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Making an Impact

From Community Training to Colon Cancer Research, GW Student Initiatives Work Toward a Healthier World

Sarah Diamond, M.P.H. Candidate 2012, Global Health

A school of public health seems an unlikely home for a chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), an organization promoting sustainable engineering projects in developing countries. But for Sarah Diamond, a second-year M.P.H. candidate in the Milken Institute for Public Health (formerly the GW School of Public Health and Health Services), the two are a perfect fit.

“Many of the engineering projects taking place around the world have substantial public health implications,” argues Diamond, president of EWB, the only chapter based in a public health school.

For the past 10 months, Diamond has been developing a community health manual for a project in El Salvador, where engineers are building a new water system. “The engineers design and construct this great system, but if the community has never had water piped before, they need to learn how to use it,” she says.

For someone with such zeal for public health, Diamond is a relative newcomer to the field. While pursuing her master’s degree in flute performance at Ohio University, Diamond fell under the influence of friends pursuing fields such as international development. “There was a whole world out there that I had no idea about,” recalls the classically trained musician. “I spent hours a day in a tiny room practicing my flute. What difference was I making?”

To get a sense of what she was missing, Diamond volunteered on a public health mission to Ecuador and fell in love with the experience. “I came back from that trip thinking, ‘Music isn’t the career for me. What am I going to do now?’” she explains. 

Diamond was soon swept into a whirlwind of experiences that began during a stint as an AmeriCorps volunteer and ended in Washington, D.C., where she is now studying in the Global Health program.

“I believe you go after what’s important to you,” explains Diamond. “And that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

Carrie House, Ph.D. Candidate 2011, Molecular Medicine

For Carrie House, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences’ Molecular Medicine program, basic science represents an irresistible lure to uncover the mechanisms lurking behind disease.

Under the guidance of Norman Lee, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology and Physiology, House is exploring the role that voltage-activated sodium channels play in colon cancer. By employing a variety of pharmacological tools, she is evaluating how changes in the cells give them an oncogenic advantage.

“This project is so fitting for molecular medicine,” says House. The research corresponds neatly with the program’s three tracks: molecular and cellular oncology, neuroscience, and pharmacology.

The project, which has served as the center of House’s professional life for nearly four years, grew out of a sequencing study in Lee’s lab involving mutations in voltage-activated sodium channels — channels already implicated in breast, prostate, and lung cancers.

House has managed to use her study requirements to advance not only her education, but also the project itself, successfully parlaying a writing grant assignment into funds for her research. “I figured, if I have to write a grant proposal, I may as well submit it,” she recalls. “I thought it was a good idea.” Clearly, the PhRMA Foundation thought so, too, and awarded House a $40,000 grant over two years.