American Indian (AI) and other minority groups are under-represented in medical careers and among biomedical researchers. There are many possible explanations; but lack of educational opportunities and learning projects that seem relevant to the health problems of AI communities may be one factor. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has awarded $150,000 per year for the next 5 years to TMCC to support genetic research focused on a health care problem of special interest (preeclampsia) for the Turtle Mountain community. About six percent of pregnancies are complicated by high blood pressure, abnormal protein in the urine, and other signs, which together are called “pre-eclampsia” (PE). The complications of PE can be serious and can result in prematurity and death for the baby, as well as occasionally death of the mother. Although no cause has been found for PE, some risk factors have been identified, including certain genetic changes (mutations in the DNA). These genetic theories have been tested in Caucasian populations, but never in American Indian communities. It is not known whether these changes are common in American Indian populations or whether they might carry the same risk as they appear to in non-Indian people. All research would be carried out according to strict ethical standards, and proper approval will be obtained from tribal government, federally mandated research protection boards (IRBs), the Indian Health Service, and (most importantly) from each individual person who is invited to participate.
- Student Research Assistants (SRAs) will learn valuable skills in the planning and conduct of medical research, important laboratory methods for genetic research, and finally publish research results that will be of use to physicians providing care to American Indian people.
- The Turtle Mountain community will become more engaged in the planning of future biomedical research in this area.
- Skills needed to conduct biomedical research will be enhanced among the TMCC faculty.
- The most important outcome will be to generate student interest in further studies that could lead to a medical or biomedical research career.
Student Research Assistants
The SRAs will be involved in developing tribal and IRB approval, obtaining consent and collecting samples. They will then conduct the laboratory analyses at TMCC to compare DNA samples from women with and without PE. The students will go on to analyze the data and write publications describing the results. Melanie Nadeau, full time Research Technician at TMCC and Dr. Lyle Best (principal investigator) will supervise and teach the SRA’s. These assistants will be expected to devote about 10 hours per week to the study and will be compensated on an hourly basis.
Visits to local research facilities
The SRAs and interested faculty will visit facilities such as the DNA Diagnostic laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada; the genetic research laboratories at UND and NDSU; and the Missouri Breaks Industries Research Inc headquarters in Timber Lake, South Dakota.
Annual Research Conference
This conference will allow tribal members from Turtle Mountain to learn how biomedical research is conducted and the advantages and disadvantages of sponsoring this type of research in the community. Input from community members will be sought to guide future research plans.