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It Takes a Family to Conduct Clinical Studies


M y Background and Research Interests

I started my research training at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health as a student in the Summer Minority Recruitment and Training Program. During the summer program, we presented our own research data and gave talks on other topics that interested us as well. After the summer program, I joined the Intramural Research Training Program as a Technical Research Fellow to gain valuable research experience and training. Presently I am pursuing a Ph.D. in neuropsychology from Howard University in Washington, D.C., but I am conducting my research at NIDA. I enjoy clinical research, and the field of neuropsychology is very exciting. In my studies, I look at electroencephalograph (EEG) and cerebral blood flow data to determine changes in brain activity in addicted and nonaddicted subjects.

On the clinical ward at NIDA, I have very close patient contact. The subjects in our research study have abused a variety of drugs including alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, phencyclidine, heroin, and MDMA, just to name a few. When we conduct an EEG research study, I am responsible for placing the electrodes onto the scalps of chemically dependent and control group (not addicted) subjects. I also set up the computer in order to record the delta, alpha, beta, and theta waves. By observing these waves, we can determine the boundaries of normality and abnormality. We can also detect pronounced rhythmicity that may be a sign of abnormality. Also, mixed frequencies may be quite responsive to certain stimuli. In the study of drug addiction and drug abuse, it is necessary that we be able to detect any or all of these abnormalities.

Our research studies also include transcranial Doppler research: the evaluation and recording of the cerebral blood flow of a subject who is either chemically dependent or a drug-free control. With this procedure, we can determine if a patient has subtle changes in cerebral perfusion that could result in more advanced or serious problems due to continued drug use. Subjects who abuse drugs suffer traumatic brain injury with long-term use. There are also cases where patients have suffered traumatic and aneurismal subarachnoid hemorrhage; these patients are also at risk for developing cerebral vasospasms.

Meet the Family

From the very beginning of my research fellowship, the researchers, staff, and student fellows have been very supportive of my graduate training. I feel that my experience at NIDA is more than just academic and research training. At NIDA we are a family. We work together and share in each other's lives. I have a supportive network of friends and colleagues that I will have for a lifetime.

I first met my research adviser and mentor, Jean Lud Cadet, clinical director of the Intramural Research Program in Molecular Neuropsychiatry at NIDA, when he gave a presentation on drug addiction in polysubstance abusers. His research in drug addiction was of great interest to me, and so I sought to find out how I could train in his clinical research section. Cadet offers me a wealth of expertise in research investigation and academic guidance. During my research training, Cadet has revised and monitored my research writing, poster presentations, and research proposals. He has also been very helpful in offering me critical evaluations of my research presentations. A student's life does not only extend to academics and research presentations, and Cadet has been helpful to me as a mentor in various aspects of my life.

When subjects enter the clinical ward, it is Ronald Herning, a neuropsychologist, who gives them information about the research investigation and obtains their informed consent. Herning is responsible for conducting EEG and transcranial Doppler research. As my immediate research supervisor at NIDA, Herning evaluates and gives me constructive criticism on my scientific writings and research techniques. Together, we have found that moderate to heavy cocaine use, alone or in combination with alcohol use or polysubstance use (cocaine, alcohol, and heroin), causes neurocognitive deficits. Herning is not only my research supervisor; he is also my friend and confidant through this rigorous Ph.D. journey. He is always there to lend a listening ear and to offer strong moral and emotional support.

There are many other important people on our research team with whom I interact almost every day. Karen Bolla, another neuropsychologist, certifies people in neuropsychological testing and will eventually evaluate my testing skills. Kimberly Tate is one of the research associates. She is responsible for psychometric assessments and edits our research papers. Warren Better has been instrumental in assisting me in my analysis of data for my thesis research. Warren holds a master's degree in experimental psychology, and he is the research statistical analyst for NIDA. To become familiar with other aspects of clinical research, I have been trained by Beverly Beall, the clinical nurse coordinator and educator for the Clinical Drug Research Section, in the areas of phlebotomy (the opening of the veins to draw blood and determine the blood chemistry of a patient), electrocardiograph evaluation, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. And of course, to keep the research team running smoothly, our administrative assistant Erin Hall assists us with the scheduling of our presentations, travel arrangements, and the ordering of our technical equipment and laboratory chemicals. Without her expertise and skill, our research team would have a difficult time conducting and presenting our research locally and abroad.

Looking Into the Crystal Ball

My professional goal is to become a clinical psychologist conducting research in the areas of drug addiction, behavioral medicine, and violence prevention. I plan to continue in clinical research and pursue postdoctoral training in clinical psychology so that I may practice clinical intervention. Any additional training and knowledge that a scientist can obtain will certainly enhance and add to the research experience.