as genetic predisposition and environmental exposures. However, certain molecular drivers have been identified in disease pathogenesis. At this time there are limited therapeutic agents available for treating this devastating disease and there is no cure. This internship took place under the guidance of Dr. Kottmann, a pulmonologist and researcher at the University of Rochester. Dr. Kottmann is currently investigating the molecular mechanisms involved in the activation of the TGF-β (transforming growth factor) pathway. TGF-β is a cytokine responsible for inducing the differentiation of fibroblasts to myofibroblasts, scar forming cells that are responsible for the generation of extracellular matrix. Myofibroblasts are considered to be an important determinant in the etiology of fibrosis and inhibiting myofibroblast differentiation has become an important target for therapy. In order to better understand this process we collected biological samples from study participants as part of an observational study. These samples are currently undergoing metabolomic analysis. By defining the metabolic profile of IPF we can postulate which pathways may be dysregulated and are thus contributing to disease progression. The data generated from this will present novel opportunities for pharmaceutical therapy that can increase the life expectancy of patients with IPF and ultimately lead to a cure. I also participated in in vitro laboratory research investigating protein expression of pro-fibrotic lung tissue and observed IPF clinic patient visits at the U of R as part of a clinical shadowing component. This internship allowed me to experience how biomedical research and observational studies are conducted in a fast-paced, dynamic medical setting.

Marcy Mullen

Internship Title: Newborn Screening Quality Improvement: Case Management and Hospital Education - Phase V

Internship Mentors: Kathleen Fiato, Beth Vogel and Joseph Orsini

Summary: My summer internship took place within the Department of Health- Newborn Screening Follow-Up Unit which is housed in the Biggs Laboratory within the Wadsworth Center at the Empire State Plaza and my goal was to improve the quality of the newborn screens that are received by the laboratory. As of August 20th, the Newborn Screening Lab had received 158,354 specimens for screening, but 3,952 (2.5%) of which were unsuitable for testing, primarily due to poor collection technique. My role was to identify hospitals with a high number of unsuitable specimens and work with them to provide additional resources and address educational concerns in order to help them improve their rates. My focus involved direct, daily communication with several of these target hospitals by providing early notification of an unsuitable specimen, information regarding the error rate of a specific specimen collector, photographs of unsuitable specimens, or any further assistance or educational resources that they requested.

The primary issue with an unsuitable specimen is that by the time it is collected, dried, mailed (overnight), received by the lab and analyzed for validity, the turnaround time is 2-3 days. With the exception of those babies admitted to the NICU, most infants are discharged within 2-3 days of birth and thus, no longer available for an immediate repeat collection. It then becomes the birth hospital or attendant’s legal responsibility to contact the parent and have her/him bring the baby to their pediatrician, or the hospital, to be retested. Although the majority of initial unsuitable specimens are resubmitted successfully, many are invalid a second or subsequent time or the infant is lost to follow-up after discharge. The easiest and most efficient way to avoid having to deal with the issues surrounding an unsuitable specimen is to ensure the validity of the initial sample.

In addition, my responsibilities included working with the other members of the follow-up unit by performing individual case reviews and assessments, reporting and documenting communication with hospitals and pediatrician offices, providing outreach and education for newborn coordinators and working cooperatively to help resolve collection and unsuitability issues.

Past Internships

Project Background and Goals:

In 1993, a large outbreak of foodborne illness caused by the bacterium Escherichia coli O157:H7 occurred in the western United States. In this outbreak, scientists at CDC performed DNA "fingerprinting" by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and determined that the strain of E. coli O157:H7 found in patients had the same PFGE pattern as the strain found in hamburger patties served at a large chain of regional fast food restaurants. PFGE of Salmonella, Shiga-toxin producing E.coli (STEC), and Listeria (SSL) continues to be a critical tool for investigating clusters of disease.

PFGE combined with epidemiologic evidence has resulted in the solving of many large outbreaks in NYS and across the United States. For example, the recent outbreak of Listeria associated with consumption of cantaloupes. NYS has a high volume of cases that are PFGE ‘matching’ and require follow-up beyond the routine enteric investigation conducted by local health departments. The goal of this project is to begin centralizing and standardizing SSL PFGE cluster investigations, including interviews, data collection, data entry, and analysis utilizing a team of students.

Student’s Role in Project:

A graduate level student would be responsible for assisting with the oversight and coordination of an interview process using hypothesis generating or outbreak specific questionnaires for all PFGE matching cases of SSL in NYS. The graduate student will assist with development of questionnaires, interviews, data entry, coordinating student interview schedules, and any additional responsibilities as needed. The graduate student will also assist with the analysis of project data using Access and SAS and be required to produce a final academic project (poster, presentation, or paper).

Project Background and Goals:

The physiologic and health outcomes of exposure to engineered nanomaterials have not yet been well characterized or documented, nor have the details surrounding the toxicity of various nanoparticles. The specific physiochemical parameters (e.g. size, shape, surface characteristics, charge, functional groups, crystal structure, and solubility) that most strongly influence biological activities remain unknown. It is suspected that particle count, size, and surface area are among the most important determinants of toxicity. Inhalation of aerosolized nanoparticles (potential pulmonary toxicity and translocation of the nanoparticles to the brain and/or bloodstream) and nanoparticle penetration of skin (dermal translocation and biodistribution to other organs) are the primary routes of exposure creating concern in occupational settings. Numerous organizations including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) currently recommend treating engineered nanoparticles “as if” they are hazardous.

CNSE is currently developing multiple in vitro and in vivo toxicity studies to investigate the toxicity and potential health effects of exposure to engineered nanoparticles commonly found in semiconductor manufacturing. These projects include the investigation of the effects of exposure to nanoparticles on genes, cells, vasculature, and whole animal systems. The ongoing projects at CNSE focus on the in vitro studies (the PI’s for the in vivo studies are located at other institutions), specifically genotoxicology utilizing the comet assay and cellular toxicity studies. Understanding the hazard potential of nanoparticles used in the occupational setting is necessary to make informed risk management recommendations and formulate best practices to ensure worker health and safety.

Student’s Role in Project:

The student’s role in the project will be to assist the PIs, full time CNSE PhD students and post-docs in the nanobioscience constellation in developing methods for and conducting these lab-based experiments. Additionally, the student will conduct a comprehensive literature review and review the findings from ongoing exposure assessment studies at CNSE to inform this research. Using all available information, the student will work as part of an interdisciplinary team to develop methods and conduct the in vitro experiments.

Project Background and Goals:

The Parasitology Lab at the Wadsworth Center has several projects focused on developing better methods for molecular detection of parasites that cause disease in humans. The assays we develop may be used to identify the organism, detect drug resistance, identify specific species, or perform molecular genotyping to inform outbreak investigations. Classic methods such as microscopy, ELISA and DFA are still used in clinical labs but new molecular methods are rapidly being implemented and provide information beyond what is possible with traditional approaches. With the rapid adoption of molecular methods, our lab is focused on developing methods for use in clinical diagnostics. Since many parasites have complex life cycles, in vitro growth of these organisms is often not possible or not practical. As a result, our approach is to target highly conserved genes containing sequences that are unique to that organism. We design and test various primers and probes to develop nucleic acid amplification based assays. The organisms that we are currently focusing on are: intestinal protozoans such as microsporidia, Entamoeba, Cyclospora, Giardia, as well as helminths.

Student's Role:

The student will be involved in developing a molecular assay, which may include selection of appropriate gene targets, primer and probe design, DNA cloning, assay validation. The student will learn the process required to develop and validate a method and the requirements established by the Clinical Laboratory Evaluation Program (CLEP) of New York State.

Project Background and Goals:

Powassan virus (POWV; family Flaviviridae, genus Flavivirus), a member of the mammalian tick-borne virus group, was first isolated and identified from brain tissue of a fatal case of encephalitis in 1958 in Powassan, Ontario, Canada. POWV is composed of two lineages, Lineage I (prototype POWV) and Lineage II (Deer tick virus; DTV), with distinct transmission cycles. With the exception of a few human isolates, the majority of Lineage I strains isolated in N. America have been primarily from Ixodes cookei ticks and their hosts, woodchucks (Marmota monax), mustelids, and wild canids. Lineage II strains have been predominantly isolated from Ix. scapularis ticks. Human incidence of POWV encephalitis has increased in the US and in particular, southeastern NY. At least 10 of 14 seropositive individuals detected during routine clinical testing in NY State reside in Westchester, Putnam, or Dutchess Counties. Two additional seropositive individuals were identified in Albany and Suffolk Counties, locations with burgeoning populations of I. scapularis. Two fatal cases of POW encephalitis, the result of Lineage II DTV, were residents of Putnam County. This project will continue an earlier study that found the overall activity level of DTV in the tick community in Dutchess, Putnam, Columbia, and Westchester counties to be very high reaching an estimated maximum of 6%. We will continue to examine spatial and temporal variation in these areas and determine the presence/absence of DTV in I. scapularis populations in areas outside of the Lower Hudson Valley region.

Student's Role:

The student will learn how to test ticks for medically important pathogens collected by NYSDOH and has the opportunity to learn the techniques for tick collection in the field as well in select counties in NYS if desired. S/he will learn to determine the risk of infection to the population, and how this is affected by infection rates in the ticks. As part of the tick testing, the student will gain experience in both molecular and classical virology, specifically cell culture assays and real time RT-PCR to detect Powassan virus/Deer tick virus (Flaviviridae; Flavivirus). The student will have the opportunity to learn biosafety level-2 and -3 containment laboratory procedures.

Project Background and Goals:

Public health professionals often need to deal with complaints by people who associate adverse health symptoms with odors from specific or non-specific sources. Because of the subjective nature of odors and non-specific health symptoms often associated with them, odor complaints and potential health effects are often difficult to assess. The availability of portable handheld “electronic nose” instrumentation makes it possible to characterize complex chemical mixtures that constitute aromas, odors, fragrances, formulations, spills and leaks. The instrumentation can also be used to identify simple mixtures and individual chemical compounds. The goal of this project is to determine if such instrumentation will assist public health professionals to quickly identify components in odors to help determine if the potential for adverse health effects exists.

Student's Role:

The student will use the Cyranose 320 and Sensigent OMX-SRM electronic nose instruments to measure a range of chemical substances, e.g. fuel oil, cleaning products, etc. for the purpose of characterizing the instrumentation and to determine their ability to identify odorous components within complex mixtures.

Project Background and Goals:

Human immunodeficiency virus, type 2 (HIV-2) was discovered in 1987 as a second virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV-2 is more closely related to certain strains of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) than to the more widespread HIV-1. HIV-2 is primarily restricted to Western Africa and other areas with large numbers of immigrants from Western Africa. Although HIV-2 infection is rare in the U.S. (166 confirmed cases from 1987-2009), cases are concentrated in the Northeast with a majority of U.S. cases residing in New York State.

Like all retroviruses, HIV-2 exists in two distinct forms, first, as an extracellular free virus with a RNA genome and second, as a DNA provirus integrated into the host nuclear DNA. HIV-2, like HIV-1, primarily infects CD4+ T-cells and macrophages in the blood. HIV viral load assays quantify the amount of free virus in the plasma (acellular portion of blood) by detecting HIV RNA. Compared to HIV-1, HIV-2 viral loads are lower overall and more frequently undetectable. This presents a diagnostic challenge because it can be difficult to confirm HIV-2 infection if HIV-2 RNA is not detected. Often, HIV DNA is present at higher levels than viral RNA and thus HIV-2 infected individuals will have detectable levels of HIV-2 DNA even when RNA is undetectable. Our laboratory recently developed a sensitive HIV-2 DNA detection assay based on droplet digital PCR and are validating it for clinical use. For this assay, we extract total nucleic acid from whole blood using an automated EasyMAG extraction system and then detect HIV-2 DNA using the Bio-Rad QX100 Droplet Digital PCR system. Briefly, droplet digital PCR works by partitioning the combined sample/mastermix into ~15,000 individual droplets, PCR cycling these droplets to endpoint, and reading the fluorescence of each droplet individually.

The partitioning of digital PCR allows the number of HIV-2 DNA copies to be directly counted in a sample. Although this technique works very well and produces accurate counts, a limitation of our current assay is that we don’t know how many nucleated blood cells (leukocytes) are in our sample. Since these are the only cells that can contain HIV-2 DNA in whole blood, knowing this number would allow us to modify this assay into a quantitative HIV-2 DNA assay with results reported as HIV-2 DNA copies/cell.

Therefore the goal of this project will be to develop and validate an assay to quantify a reference gene, RPP30 (ribonuclease P/MRP 30kDa subunit). This gene is found on chromosome 10 and is conserved among all animals and fungi. Each nucleated cell in the whole blood sample (i.e. the leukocytes) should have a single copy of this gene on each chromosome (2 copies/cell).

Student's Role:

The internship will consist of the following activities:

  1. Learn to perform the HIV-2 DNA droplet digital PCR assay and to extract total nucleic acid from whole blood samples using the automated EasyMag extraction system.
  2. Optimize the RPP30 droplet digital PCR assay using leukocyte counted whole blood samples.
  3. Perform validation studies on the RPP30 assay, including LOD, LOQ, reproducibility, specificity, and accuracy.
  4. Test clinical whole blood samples for which we already have HIV-2 DNA copies to determine leukocyte count. Calculate HIV-2 DNA copies/cell values for these samples.

Project Background and Goals:

This internship project was built around Dr. Udo’s on-going research study that examines the relationship between ghrelin (an appetite-stimulating hormone), alcohol craving, and alcohol self-administration in individuals with alcohol use disorders. In short, the study participants will be invited to complete a laboratory session that involves administration of alcohol and collection of blood samples through IV to measure ghrelin levels. Ultimately, this study aims to understand whether ghrelin is a potential new target for medication development to treat alcohol use disorder. This should provide students a great opportunity to learn the role of basic human laboratory research within translational framework to develop innovative interventions for addiction. This project is conducted in collaboration with Department of Emergency Medicine, Albany Medical Center. In addition, the student is expected to develop an independent research project (see below for detail.)

Through a combination of hands-on experience with data collection and independent project, this internship should help the student build the following skills necessary for MPH in biomedical science:

  • Identify the ethical, social, and legal issues implied by public health biology in addiction.
  • Explain the biological basis of addiction and public health
  • Explain the role of biology in the ecological model of population-based health in addiction
  • Articulate how biological, chemical, and physical agents affect human health
  • Apply biological principles to development and implementation of addiction prevention, control, or management programs
  • Integrate general biological concepts into public health

Student's Role:

Research project specific:

  • Subject recruitment and scheduling
  • Data collection
  • Data management
  • Assisting preparation of various reports

Independent project:

  • (For 40 hours) In addition, the student is expected to develop an independent research project related to addictive behaviors, using either the PI’s existing data or publically available data (e.g., NHANES, NESARC).
  • (For 20 hours) The student is expected to develop an independent research project related to addictive behaviors and write a 10-pages synthesis research paper based on the available literatures on the topic of interest.

Biomedical Sciences

The Department of Biomedical Sciences offers students the opportunity to pursue research-intensive Master’s (MS) or Doctoral (PhD) degrees in biomedical sciences, or a Master’s degree in Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in biomedical health sciences. Research components of these degrees can take place in one of the dozens of laboratories at the Wadsworth Center and the University of Albany. The BMS Department has unique interactions with several world-renowned institutions in the Albany area.

The Wadsworth Center, the country’s leading State Public Health Laboratory. A unique fellowship opportunity is available for students to work in a Wadsworth Center diagnostic laboratory upon completion of a PhD in the BMS Department.

The GE*NY*SIS Center for Cancer Genomics, which is committed to research that will discover the genetic origins of cancer and lead to finding a cure for the disease.

The New York Neural Stem Cell Institute, led by MacArthur “Genius” Award winner Dr. Sally Temple, who helped discover and define nervous system stem cells.

The National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies, where scientists and engineers are building a unique technological infrastructure that supports real-time interactions with the central nervous system.

Degrees Offered



MPH
MS
PhD

Research in the Biomedical Sciences Department focuses on six major topics:

Research Concentrations



Cancer
Drug Discovery & Therapeutics
Infection & Immunity


Genes & Genomes Neuroscience Structural Biology