Medical research shows the Native American and Alaska Native population suffers a five year shorter lifespan than the rest of the United States’ population due to prevalent diabetes and lack of specific medical programs. Kristen Regini, SDSU public health senior, aims to change these statistics.
Regini was one of nine students selected from across the nation to attend the Four Directions Medical Research Program at Harvard Medical School this past summer. For nine weeks, Regini shadowed a Harvard ICU and ER doctor, completed two complex experiments, analyzed data and wrote an abstract of her research.
“The experience was amazing. I was out of my comfort zone and the program really inspired me to pursue biomedical research as a career,” Regini said.
“The direction of my life was initially inspired by the professionalism and empathy shown by my mother who was a nurse,” said Regini, a member of the Tule River Yokut Tribe.
Originally from Central California, Regini witnessed from an early age the personal fulfillment the medical field can provide. This passion for helping others was further ignited by her cultural ties.
“Everyone in my family is from the Tule River Yokut Tribe and they all suffer from diabetes. I want to research solutions.”
SDSU associate professor and chair of the American Indian Studies department, Dr. David Kamper, introduced Regini to the Native American Research Center for Health. NARCH is a national program that supports research, training and faculty development to improve the medical resources available for Native American and Alaskan Native communities. As an active Tule River Yokut Tribe member, Regini’s involvement in NARCH led to her acceptance in the Four Directions Medical Research Program at Harvard.
Ivy League success
Regini worked long hours in the lab alongside Harvard medical doctors studying blood disease and abdominal sepsis in mice.
“I learned what being a doctor is really like. At first it seemed intimidating because I had never been in a lab setting before, but the staff at Harvard was great. I learned so much,” she said.
After her extensive research, Regini wrote an abstract of the research conducted over her nine week stay at Harvard, and was selected to be one of seven students to present her findings at the STEM symposium in Atlanta this April. The symposium provides a forum for medical students and faculty to present research and network with peers.
Back to her roots
After her success at Harvard, Regini is eager to build upon her experience and give back to her Native American community.
“I am inspired to pursue a career in developmental medicine because of the potential it has to assist the people of my tribe. The very notion of achieving a cure for a debilitating disease, such as diabetes, and seeing the positive outcome not only for my community but the nation as well, would be very fulfilling.”
Taking it international
After graduating from SDSU in May, Regini will travel to Switzerland to attend the World Health Organization. This will be her first international experience and she will spend all summer learning more about biomedical research. From Switzerland, she plans to move to Washington D.C. with her husband and apply for a post baccalaureate intramural research training award program through the National Institute of Health. If accepted, she will participate in a full-time research program with the NIH for one to two years to gain experience and conduct lab research prior to applying to graduate school.
“I have had so many opportunities this year. I’ve learned networking, met different doctors, and now I will get to see things from a global perspective.”