AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: droeschdna

Why are there inequities for people of color in the healthcare system, specifically in the COVID-19 pandemic, and what are the solutions?

Throughout the past few months, the push for social justice has grown significantly. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have heard about the inequities for people of color. I have taken in interest in this topic through my psychology class as well as my portfolio project. In my psychology class was where I started to really learn what inequities emerging majorities face in the healthcare system, and as someone who is white I think it is so important to learn what some people go through. Though I will never understand what it is like, I want to do my best to understand and create change for those people. I would like to enter the healthcare field, so I want to educate myself on these problems within the healthcare system and strive to create solutions. 

In my portfolio project, where I focused on effectiveness and accessibility to COVID-19 testing, I researched an article that dove into a divide for people of color trying to be tested. These people were not able to go to drive-thru testing centers because they didn’t have a car, and therefore could not be tested. This is one of the problems that minorities have faced throughout the pandemic. 

This article focuses on the problems of emerging majorities during the past few months. According to the article, in New York City, black people and latinos have a mortality rate from COVID-19 that is 1.6 to 2 times higher than white people. In Arizona, 16% of the deaths are Native Americans. Many people who work in the healthcare system, as well as officials and the general public, are working to solve this issue. The article addresses specific reasons why these inequities exist. 

People of certain races, ethnicities, social position, and economic status could be more exposed to the virus because of their jobs, size of their family, child care, public transportation, etc. Some jobs don’t allow people to work from home and their children might be in child care. Some also rely on public transportation or live with many people at home. People who have faced poverty or discrimination often have chronic pychosocial stress that can eventually lead to inflammation. This develops a maladaptation that can cause an impaired response in the immune system to COVID-19. Unfortunately, these people may not have access to a primary care provider. To learn more about psychosocial stress I found an article that explains this in minorities. Oftentimes, minorities face stress because of economic status and not as much access and delivery to healthcare. Stress is associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and inflammation.

Black leaders in the healthcare profession have proposed immediate solutions such as recording data for races and ethnicities, access to current treatments, mobile testing, and communication with leaders that are trusted. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) has worked to address these problems identifying and preventing inequities. They have created resources for COVID-19 to people who speak languages such as Arabic, Nepali, and Spanish. I didn’t realize that there were also inequities for people based on the language they spoke, so this was surprising to learn. I found an article that talks about inequities for Spanish speakers in healthcare. The article discussed how latino children who have limited English proficiency (LEP), are more likely to have compromised healthcare and parents have less communication with the provider which makes more dissatisfaction with the healthcare system. Although there are many inequities for people of color right now, there are so many solutions and people working to fix these problems. This relates to our goal in biology to learn about inequities in the healthcare system, especially during Black History Month.


How Reliable Are Covid-19 Tests and What Are The Different Types of Tests?

For my study of research, I’ve decided to learn more about Covid-19 testing and its effectiveness. In this article, How Accurate Are COVID-19 Tests? Many Factors Can Affect Sensitivity, Specificity of Test Results, it discusses several methods of testing, along with how accurate the results are. The article also goes into detail about what factors can affect the tests accuracy. 

Sensitive tests, which are positive results, are less likely to produce a false-positive outcome, and a specific test, negative results, are less likely to produce a false-negative outcome. Labs can provide the analytics of sensitivity and specificity for a test, which is concluded from confirmed specimens of positive and negative results. These results, however, come from when someone either had a great exposure, or none, so they are true under ideal conditions. Since there is so much variability between patients, the numbers are often lower when they are under real life conditions. 

There are two main types of testing for the novel Coronavirus. The first type of test detects RNA from the virus by using methods such as, polymerase chain reaction (PCR). I have never heard of this process before, so I decided to find a source explaining what it is. PCR is used to amplify, which is making many copies of a gene or DNA. Using this process, many copies can be created, just from a small part of the DNA taken for the sample. This process can help to identify a pathogen when trying to detect a virus, such as the novel Coronavirus. This past week in class, we learned about the immune system and about the characteristics of viruses. We learned that a virus has spike proteins on the outside, and it has RNA strands in the inside of the cell. This connects to what we learned about RNA and viruses, because this test actually tests for RNA to see if a patient has the virus. they are more accurate because they are from the genetic sequence from the virus itself, which is unique to it. If a test comes back positive, it is most likely accurate. The second type of test is molecular testing. The nasopharynx is said to have the largest concentration of a virus. Since using NP swab samples, nasopharyngeal swabs, are hard to get, the sensitivity of a test can be altered or tampered. This can create a false-negative result in a patient, who really could have it. Testing with saliva and blood has more of a likeliness to reduce the sensitivity. The article also mentions that swabbing the patient in the oropharynx or nose can also have a lower sensitivity. 

Antibody testing is through drawing blood from a vein, and it can detect whether or not someone was infected by Covid-19. The test uses enzyme immunoassays and rapid lateral flow immunoassays. By day 14 following symptoms appearing, most patients did have the IgG antibodies. I wasn’t exactly sure what an IgG antibody was, so I found a source to explain that in some more detail. It is an immunoglobulin and is found in all fluids within the body. They are the most common and small antibodies that are in the body. These antibodies help to fight bacterial infections and viruses. These antibodies are actually the only ones that can help protect a woman’s fetus, which is very interesting. As time goes on, it is less likely that the antibodies will be detected. There is some evidence, not confirmed yet, that suggests that children and asymptomatic or mild-symptom patients could be less likely to have detected antibodies. 

I found this article to be very fascinating because it went into detail about each test and its effectiveness. I didn’t know that children and asymptomatic or mild-symptom patients were less likely to have detectable antibodies. I am excited to research more as I continue to further my studies in Covid-19 testing. 


How Cancer Cells Spread Using Nerve-Cell tricks

In this article, Cancer cells use nerve-cell tricks to spread from one organ to the next, it explores how cancer cells are able to reproduce and spread into the bloodstream and other organs as well. Specifically in Breast and Lung Cancer, the cells are able to create signaling pathways that neurons use, in order to metastasis, or reproduce. I am really interested in going into the medical field so I decided to choose an article that relates to current research. Cancer research relates back to the basics of cells, which is such a crucial foundation to learning biology. I found it interesting how this article spoke about cell reproduction and organic compounds as well. It is neat to learn about current research after learning the fundamentals of biology throughout this unit. 

Sohail Tavazoie, a scientist, found that cells located in the inner blood vessels can tell the cancer cells to metastasize in the tumor. Tumors are able to attach to the body’s nutrient supply and oxygen. I wanted to find out a little bit more about metastasis so I read an article to learn more about it and better my understanding of the process. Metastasis is when cancer spreads to another part of the body from where it started originally. Metastases, the plural of metastasis form when some of the cancer breaks off from the cell and enters the bloodstream. These metastases carry fluid and can form tumors in other locations in the body. Bernardo Tavora, who is a research associate, used a modified version of TRAP, which was developed in Nathaniel Heinz’s lab. This helps to pinpoint subtle differences between cells that are similar and have produced similar proteins. To further develop my knowledge and research of TRAP, I read this articleIn this article I learned that TRAP stands for Translating Ribosome Affinity Purification. TRAP has been used to study the aging of neurons to further research diseases such as Huntington’s Disease. In order to use this technique, scientists needed to understand translation. When DNA turns into mRNA in the nucleus it is transported to the cytoplasm or the ER. This is then recognized by ribosomes and then the ribosomes turn the mRNA into proteins. 

Cancer cells replicating

Tavora and his colleagues discovered that the signal is Slit2, which is a protein that is made by neurons. Slit2 helps to guide nerve-cell extensions when they go through different parts of the brain. Researchers found that cancer cells use a process to make blood-vessel cells make and release Slit2. This dose helps the cancer cells to start spreading throughout the body, making the cancer worse. The cells activate DNA so that it makes RNA, and then it acts like a signal, which triggers them to move into the bloodstream and other organs. This protein along with other molecules could help with diagnostics. Doctors could identify cancers that have left the primary tumor before it is too late. This could also help develop drugs to stop metastasis in cancer cells. 

This topic raketes a lot to what we have learned in biology so far this year. Cancer is made up of cells which can multiply and spread to other parts of the body through reproduction, or metastasis in this case. We learned about Slit2 which is the protein made by neurons, and helps to guide nerve-cell extensions. The cancer cells can use this protein to “trick” and then spread throughout the body by acting like a signal. We also learned that proteins are transported from cell to cell by being released from the plasma membrane. Proteins are crucial for many functions in the body such as speeding up chemical reactions, responding to stimuli, etx. 

This article helped me to understand how biology works in research and how the fundamentals are so pertinent to understanding complex research. 


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