Indiana University School of Dentistry third-year student Ashley Karczewski likes a challenge. As an undergraduate, she sought out an opportunity to conduct dental materials research. After graduating, she travelled solo for two months, visiting a dozen countries because she enjoys figuring out the logistics of a new environment. When she decided that she wanted to have a global health experience while in dental school, she figured out a way to make that happen too.
IU School of Dentistry’s executive associate dean of global engagement, Michael Kowolik, BDS, PhD, FDS, put her in contact with Ana Lucia Seminario, DDS, MPH, PhD, a pediatric dentist at the University of Washington, who is running an existing research project in Kenya. Karczewski did some internet research about global health fellowships, and in July she will be on her way to join that project.
Through the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Karczewski was awarded a Northern Pacific Global Health (NPGH) Fogarty Fellowship to study periodontal disease in HIV+ adolescents. As a Fogarty Global Health Scholar, she will take a year off from her dental school studies to move to Nairobi, Kenya to work at the University of Nairobi under the mentorship of Arthur Kemoli, BDS, MSc, PhD. Kowolik and Seminario will be her US-based mentors for the fellowship.
The desire to work in a global health setting was ignited in Karczewski after spending last summer conducting research and providing clinical care in Brazil. “That was the first opportunity I have had to work with children. It was really fun working with the kids and applying our research,” she said. “Part of that program was also visiting the local community and doing follow-ups from their previous dental examinations, so it was really personal and really gratifying,” Karczewski continued.
Karczewski was selected by the NPGH Research Fellows Training Consortium to study the association between a specific salivary antimicrobial peptide and the presence of periodontal disease in HIV-infected and uninfected adolescents. Members of the consortium include IU, University of Washington, University of Hawai’i, University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota. The 2019-20 class includes at least 19 NPGH Fogarty Global Health Scholars and Fellows from the consortium, with about half representing low or middle income countries. They will be working in 7 countries: Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, India, Thailand and Peru. Karczewski is the first dental student to be selected as a Global Health Scholar through this consortium. Grant Callen, an IU School of Medicine student, will also represent IU as a Global Health Scholar and will conduct research with the AMPATH partnership in Eldoret, Kenya to identify the factors that impact whether adolescents stay engaged in HIV care long-term.
The Fogarty International Center is dedicated to advancing the mission of the NIH by supporting and facilitating global health research conducted by U.S. and international investigators, building partnerships between health research institutions in the U.S. and abroad, and training the next generation of scientists to address global health needs.
Bob Einterz, MD, director of the IU Center for Global Health and a member of the Fogarty International Center advisory board said, “The Fogarty Fellowship is one of the most prestigious and sought after global health fellowships for health professions students. It will provide Ashley and Grant with a strong foundation in research, and it has a high likelihood of catapulting them into the forefront of global health.” The grant award includes a week of intense research training at the NIH in Washington, DC. Karczewski is looking forward to the training and adding to her skills as a researcher. As a dental student she has been working on a project to develop dental materials for specific populations that don’t have access to a dentist as frequently or have higher levels of cavity rates. The materials release an anti-microbial that can potentially prevent the recurrence of cavities around restorations. Sabrina Feitosa-Sochacki, DDS, PhD, MSc, serves as Karczewski’s mentor for dental materials research at IU.
Following her year in Kenya, Karczewski plans to return to IU School of Dentistry to complete her final two years of dental school and continue to take on one of the more challenging paths offered by her profession. She plans to incorporate both research and clinical care in a future career as a hospital-based dentist, researcher and dental school faculty. “I want to eventually work with immunocompromised patients and develop materials to help in those scenarios. I like the challenge of figuring out the specific oral health care needs that present with different issues and problems,” she concluded.