Woman standing in front of poster presenting her research on food programs
Zoe Harper, a dietetic intern in the University of Delaware’s Department of Health Behavior and Nutrition Sciences, presented an abstract for her research at the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior Conference in Washington, D.C.

September College of Health Sciences For the Record

October 03, 2023 Written by CHS Staff | Photo by Zoe Harper

For the Record provides information about recent professional activities and honors of University of Delaware faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Recent appointments, presentations, publications and honors in the College of Health Sciences include the following:

Awards

Amy Cherry, a communication specialist for the College of Health Sciences, was recently recognized by the Delaware Business Times as one of 2023’s 40 Under 40. The DBT40 annually identifies promising and successful leaders, all under the age of 40, who commit to reshaping Delaware with innovation and community engagement. At UD, Cherry captures the stories of groundbreaking research and accomplishments of faculty, staff and students at CHS within publications such as UDaily, UD Magazine and the CHS News page. For over a decade prior to joining UD, Cherry spent her career as assistant news director and senior enterprise journalist for WDEL, where her investigative journalism held government officials accountable and sparked legislation that led to solutions. Outside of UD, she is working to launch Spotlight Delaware, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering public policy statewide through her role as Board Chair of the Local Journalism Initiative of Delaware. Cherry also contributes to other local organizations and programs, such as the Delaware Press Association, New Castle County’s Dial-a-Story program and the Delaware Burger Battle, which supports the Food Bank of Delaware and Delaware ProStart.

Esther Biswas-Fiss, professor and chair of the Department of Medical and Molecular Sciences (MMSC), has received an Individual Investigator Research Award in the amount of $300,000 from the Foundation Fighting Blindness, a global leader in retinal degenerative disease research. Sam Biswas, professor of medical and molecular sciences, Barry Bodt, senior biostatistician in the College of Health Sciences, and Shawn Polson, associate professor of computer and information sciences and director of UD’s Bioinformatics Core Facility, are co-investigators on the project. The grant will support Biswas-Fiss’ research on the ABCA4 gene, which has over 3,000 genetic variants. The gene is the leading cause of Stargardt disease, an inherited retinal disease affecting one in 8,000 people worldwide, often resulting in blindness. According to Biswas-Fiss, "The onset of visual impairment in individuals with these variants can occur as early as childhood or adolescence, and some may progress to blindness shortly afterward. In other instances, ABCA4-linked disease may have a gradual onset, with some individuals not experiencing issues until middle age or even later." Biswas-Fiss aims to enhance understanding of the gene’s variants. “Through a novel approach using computational modeling and experiments, our lab seeks to understand the functional significance of ABCA4 variants of unknown significance. We want to learn what’s happening at the protein functional level and compare that with clinical patient phenotypes to make a connection with better predictive value,” Biswas-Fiss said. “It’s a very exciting opportunity. I’m honored to be funded by the Foundation Fighting Blindness and hopeful this research will make an impact for the betterment of patients.” In October, Biswas-Fiss will travel to Málaga, Spain, for the 20th annual International Symposium on Inherited Retinal Degeneration to moderate a panel and present her research alongside medical sciences doctoral students Jazzlyn Jones and Senem Cevik.

Honors

Barbara Sheer, professor emeritus for the School of Nursing, recently received the Fellow of American Association of Nurse Practitioners (FAANP) Legacy Award. This award was established in 2020 to recognize a fellow’s lifelong career with a lasting and profound impact on the field of nurse practitioners. Sheer was one of the first fellows when the program began in 2000, which has now expanded to over 900. Additionally, she recently published “Evolution in Healthcare: The Journey from a US Demonstration Project to an International Concept”, a chapter about the history of nurse practitioners in the S.L. Thomas, J. S. Rowles book titled: Nurse Practitioners and Nurse Anesthetists: The Evolution of the Global Roles. Sheer started UD’s nurse practitioner program in 1993, around the same time that the U.S. and U.K. were collaborating on expanding nurse practitioner programs globally. Since then, it has grown rapidly to 143 countries. As a result, she plays an important role in the International Council of Nursing Advanced Practice Network, where she helped develop a universal definition of nurse practitioners that could be used across many countries. Many nations have used this to help develop their own nurse practitioner master’s programs, preparing new generations of professionals to best serve patients throughout the world. “We want to recognize what has been done in the past and use this for our future leaders,” Sheer said. “We’re doing everything we can to preserve the history of our original nurse practitioners through interviews and surveying. History is only as good as its recording.” 

Vijay Parashar, assistant professor in the Department of Medical and Molecular Sciences, has been selected for a University of Delaware Research Foundation, Inc. (UDRF) grant award of $50,000.  The award will be used to support a graduate student for one year as well as an undergraduate student from the Research Experience for Undergraduates program to conduct research for 10 weeks in the summer of 2022. The grant proposal was evaluated by external experts from disciplines in similar fields and then reviewed and confirmed by members of the UDRF Board of Trustees. The research will be focused on targeting the metabolism of second messengers in bacterial cells for advancements in antibacterials. Vijay’s goal is to identify and develop small molecules that address the signaling of these messengers to regulate multiple bacterial behaviors. New approaches like this are critical to counter drug resistance as enhancements of existing antibiotics.

Ayham Ghith, an undergraduate student in the Department of Medical and and Molecular Sciences, was recently selected to serve as chapter president for the UD chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. NSCS is a national honors society across 300 colleges and universities in the country that recognizes high-achieving students. As president of the UD chapter, Ghith will maintain communications between other chapter leaders and advisors, as well as manage local activities and ensure all chapter members are properly registered and in good standing. He is also a rising junior in the medical diagnostics program and was recently accepted into the 4+1 accelerated master’s degree program. 

Presentations

Lynn Ferro, a graduate student in the Department of Health Behavior and Nutrition Sciences, presented a portion of her dissertation, a study titled “Effects of an Apiaceous or Cruciferous Vegetable on the Infant Gastrointestinal Microbiota and MicroRNA Expression: A Randomized Controlled Feasibility Study,” at the American Society for Nutrition’s NUTRITION 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. Under the supervision of department chair and associate professor Jillian Trabulsi, Ferro examined how carrots and broccoli, members of the apiaceous and cruciferous vegetable families, respectively, alter the infant microbiota when introduced early in children’s diets. With a short-term feeding duration of only three days, differences in microbiota diversity and relative abundance were still seen. Ferro utilized these data to design a clinical trial she is currently running at UD, the First Foods Study, which spans across a two-week period, providing further insights into the overall impact of introducing different singular first food types, examining their differential microbiota signature and the duration of the signature once other foods are introduced. Ferro hopes to add to a body of literature that contributes to the guidance on preferential first foods and their potential programming effect on the gut microbiome.

Zoe Harper, a dietetic intern in the University of Delaware’s Department of Health Behavior and Nutrition Sciences, presented an abstract for her research titled “Impact of FVRx Programs on Fruit and Vegetable Intake, Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Food Security: A Systematic Review” at the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB) Conference in Washington, D.C. Under the guidance of Shannon Robson, associate professor, Harper conducted a review of all existing research on produce prescription programs throughout America and analyzed how they impacted food security, cardiovascular risk factors, and intake of fruits and vegetables. The review discovered mixed results on the benefits of these programs, suggesting the importance of federal staff to provide better funding and assistance in these programs for improved impact on overall health outcomes. Harper aims to develop her career into a role where she can help connect people to these programs and influence public policy, ultimately reducing the risk of cardiovascular health problems throughout communities.

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