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Biology Student Does Summer Research with World Health Organization

Ravi ThakkerBROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 6, 2012 – Ravi Thakker of Brownsville saw a different side of medical research when he spent a month this summer working in southern India.

Thakker, 19, a sophomore biology major at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, was a research intern for the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center for Mental Health Research and Training: Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai, India.

Thakker’s work days began at 8:30 a.m. with a meeting and then seeing up to 30 patients five days a week to determine patients’ demographics, medications and mental problems to fill out needs assessment forms. His patients ranged in ages from 19 to 65.

He worked with Dr. Ramachandran Padmavat, Joint Director of the W.H.O’s collaborating center, and others on a research study involving the needs assessments of schizophrenia patients to help plan a structured rehabilitation program. The project was important to the collaborating center because it was a new approach to treating mentally ill patients, said Thakker.

He was also part of a team that conducted a research study involving cardiometabolic disorders in schizophrenic patients. He observed the preparedness of the W.H.O. collaborating center’s mental health professionals.

Thakker said there were some minor language barriers talking to patients.

“I learned that the perceptions society has about mentally ill patients are deceiving,” he said. “Some of these patients understand that they have schizophrenia and they are willing to get help. Unfortunately in these low income countries help is limited.”

The research Thakker conducted will play a part in creating a new rehabilitation program sponsored by the W.H.O. that would address the needs of people with schizophrenia and cardiometabolic disorders like diabetes and high blood pressure. His research will be presented by Padmavat at an international conference and will be used in developing an abstract in an ongoing paper about schizophrenia and aggression being developed by the collaboration center.

“It was different for me,” he said referring to his period as a research intern. “I had to adjust to the area, and immediately get into the project. The people were very friendly at the institution. It’s an honor and great experience to see the way medicine is practiced and research is conducted in a different part of the world, especially in a medically underserved area.”

Thakker works as a laboratory assistant for Dr. Emilio Garrido, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Gene Therapy in the Department of Biomedicine in the College of Biomedical Sciences. Thakker works with pathophysiology and neurochemistry with degenerative diseases.

Garrido wrote Thakker’s recommendation letter for the World Health Organization position.

“Ravi’s long-term goal is to become a neurosurgeon and he understands that to accomplish his dream it is not enough to study and get excellent grades but gaining additional knowledge about how the brain’s work is critical for his success,” said Garrido. “He has dedicated himself to gain this knowledge from different angles, including developing basic research in neuroscience when he has fulfilled in our laboratory investigating epilepsy and clinical and community-based research to understand the pathogenesis, clinical and social problems associated with other central nervous system and mind disorders.”

Thakker found out about the summer research opportunity when he worked for a month in summer 2011 as a medical volunteer for the International Red Cross in southern Asia. During this experience he assisted physicians with minor work and did observations.

“I wanted to look for an opportunity to see the mental side of neurology,” said Thakker.

Thakker is a 2011 graduate of Hanna High School’s medical magnet program. He is part of the Early Medical School Acceptance Program in the Office of Health Professions Careers at the university.

He is President-Elect of the Student Advisory Council for the College of Science, Mathematics and Technology and Vice President of the university’s American Medical Student Association. Thakker is a member of the first cohort of the Health Disparities Scholars Program. He will also study to take the Medical College Admissions Test next year. Thakker’s work in India has inspired him to work in medically underserved areas after medical school.

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