Student working in lab.

Alana Jones and Kristina Tymes-Wilbekin, two Epidemiology graduate students from the UAB School of Public Health, recently received prestigious Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship grants (F31) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIH F31 Program recognizes predoctoral students with exceptional potential to become independent biomedical researchers. Awardees also demonstrate strong academic records and unwavering support from their primary sponsor and larger mentor team. Jones and Tymes-Wilbekin are both scholars in UAB’s Medical Scientist Training Program, UAB’s MD/PhD dual degree program, and have chosen to pursue their doctoral degrees in the School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology.

Jones is a third-year PhD candidate training under the supervision of Dr. Ryan Irvin, Professor in the Department of Epidemiology. Jones’ F31 award, “Genetic and Epigenetic Risk Scores for Chronic Kidney Disease in African Americans,” is sponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for three years. Through this award and dissertation research project, Jones seeks to develop competencies in genetic epidemiology and bioinformatics in order to uncover genetic and epigenetic risk factors for kidney disease in African Americans, who experience a disproportionately higher incidence and prevalence of kidney disease but have traditionally been underrepresented in genetic and genomics studies. Jones hopes the results will enable the scientific community to better predict who will experience adverse outcomes from kidney disease, such as end stage renal disease. Other members of Jones’ mentorship team include Dr. Hemant Tiwari, Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, Dr. Nita Limdi, and Dr. William Geisler.

Tymes-Wilbekin is a fourth-year PhD candidate and is training under the supervision of Dr. Sadeep Shrestha, Professor of Epidemiology, and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Professor and Division Director of Infectious Diseases. Her F31 award, "Perceptions of Multipurpose Prevention Technologies Aimed at HIV/STI/Unintended Pregnancy among African-American Women in the Deep South," is sponsored by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development for four years. The F31 will support her dissertation research to better understand the relationships between vaginal hygiene, sexual behaviors and use of continuous contraceptive vaginal ring among women at increased risk of unintended pregnancy and acquisition and/or transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Findings from the initial inquiry into Kenyan women’s perceptions will be used to develop and pilot a tool for assessing similar perceptions among African American women in the US Southeast. This work will allow Tymes-Wilbekin to obtain skills in infectious disease epidemiology, reproductive health, and mixed methods study designs. Additional members of her mentorship team include Dr. Janet Turan, Dr. Dustin Long, and Dr. William Geisler.

“The Department is immensely proud of these students, and we are grateful for the support they have received from their mentorship teams,” said Cora E. Lewis, M.D., MSPH, Chair of the Department of Epidemiology. “We are committed to offering training with both depth and breadth, and thus each of our doctoral students completes a grant writing course and prepares an application for funding for their dissertation research. This experience will prepare them well for an academic career.”

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