Carynn Koch and Jenny Koch work with Joey Tadros, a participant in a blood glucose study in the SwiSTEM Early Undergraduate Research Program.
Photo Credit: USI Photography Services
USI’s SwiSTEM Early Undergraduate Research Program is designed to engage students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in hands-on research early in their college careers.
Now in its fourth year, the five-year program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
STEM majors begin the program by forming research groups and pairing with faculty mentors in the summer following their freshman year. After two summers and one academic year of research, students are encouraged to continue research on a national level with a mentor or a local STEM business or industry.
The summer portion of the program is eight weeks long. Research teams meet each weekday in addition to providing updates to the entire group on Fridays. In-depth presentations at the end of the summer allow for a recap of progress and final documents and plans for presentations for undergraduate research forums and regional and national meetings complete the requirements of the program.
Carynn Koch and Jenny Koch, sophomore biology majors from Mount Vernon, Indiana, are studying the effects of meal composition on blood glucose levels. Dr. Mari Hopper, assistant professor of biology, is their faculty mentor and has been conducting research on insulin resistance among college men and women.
Koch and Koch chose to focus their research on blood glucose levels because they recognized that the average college lifestyle puts students at great risk for insulin resistance, which could lead to Type II Diabetes and other health problems including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
“This is a disease of lifestyle,” said Dr. Hopper. “Even light exercise can help to reduce your risk.”
Do factors such as physical fitness, body mass index, and family history of Type II Diabetes play a role in the blood glucose response to various meals?
After hours of behind the scenes work, including designing the study and gaining IRB approval, Koch and Koch collected data to answer that question. Their initial prediction was that blood glucose levels would not rise as high, and would return to pre-meal values faster in those who exercise regularly.
Participants included 20 healthy, college-aged men and women. The student subjects were required to answer a questionnaire providing family history, fitness history, nutrition and lifestyle, and emergency contact information.
The experiments consisted of four treatments requiring subjects to ingest a meal of predetermined nutrient composition. On the first visit, participants were given an oral glucose tolerance test to get an indication of insulin sensitivity. In the following weeks, students ingested three different breakfast meals and blood glucose levels were determined by means of a finger stick that was analyzed using glucometer. The three meals included the following: a breakfast high in simple sugar content (pop tarts and a caffeinated energy drink); a breakfast high in fats and proteins (pre-packaged deli cut ham and pre-packaged cheese sticks); and a breakfast that is nutritionally balanced (bagel with peanut butter and a banana). The number of calories consumed was kept constant for all treatments.
“The most enjoyable part of the program is working with the subjects and seeing their faces light up when they realize that our research directly affects their health and well-being,” said Koch. “Participants gained knowledge as to how their life style, health factors, and meal choices are affecting the regulation of blood glucose levels.”
Cameron Hilt, a junior psychology major, chose to volunteer as a research subject to help a friend but found it to be an eye-opening experience. “I learned how research can have an impact on my health.”
The insulin resistance research is scheduled to be completed in May 2013.
Watch video from USI Photography Services for more details on this research project.