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City Tech Research on Hospital-Acquired Infections in Brooklyn Analyzes Prevalence of Multi Drug-Resistant Pathogens

Professor Tsenova (standing, top left) and Professor Ghosh-Dastidar (standing, top right) with their students involved in the SENCER project, from left to right, Efrah Hassan, Cintiana Exceus, Aionga (Sonya) Pereira, Farjana Ferdousy and Jessica Obidimalor.

A team of City Tech biology and mathematics faculty members and students has announced their research findings on a serious health issue facing the Brooklyn community – Nosocomial Infection (NI) – acquired by patients while hospitalized.

After researching medical literature and performing statistical analyses on data from 15 Brooklyn hospitals, the students identified the most common pathogens and found significant variations in the occurrence of drug-resistant pathogens leading to NI among the hospitals. Drug resistance can result from the widespread use of such antibiotics as amikacin, ceftazidime, piperacillin-tazobactam, ciprofloxacin and imipenem.

NIs present a complex healthcare problem. They are difficult to treat, as more than 70 percent of the pathogens causing these infections are antibiotic-resistant. Of the two million U.S. patients a year who contract NI, 99,000 die, making it the eighth leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. NI may occur as a result of burns, at surgery sites or via invasive procedures (catheters, intravenous lines). Particularly at risk are Intensive Care Unit surgery patients and those with pre-existing medical conditions or compromised immune systems, including the elderly, newborns or HIV-positive individuals.

The student researchers – Jennifer Chan Wu, Rona Gurin, Aionga (Sonya) Pereira, Farjana Ferdousy, Jessica Obidimalor, Cintiana Exceus and Efrah Hassan – work under the direction of Professors Liana Tsenova (biology) and Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar (mathematics).

Says Tsenova, a physician whose specialty is microbiology and immunology, “While most responsibility for prevention lies with hospital personnel, who must frequently wash their hands properly and maintain and disinfect medical equipment, patients and their families should question practitioners about proper use of prescribed antibiotics.”

Ghosh-Dastidar and Tsenova’s students want to uncover the reasons for the disparities in NI incidence at different hospitals. “Now the question that we need to answer is: ‘What are the underlying causes of these differences?’ We know that elderly patients and patients in trauma centers generally take more antibiotics and so are more likely to harbor resistant bacteria. A sicker patient population is also more likely to receive antibiotics,” says Ghosh-Dastidar. This fall, other students will explore the problem further under the direction of a third City Tech faculty member, Professor Arnavaz Taraporevala (mathematics).

So far, the students have presented their findings at paper and poster sessions at The City University of New York (CUNY) Pipeline Citywide Conference, held at the CUNY Graduate Center, the New York State Mathematics Association of Two-Year Colleges Annual Conference in Ithaca, NY, the Annual Meeting of the Metropolitan New York Section of the Mathematical Association of America, held in Brooklyn, NY, and at City Tech’s Second Annual Student Research Conference last May. Student Ferdousy, working with fellow student Pereira, was also selected to present the results of their work at an August 2010 undergraduate paper session in Math Fest, in Pittsburgh, PA, organized by the Mathematical Association of America.

City Tech’s Nosocomial Infection research project is partially funded by a two-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Scientific Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER) implementation award, which was given to only 20 colleges nationwide during the 2009-11 funding period. SENCER is a faculty development and science education reform project funded by NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education.

City Tech’s SENCER project resulted from the participation of City Tech Dean Pamela Brown and Ghosh-Dastidar, Taraporevala and Tsenova in the SENCER 2009 Summer Institute (SSI) in Chicago, after which the College received the post-institute implementation award.

SENCER projects are designed to engage more students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, and connect that learning to their other studies. It also aims to foster responsible citizenship by applying their scientific knowledge to complex community problems.

As an active proponent of the connection between biology and mathematics, Ghosh-Dastidar developed several biology-related mathematical problems for her statistics course, based on SENCER ideals and the students’ research, to make learning mathematics more relevant. Her students have created flyers to alert Brooklyn residents of the drug-resistant pathogen problem and how to prevent NI, which upon hospital approval will be distributed in the near future.

Brown outlines the long-range strategy: “This project builds a connection between statistics and microbiology students, and demonstrates a model for expanding civic engagement and service learning into our student’s education.  The SENCER implementation award will also be used to support additional faculty incorporating engaging, real-world problems into their courses.”

The student researchers exemplify City Tech’s diversity – they are of Chinese, Eastern European, Trinidadian, Bangladeshi, Nigerian, Haitian and Somalian heritage, some born abroad, some here. In recent years, City Tech’s faculty has become more diverse as well. Of the professors involved with SENCER, Tsenova is from Bulgaria, Ghosh-Dastidar, Calcutta, and Taraporevala, New Delhi.

Student Aionga (Sonya) Pereira, from Trinidad, participated in both semesters of the SENCER project and found the work particularly relevant to her career goal of becoming a nurse. “This was my first research project and it was challenging. I never thought I could do pathology research, but it opened a door to a new area. The experience was especially important for me, since Nosocomial Infections are spread by health care workers. We’re supposed to help patients, but we can harm them. I would encourage everyone to do a research project in college; it’s definitely worth it.”

When asked about mentoring these scholars, Park Slope resident Tsenova says, “It’s very rewarding when I see the sparkle in my students’ eyes.” Admitting she never liked to study when she was young, Ghosh-Dastidar, who lives in East Brunswick, NJ, explains her attraction to the SENCER project. “Public service was always a passion for me. It was always in my mind to do something for society. SENCER showed me the way to merge my teaching with student research and civic engagement. It’s a wonderful combination that I am pursuing with all my heart.”


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