Thursday, December 3, 2020

URSP Student Natalie Vandernoot Studies the Effects of Chronic Liver Disease on Patient Fatigue and Muscle Loss

Through the HHS 492 Clinical Research Internship course offered in the spring, I began studying self-reported fatigue in patients at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Thanks to the OSCAR Undergraduate Research Scholars Program grant, I am able to dig deeper into the effects of chronic liver disease on patient fatigue and muscle loss. I analyze self-reported fatigue and measures associated with sarcopenia in a de-identified dataset of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Sarcopenia is a disease characterized by the loss of muscle mass or strength. It has previously been associated with aging, but recent investigations have identified the possibility of sarcopenia in younger patients with metabolic conditions and chronic diseases. We have incorporated sarcopenia into our study because the gradual loss of muscle mass impacts quality of life and the ability to participate in everyday activities.

In my spring clinical research internship, I was onsite at Inova Fairfax and was able to learn about the patient consent process in the intensive care unit, observe the research team generating data from participant visits, and work with my mentors to analyze the existing patient data. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, I have been working online and my responsibilities have transitioned to be more focused on data analysis, literature review, and manuscript composition. Covid-19 delayed our ability to conduct laboratory tests on patient blood samples, but in the upcoming weeks we will be incorporating the data generated from ELISA tests that indicate the amount of specific myokines in the blood. Myokines are proteins released from muscles that circulate in the body and we are searching for a correlation between their presence and sarcopenia measures.

My chronic liver disease project has provided me invaluable opportunities for mentorship and an increased understanding of clinical research. I am planning to pursue a master’s degree and work in the fields of science policy and rural health advocacy. My experiences in healthcare research provide me with the background knowledge necessary to improve community health programs and work on policies with a unique view of the effects of chronic illness on day-to-day activities.