Wharton Summer Student Research

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 and nutrition researchers in the greater Cleveland area. 

Participating students receive a stipend and are expected to devote 32-40 hours per week to their projects for the full 10 weeks.  Projects for summer 2022 are listed below and applications are now open until January 31, 2022 at 5:00 p.m.

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, 2022 and have not previously participated in the Wharton Program are eligible to apply for a Wharton Summer Student Research project.  Applications will be announced in the weekly student newsletter.

Available Projects for Summer 2022

Integrated Analysis of Human Microbiome and Mycobiome

Gurkan Bebek, PhD

The human gut microbiome in healthy and diseased states have been studied extensively. However  the fungal microbiome (i.e., the mycobiome) has not been studied as much and beginning to gain recognition as a fundamental part of our microbiome. Most mycobiome studies focus on diseases and use small cohorts of healthy individuals. Moreover there is little effort in understanding the two together. In this project we will analyze publicly available microbiome and mycobiome datasets collected from same individuals to understand their relationship. We will develop methods to integrate the datasets to generate a better picture of the healthy and disease state. The research here could lead to improved treatments for GI related diseases and create more effective probiotics. This data science project will produce methods and datasets to address the challenges in understanding the function and synergy of the fungi and bacteria in the human body.

Measurement of Muscle Proteolysis in the Perfused Pig Limb

Henri Brunengraber, MD, PhD

The perfused pig limb is a model for working out conditions for transplanting a limb from a brain-dead human donor into an amputated human patient. The limb is perfused with a buffer containing albumin, hemoglobin and a number of nutrients and co-factors. The perfusion lasts 12 to 24 hr. We want to set up a new technique to assess muscle proteolysis in the perfused limb. This will involve (i) assaying the release of ammonia by the muscle and (ii) the isotopic dilution of a tracer of deuterated methyl histidine. Because usual assays of ammonia are interfered with by hemoglobin, we plan to develop a new method to assess the isotope dilution of a tracer of
15N-labeled ammonium chloride added to a sample of perfusate. The assay will involve liquid chromatography, making a polymer of ammonia and formaldehyde (hexamethylene tetramine, HMT), isolating HMT, and mass spectrometric assay of the labeling of HMT. The isotopic dilution of deuterated methylhistidine will be assayed in parallel by an established assay. The limb perfusions are conducted in the Department of Plastic Surgery of CCF.

Effects of Gamification on Student Performance and Satisfaction in an Introductory Nutrition Course

David Cavallo, PhD, MPH, RDN

Gamification is the use of game design elements (e.g., points, contests, leader boards, teams) outside of gaming contexts. Gamification has been applied to numerous domains including health promotion, business applications, and education. Gamification is designed to increase engagement,
motivation, and attention to tasks. In turn, it is hypothesized that gamification elements may improve student participation, satisfaction, and learning outcomes in educational settings. The purpose of this research study is to test the effect of gamification features on the aforementioned measures by conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) comparing students in an introductory nutrition course with access to gamification features to those without access to these features. The primary hypotheses of the study are that students with access to gamification features will evaluate the course more positively and have better learning outcomes. The student working on this project will conduct a literature review of gamification in education; conduct analyses of formative data collected from a pilot course using gamification elements; contribute to the design of the gamified course to be tested in the RCT and protocol of the study; and complete needed IRB protocols.

Development and Biophysical Testing of Real-Time Metabolic Biosensors

David Lodowski, PhD

There is a growing global interest and demand for sensing technology for monitoring health and performance through examination of metabolic biomarkers. There are a number of glycolytic metabolites which have been linked to stress and human disease states. A major challenge exists in the field in the bridging of the binding of a biomarker of interest to the generation of an actionable signal. Utilizing yeast display technology, which presents an antibody fragment on the surface of a yeast cell, one can "fish" for antibody fragments which recognize a biomarker "bait" molecule. Through successive rounds of selection or "panning," high affinity antibody fragments can be identified which can serve as part of a biomarker response element (BRE) in a functional biosensor. 
The Wharton student will work to select for a high affinity binding BRE which recognizes one of these stress linked biomarkers. Should time permit, biochemical and biophysical characterization of the BRE will also be conducted.

Vitamin E as a Modulator of Gene Expression

Danny Manor, PhD

Alpha tocopherol (vitamin E) is considered to be the major fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin. Accordingly, inadequate vitamin E status is thought to contribute to the initiation and progression of a number of oxidative stress-induced pathologies such as Alzheimer and Parkinson Diseases and infertility. Our team is studying the molecular mechanisms by vitamin E ellicits these protective effects using cell- and animal-model systems and, in collaboration with clinician-scientists, human subjects. We have recently discovered that vitamin E posesses additional biological activities that are independent of its antioxidant function. Specifically, we found that the vitamin regulates the expression of select group of genes in liver cells. The Wharton fellow will investigate how this phenomenon occurs in cultured cells, focusing on a select group of genes and transcription factors. Studies will focus on assays of gene expression, oxidative stress, and cellular localization using fluorescence microscopy.

Diabetes Inspired Culinary Education (DICE)

Catherine Rogers McManus, PhD, RDN, LD

The steadily rising prevalence of type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) is of heightened concern for youth of racial/ethnic minority due to significant disparities in disease prevalence, treatment and health outcomes. Culinary medicine, the integration of food preparation/cooking with the science of medicine, shows great potential to mitigate these disparities, yet there is a complete absence of culinary medicine interventions for youth with T1DM. Therefore, DICE (Diabetes Inspired Culinary Education) has been designed as an innovative culinary medicine intervention to mitigate racial/ethnic and SES disparities in the treatment and health outcomes of high-risk 8-16 year old youth with T1DM. The goal of this study is to utilize a two-group, waitlist randomized controlled trial design to improve glycemic control and diabetes self-management among high-risk youth by evaluating the impact of the DICE intervention on youth and family outcomes. The DICE intervention includes ten, 90-minute cooking/diabetes education lessons delivered bi-weekly in a hybrid format. Lessons address nutrition, psychosocial and health disparity barriers. The student working on this project will be invovled with various aspects of the study, with the primary responsibilities being the development of educational materials (curriculum, participant handouts, social media posts/pages), participant communications and participant recruitment. 

Benchmarking of Obesity Training for Registered Dietitians

Rosanna Watowicz, PhD, RDN, LD

In 2019, the Obesity Medicine Education Collaborative (OMEC) published a set of 32 obesity competencies for undergraduate and graduate medical education. These competencies were endorsed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as several other professional associations. The goal of these competencies is to provide guidance for developing a competent and knowledgeable clinician workforce that can provide adequate care to the US population of adults and children who have obesity. Benchmarking surveys of US medical residency programs have shown that the OMEC competencies are not well-incorporated, and that very few program directors feel their residents are well-prepared to manage obesity upon completion of their program. Along with physicians, registered dietitians play a key role in obesity management for adults and children. To date, no studies have been done to benchmark RD education related to the OMEC competency areas. The goal of this study will be to describe and benchmark obesity education in dietetic internship programs, measured using surveys of dietetic internship directors or other individuals in DI leadership positions, using previous studies of OMEC competencies in medical residencies as a model. The results will help us understand how well these competencies are incorporated and the degree to which entry-level RDs are prepared to manage obesity.