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Student & Alumni Achievements

Student & Alumni Achievements

NIH Awards UMass Doctoral Candidate an Award Recognizing Diversity in Health-Related Research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded Ms. Mary Díaz Santana, a doctoral candidate in the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences epidemiology program, a two-year, $73,688 award under the Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research Program. The supplemental award is provided for Ms. Díaz Santana to research the impact of phthalate metabolites on weight change, fat mass change and obesity. Phthalates are a type of chemical found in such products as cosmetics, shampoo, flooring and medical tubing. This research is part of a larger NIH grant titled “Phthalate Metabolites and Breast Cancer Risk in the Women’s Health Initiative” being conducted by Dr. Katherine Reeves, associate professor of epidemiology.

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[Photo: Ms. Mary Díaz Santana]

“These analyses will deepen our understanding of how phthalates relate to breast cancer risk, in addition to offering clarity on environmental causes of the ongoing obesity epidemic,” explains Ms. Díaz Santana. “As phthalate exposure is both high and chronic, even a modest increase in weight or fat mass gain associated with phthalate exposure would have a substantial public health impact,” she adds.

Ms. Díaz Santana notes that the study will require that she further develop her analytic skills as well as statistical techniques.

“Many have suggested that chemicals like phthalates might contribute to the obesity epidemic, but it’s been difficult to study this. Mary will take advantage of high quality, prospective data to help us understand if phthalates can affect body weight and obesity,” explains Dr. Reeves. “She is a dedicated student with a growing interest in environmental determinants of health. I’m very pleased to mentor her on this project, which will have important public health implications,” she notes.

“I’m very excited and grateful for this award since it will give me the financial support to complete my dissertation research, engage in meaningful career development, and will prepare me for the transition to independent research at the postdoctoral and, eventually, faculty level,” says Ms. Díaz Santana.