Ecuador trip solidifies classroom work

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
August 15, 2017

For the past two years, Meera Kattapuram ’17 has been conducting research on infectious diseases and micronutrients in a Cornell lab, focusing especially on the role they play in the health of mothers and young children. This summer, she got a chance to see her research in action in an Ecuadoran hospital.

Kattapuram, a biological sciences major in the College of Arts & Sciences, is a member of Julia Finkelstein’s lab in the College of Human Ecology. Finkelstein is the Follett Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of epidemiology and nutrition.

The hospital where Kattapuram worked in Guayaquil, Ecuador

“The most rewarding part of this experience has been contextualizing the research we do on campus,” Kattapuram said of her work in Ecuador. “Working at the hospital has developed my understanding of the risk factors of dengue (fever), the progression of the disease, and how important future interventions are for alleviating this burden.”

After a two-week language immersion, Kattapuram and other students spent the rest of the summer working on a clinical chart review at a hospital in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. The review helped students obtain nutritional, clinical and immunological data on patients with suspected dengue fever.  They’ll be able to analyze the data to inform future clinical practices and research questions in the treatment and prevention of this disease.

“We’ve also been shadowing an infectious disease specialist which has given us the opportunity to see many cases that are rarely seen in the United States,” she said. “On the weekends, we’ve explored the city of Guayaquil and have taken short trips to see neighboring attractions.”

The summer opportunity is part of an ongoing collaboration between Cornell, Hospital de Niños Roberto Gilbert and Escuela Superior Politécnica de Litoral (ESPOL), Kattapuram said. Upon coming to Cornell, Kattapuram was selected as a Pauline and Irving Tanner Dean's Scholar, so she was able to take advantage of a summer research grant to help fund her time in Ecuador.

Visiting Quilatoa, a volcanic crater lake

As she enters her senior year, Kattapuram will be working on her honors thesis, which she says will be related to the work she’s done on maternal and child health and micronutrients. After graduation, she hopes to work for a year in clinical research, then attend medical school.

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