Wharton Summer Student Research 2021

Program Details

The Wharton Summer Student Research Program is a paid, 10-week opportunity for rising junior and senior undergraduate students in nutrition to participate in research projects under the direction of faculty members in the Department of Nutrition. 

The 2021 program will begin on May 30, 2021 and end on August 6, 2021*.  Participating students receive a stipend and are expected to devote 40 hours per week to their projects for the full 10 weeks.  This year, several projects may be completed remotely, as noted below in the project descriptions.  Required lunch meetings will be held remotely.  Any questions can be addressed to nutrition@case.edu.

*Please note that dates may be subject to change in the event of COVID-19-related cancellation of in-person activities.

Eligibility and Applications

Current sophomore and junior undergraduate students who have declared a major in Nutrition or Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism no later than January 3, 2021 and have not previously participated in the Wharton Program are eligible to apply for a Wharton Summer Student Research project.  Interested students may apply online.  Applications are due by Monday, February 15, 2021 at 5:00 p.m.

Available Projects

Impact of Case Cooks classes on parameters of wellness, nutritional intake and cooking self-efficacy in undergraduate students

The Dept. of Nutrition has offered undergraduate Case Cooks classes on Ethnic Eats and Healthy Lifestyles for the past two years and over 600 students have participated. Most of the participating students are non-nutrition majors. Case Cooks classes focus on developing simple, but basic cooking skills, with attention to a nutritious and budget friendly focus. In the past pandemic year these classes have been taught exclusively via a remote synchronous and asynchronous format, yet students have remained robustly interested in Case Cooks. Numerous studies have shown that culinary/cooking education leads to positive attitudes toward cooking, increased confidence in cooking skills, increased frequency of cooking meals at home, stress reduction and improved nutritional changes in dietary intake patterns. The goal of this research is to assess the impact of these Case Cooks courses on changes in cooking skills, self-efficacy, stress reduction and dietary intake/eating habits. The participating student will work with Dr. Barkoukis to create an assessment study of these outcomes pre versus post Case Cooks participation. This will include the need to obtain an IRB approval for this study, identify which validated surveys can be used to assess these outcomes, and write a review paper identifying all current published strategies being used on college campuses during the pandemic to incorporate culinary skills into undergraduate education and their role in student wellness, cooking self-efficacy and nutritional intake.

Hope Barkoukis, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND

Note: This project can be done remotely from any location in the US if that is the preference of the student.


Homeostatic assessment of the perfused limb before implantation

This is a continuation of the project started in 2018 as a collaboration with the Department of Plastic Surgery of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (Dr. Bahar Bassiri Gharb). The overall goal of the project is to find suitable conditions for perfusing a donated limb for 24 hr, before implantation in a amputated receiver. The limb is perfused with a blood substitute and a mix of blood substrates designed to support the metabolism of the limb. The metabolic status of the limb is assessed by (i)adding stable isotope-labeled substrates (glucose, fatty acids, etc) to the perfusate, and (ii) following the spread of labeled atoms through pathways of intermnediary metabolism using mass spectrometri techniques. Also, the concentrations of a number of metabolites are assayed by enzymatic and mass spectrometric techniques.

Frequent perturbations of electrolytic profiles include excessive releases of potassium (K+) and of lactatte. These reflect perturbations of the ion pumps energy turnover (ADP phosphorylation) and inadequate metabolism of lactate carbon in the citric acid cycle. In 2021, we will attempt to increase the utilization of lactate (derived from glycolysis) by adding dichloroacetate to the perfusate. This compound which activates pyruvate dehydrogenase, is used for the treatment of congenital lactate acidemia resulting from a defect in pyruvate dehydrogenase. Limbs from donor pigs witll be perfused with various concentrations of dichloroacetate in an attempt to keep perfusate lactate concentrations withing a physiological range (1-3 mM).

We will also attempt to decrease the release of K+ from muscle cells by adding various concentrations of insulin and glucose. Soddy-Palarez had shown that this mix of substrates pushes K+ in heart and muscle cells.

Henri Brunengraber, MD, PhD

Note: This project must be completed in Cleveland.  If in-person participation is not allowed by the SOM/CWRU then the department will revise the dates of the project.

*This project has an extended commitment because of the extensive training required.  The student must be willing to work as outlined during the Wharton period and also commit to 12 hours per week in fall semester 2021 and spring semester 2022.  The summer period will be paid at $3000 and the subsequent work will be for independent study credit (3 credits/semester).   Should the COVID situation not allow in person work in summer 2021 (or require a delayed start of in person work), the funding can be extended into fall 2021, still to a maximum total student payment of $3000.  If you are not willing to commit to a full academic year please do not apply for this project.*


Neutrophil-specific profiles of psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a debilitating immune-mediated inflammatory disease that affects approximately 20% of patients with plaque psoriasis (PsO). Neutrophil subsets are elevated in psoriatic disease, however their role in chronic inflammation and mechanisms driving synovio-entheseal inflammation has yet to be fully elucidated. We performed single cell RNASeq of peripheral blood neutrophils from age- and sex-matched patients to identify neutrophil specific pathways driving the development of PsA. Machine learning was performed for non-linear dimension reduction analysis and revealed significant heterogeneity within the neutrophil compartment, identified specific clusters enriched in PsA patients, and key molecular genes and networks that are differentially regulated in neutrophils from patients suffering psoriatic arthritis vs. plaque psoriasis. We also generated complex pseudotime trajectories to accurately reconstruct neutrophil biological transition states. We identified key regulatory genes and transcription factors that may dysregulate neutrophil differentiation and function. These novel potential therapeutic targets for preventing or reversing neutrophil-mediated mechanisms driving psoriatic arthritis, will be validated in vitro using immunological assays in an aim to further increase our understanding of the complicated disease pathophysiology that differentiates psoriatic arthritis from plaque psoriasis to guide therapeutic approaches. 

Cheryl Cameron, PhD

Note: This project must be completed in Cleveland.  If in-person participation is not allowed by the SOM/CWRU then the department will revise the dates of the project.


Validating a Self-Assessment Tool for RDN Skills in Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Like other health professions, dietitians follow a model of evidence-based practice for care. Evidence-based practice requires the application of research findings, and some models have proposed that therefore evidence-based practice is the foundational step of a research skills pyramid. However, Drs Hand and Watowicz have worked with a colleague at the University of Alaska to develop a new model differentiating research and evidence-based practice skills. Along with this new model we have proposed a self-assessment tool that allows RDNs and dietetics students to determine where they fall in this skills hierarchy and identify logical next avenues for professional development. Our Wharton student will implement a validation study which will require recruiting RDNs and students who are hypothesized to be at different levels of expertise and administering the tool to them. We anticipate this will be an online survey primarily but may require some phone/video interviews. The protocol will be developed by a student in NTRN 562 so that IRB approval is at least in process before the Wharton student begins. The student may also be asked to assist with other studies and training efforts on topics such as evidence-based practice, critical thinking, and obesity stigma under the mentorship of Drs. Hand and/or Watowicz.

Rosa Hand, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND and Rosanna Watowicz, PhD, RDN, LD

Note: This project can be done remotely from any location in the US if that is the preference of the student.


Neurological outcomes of vitamin E deficiency

Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) is an essential dietary antioxidant that is thought to prevent disease by combating oxidative stress. In humans, the established outcome of vitamin E deficiency is neurological dysfunction that manifests in cerebellar ataxia (motor coordination deficit). Using a genetic mouse model of vitamin E deficiency, we recently found that vitamin E adequacy protects additional, previously-unrecognized CNS functions such as memory and anxiety. The goal of the project is to better understand the non-motor actions of vitamin E in the CNS, and to decipher the molecular mechanisms by which they occur. The principal approach we will employ includes behavioral testing in live mice to characterize the impact of vitamin E deficiency and supplementation on behavior, together with cell and molecular biology approaches aimed at examining gene expression and cellular signaling pathways.

The Wharton fellow will be trained to understand the current literature and to master animal and laboratory experimentation, data analyses and interpretation.

Danny Manor, PhD

Note: This project must be completed in Cleveland.  If in-person participation is not allowed by the SOM/CWRU then the department will revise the dates of the project.


Acceptability, feasibility and accuracy of self-report and self-obtained medical records for population health research

One of the challenges in population health research is the need to either rely on self-report of clinical data or link with hospital data. This is particularly challenging when individuals often obtain care at multiple hospital systems, which is particularly true in Northeast Ohio. The goal of the larger project is to see if it's feasible to obtain and merge accurate and complete cancer screening and care clinical data through a combination of self-report and data that can be downloaded from patient access portals into electronic health records, such as Cleveland Clinic's MyChart or University Hospitals' MyUHCare, which allow patients to download their file for sharing.

In this project, we will test the following hypotheses:

  1. Individuals are amenable to sharing medical records with medical researchers
  2. Guiding patients to view their medical records online will improve accuracy of data

For the first hypothesis, we will survey individuals from diverse populations and ask about demographic variables and if they would be willing to download their medical record and share with us. Those who would not be willing, they will be asked for reasons why to assess if (1) they are concerned with privacy/security and/or (2) have technical difficulties and/or don't know how to do. Those that are willing will be asked if they would be interested in participating in future studies related to this.

Those that report they would be interested in participating in future studies will be recruited into a second study where they will be asked to download their files and share with researchers and fill out a survey on their medical care, to get at self-report of cancer screening and diagnosis clinical data. Participants in this arm will be randomized to either get information on accessing and downloading their files first and encouraged to consult them when filling out the self-report survey or to first fill out the survey and then downloading the data. Accuracy of self-report in the two arms will be compared.

Cheryl Thompson, PhD

Note: This project can be done remotely from any location in the US if that is the preference of the student.