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Boloye Gomero, a senior at Marymount University, won the first
place prize for undergraduate research in microbiology -- a Frank
G. Brooks Award for Excellence -- at the 2008 Biennial National
Convention of the Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honor Society,
held at the end of May at Northern Kentucky University.
Gomero's research uses mathematical modeling to help predict malaria
control measures. Gomero, who is from Nigeria, has a personal interest
in controlling the disease. "My father suffers from malaria,"
she explains, "and he sometimes has to be hospitalized."
She provides the sobering statistics, "Each year, approximately
five hundred million people suffer from malaria, and nearly one
million die, mostly in developing countries." Gomero adds a
cautionary note, "With global warming, malaria-infected mosquitoes
could spread to new areas."
With many variables affecting the spread of malaria, Gomero decided
to focus on an interesting anomaly. People who carry one gene with
the sickle cell anemia trait, but do not have the illness, are highly
resistant to malaria. If they do become ill, it's with a very mild
case. "By incorporating that factor, we get a better picture
of trends," she points out. "My mathematical models show
that a sub-population of people with the sickle cell trait diffuses
the level of infection in the entire population."
The spread of malaria occurs when humans and mosquitoes pass the
infection back and forth. With fewer infected people, there are
fewer infected mosquitoes to make additional people ill. Researchers
have long known that the best hope for controlling illnesses like
malaria is to develop a vaccine to make people resistant to infection.
As a participant in an interdisciplinary Marymount Epidemiology
Research Project, Gomero worked under the guidance of Dr. Elsa Schaefer,
chair of the University's Department of Mathematics, and Dr. Todd
Rimkus, chair of the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences.
The team included seniors Janelle Scott, a Biology major who worked
on Mad Cow disease, and Roxana Leontie, a Computer Science major
who supported Scott's and Gomero's research. "We helped each
other, meeting weekly to share ideas," Gomero explains. Dr.
Rimkus adds, "We all wrapped our thoughts around the project,
and we broke it down from both biological and mathematical perspectives."
Excited about the collaboration across disciplines, Dr. Schaefer
points out, "Boloye received recognition at a biology convention
using a mathematical model. The growing field of computational biology
is interdisciplinary, bringing new insights and research methods
that are yielding results." Marymount's Epidemiology Research
Project received funding from the Committee on the Status of Women
in Computing Research's MRO-W (Multidisciplinary Research Opportunities
for Women) program.
This summer, Boloye Gomero is broadening her research to investigate
how known malaria control efforts (use of bed netting, mosquito-killing
efforts, and preventive medications) can best be combined in a cost-effective
Gomero, who is in Marymount's Honors Program, will graduate summa
cum laude in August with a B.S. in Biology and Math. She then plans
to work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, before
beginning an M.D./Ph.D. program. Her fields of interest include
bioinformatics, computational biology, and genetics.