Student Spotlight: Eseosa Ighodaro

From the University of Kentucky News:  

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 31, 2017) — In a paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, lead author Eseosa Ighodaro, Ph.D., encouraged fellow researchers to address the challenges associated with studying dementia in Blacks/African-Americans.

The paper, co-authored by researchers at the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, the University of Washington, Rice University and Rush University Medical Center, is a clear-eyed look at the barriers that hinder minority recruitment for dementia research and the misconceptions that potentially distort research outcomes through unintended bias.  

"This study helps to identify problems in dementia-related research that are both historical and ongoing," said Peter Nelson of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. "You cannot seek solutions effectively until you are forthright about the problems."

Perhaps the paper's most provocative point is that using race as a variable in research can result in inaccurate data interpretation. The authors point to several studies exploring genetic ancestral markers and race self-identification to demonstrate that race is not a dependable proxy for genetics. 

"Race is, in many senses, a social construct that evolves over time due to social policy, cultural beliefs, and political practices, and risks misinterpretation of the differences between individuals who identify with certain racial/ethnic groups," Ighodaro said.

Instead, she suggested that socioeconomic status variables such as zip code, income level, education, access to medical care, and other social determinants of health need to be included in data interpretation, pointing to two recent studies that demonstrated socioeconomic conditions were a better predictor of stroke risk and dementia than race.

Ighodaro also outlines horrific and unethical biomedical experimentation on African-Americans that continued into this century as one of the culprits for the African-American community's persistent mistrust of physicians and scientists. As a result, some African-Americans, who fear they are "guinea pigs," are less likely to participate in research or donate blood or other biospecimens, which can decrease Black/African-American representation in dementia research studies.

Furthermore, the paper asserts, there is a need for efforts to increase the "diversity of thought and identity" among scientists, which studies show will enhance the quality and output of research collaborations.

"Scientists need to think holistically about the determinants of health when studying underserved populations and break out of the conventional and erroneous mindset that genetics are the sole cause of health disparities," Ighodaro said, "and we must acknowledge and address the historical horrific mistreatment of Blacks/African Americans in biomedical research as a first step towards improved minority research recruitment."

"These barriers to what's called 'better science' won't be easily abated, but they are critically necessary to align the quality of our data with all the populations we serve – minority or otherwise."

Anita Fernander, a faculty member in the University of Kentucky's College of Medicine, successfully mentored Ighodaro through her thesis process. Ighodaro has been awarded her Ph.D. and has now begun her clinical rotations.

Her extensive past accomplishments below:

Congratulations to Eseosa Ighodaro for successfuly defending!

Her PhD project was titled:

Studying Vascular Morphologies in the Aged Human Brain Using Large Autopsy Datasets.

flier_ighodaro 13-JUN-2017.pdf

Ese was also awarded the NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowships (F30) Award for her project titled:

"Elucidating a Novel Mechanism for Dementia"

Dementia is a devastating clinical syndrome that affects millions of elderly individuals worldwide. Treating patients with dementia is challenging because of the myriad number of pathologies underlying its clinical manifestation and progression. Therefore, it is imperative to better understand the various mechanisms of dementia-inducing diseases in order to correctly diagnose and treat dementia patients. The focus of my proposed project is to study a common, but relatively underappreciated and under-studied, mechanism of dementia characterized by vascular abnormalities, hippocampal shrinkage, and abnormal protein accumulation (TDP-43) in the brain. Our lab has published several studies on two dementia-associated pathologies: hippocampal sclerosis of aging (HS-Aging) and brain arteriolosclerosis (B-ASC). HS-Aging is a common neurodegenerative pathology seen in up to 25% of individuals < 85 years at autopsy. B-ASC is a cerebrovascular pathology that increases in frequency and severity with advanced age. We have identified a common genetic risk variant in the ABCC9 gene with a polymorphism that changes risk for both B-ASC and HS-Aging pathologies. This phenomenon is exciting because it may point the way to a novel future therapeutic intervention related to ABCC9-modulating drugs.  As a key step to better understanding the pathogenetic mechanism, new experiments are required. My overall hypothesis is that genetic and pharmacological perturbations in ABCC9 or its gene product lead to B-ASC pathology, which in turn, lead to HS-Aging/TDP-43 resulting in the clinical presentation of dementia. We will address this hypothesis through the following specific aims: 1) Test the hypothesis that a SNP, ABCC9.rs704180, is associated with altered vascular structure in aged individuals and 2) Test the hypothesis that chronic pharmacologic inhibition of ABCC9 gene product will cause B-ASC, thus in turn, exacerbating HS-Aging/TDP-43 pathology. In Aim 1, we will use human tissue samples from the University of Kentucky Alzheimer’s Disease Center brain bio-bank to quantify vascular structures in individuals with varying ABCC9 SNP status. In Aim 2, we will treat mice with clinical and pathological HS-Aging characteristics (age-related TDP-43 pathology) to determine the effects of ABCC9modifying drug treatment in these animals.  Successful completion of this project will provide insight into a novel mechanism of dementia

She trained under her mentor: Peter T. Nelson, MD PhD

Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology

Ese Ighodaro, a UKCOM M.D./Ph.D. student, mentored by Pete T. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., recently published a research article titled “Hippocampal Sclerosis of Aging Can Be Segmental: Two Cases and Review of the Literature” in the July issue of the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology. In addition to having their work published in the journal, figures from their research will also be featured on the cover of the journal.  

To view the research article, click here.

UK Black Graduate and Professional Students (UKBGPSA)

Ese Ighodaro is also the Vice President of the UK Black Graduate and Professional Students (UKBGPSA) and recently recieved several awards for her advocacy work on raising awareness on UK's racial campus climate issues.

2016 Multicultural Opportunities, Strategies and Institutional Inclusiveness Consortium (MOSAIIC) Award 

2016 John T. Smith Award 

2016 Shane Carlin and Annie Sit Inclusion Award

"The Shane Carlin and Annie Sit Inclusion Award acknowledges outstanding student service and commitment to inclusion and diversity at the University of Kentucky.  Shane Carlin graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1995 and has been a Student Affairs Professional since that time.  While at UK, Shane was involved in many student organizations.  He and his wife want to celebrate and highlight students who strive to make the University of Kentucky more inclusive.  The Carlins developed this award to recognize students that do social justice work, and have been committed to the ideals of diversity and inclusion in the most impacting and discerning manner. 
No one is able to do this work alone, and it’s only fitting that this year’s recipient of the Shane Carlin and Annie Sit Inclusion Award is a team, a duo.  The tow recipients are Erica Littlejohn and Ese Igodaro.  Erica is a Physiology doctoral student, and Ese is both a graduate student in Anatomy and Neurobiology and a medical student in the College of Medicine.  Both have held several leadership positions in the Black Graduate Professional Student Association (BGPSA); they currently serve as the president and vice president.  When an African American dental student approached the BGPSA leadership with a case of racial harassment, Erica and Ese began to build a coalition of support with African American faculty, staff, and other supporters of diversity and inclusion to address the lack of policies and protocols pertaining to racial bias and harassment.  Recognizing this incident as a symptom of a larger systemic problem, Erica and Ese met with the university president and key senior leadership, where they challenged the administration to do more to recruit, retain, and graduate African American and Latino students, faculty, and staff. 
Although both students are on the HealthCare side of campus, their activism rippled all the way across to the Singletary Arts building, where they organized the UK Call to Action Town Hall meeting on February 29th.  This program was the definition of inclusion, bringing together over 350 students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community leaders to hear from both undergraduate and graduate students, from both the students and the administrators.  The impact of Erica and Ese’s work will be felt at UK long after they have graduated.  They have started a conversation.  They have recruited students to pick up the mantle after them.  They have spoken to the most central values we hold as members of the UK community.  Tonight, with great pride and gratitude, it is my honor to present the 2016 Shane Carlin and Annie Sit Inclusion Award to Erica Littlejohn and Ese Ighodaro!"

Student Bio:

"I am currently enrolled in the Anatomy and Neurobiology Department as a graduate student working with Peter Nelson, M.D., Ph.D. in Sanders Brown Center on Aging. For my dissertation project, I am studying a potential genetic risk factor and cognitive symptoms of small blood vessel cerebrovascular disease (arteriolosclerosis). I will be using a large human cohort dataset and advanced digital neuropathology software to test my hypotheses."