It’s not every day that scientists, especially students, get the opportunity to sit down with national lawmakers to discuss the importance of scientific research.
College of Public Health and Human Sciences PhD candidate Kelli Lytle got just such an opportunity when she spoke one-on-one with senators and representatives about the value of biomedical research, including research studies she’s working on at Oregon State.
“I have always enjoyed explaining my work to people, and in science we are constantly talking about the poor funding situation due to NIH – National Institutes of Health – budget cuts,” says Kelli, who is studying nutrition and will defend her dissertation June 2016. “Given my past experience winning the three-minute thesis, I thought it would be a great experience explaining the importance of what we do.”
As a graduate research assistant, Kelli studies the remission and treatment of a disease called non-alcoholic steatoheaptitis (NASH), which is a progressive liver disease induced by poor diet. “It parallels rates of obesity and is said to be present in about 30 percent of the population. And many people are undiagnosed,” she says.
Her other major area of study is the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is found in fish oil.
Kelli, who was the only student from Oregon to attend the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Hill Day, joined a group of about 20 students and post-doctoral fellows from across the nation to explain the importance of their work to legislators. They discussed the critical role federal investments have in supporting the nation’s scientific enterprise and how, in turn, that money could positively impact quality of life.
“I thought it would be a great experience explaining the importance of what we do.”
“Specifically, lawmakers can lift the cap on discretionary spending in the federal budget,” she says. “The primary government entities for providing scientific research dollars – the NIH and the National Science Foundation – are included in this government spending, so increasing these budgets is a step in the right direction.
“Much of the government money spent on research spending is directly related to human health. Specifically, I study a disease that is highly prevalent in the U.S. population; therefore, outcomes from our research could absolutely change how we treat this disease. However, the kind of work we and many other labs do is very expensive.”
Kelli says she will continue promoting the value of science conducted at universities and funded by the NIH. After graduation, she hopes to start a post-doctoral research fellow position where she can conduct work similar to what she studies now but with a more human component.