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Course researches college-aged health

Jenn Metz | Thursday, February 19, 2009

At yesterday’s Health and Wellness Fair, students tested out “drunk goggles,” entered in raffles and helped a class of 25 students begin a new clinical trial.

The clinical research course – NDash For Better Health – is the first of its kind at Notre Dame. The students, under the guidance of semi-retired cardiologist Dr. Vince Friedewald, are conducting a study on college-aged blood pressure.

Senior Erin Wash, a biochemistry major who plans on attending medical school after Notre Dame, has had experience doing research in the past. After hearing of Friedewald’s plans for the study, she helped plan the course with him in the fall to launch in the spring.

“Together we put the skeleton of the study together,” she said.

Designed with an emphasis on increasing undergraduate research, the study’s goal is to measure the blood pressures of between 800 and 1,000 undergraduate students by the end of the Spring semester.

The figure, Wash said, will ensure the statement about the study is representative of the entire undergraduate population at Notre Dame.

The blood pressure measurements collected, along with the answers to questionnaires, will be analyzed and published.

In order to ensure the study is well received in the professional medical research community, Wash said the group has made sure its research is sound.

“Everything about our study, down to the type of equipment to how we take the blood pressure, is very precise,” she said.

The NDash group is considering a number of health conditions related to high blood pressure in the study.

“We’re definitely interested in hypertension,” Wash said. “This age group is really absent in the literature – the research is lacking in blood pressure in young adults.”

All 25 students – mostly juniors and seniors interested in pursuing a career in clinical research – in the course “had a chance to give their input about the study” before it launched at the Fair, Wash said.

She said there has been a lot of work done on the rise in childhood obesity and diabetes in older adults, but the middle age group – college students – have been neglected in the research.

The NDash study, named for the Dash Diet, a program designed to help lower blood pressure, aims to find what factors lead to a risk for hypertension in college-aged young adults and what lifestyle changes can be made to help lower blood pressure.

The study is being conducted on a purely volunteer basis, Wash said. Currently, students are taking the blood pressures once per participant, “but if anyone wants a follow up we’ll take the blood pressure a second or third time,” she said.

Over the next six weeks, NDash will be setting up in the communal spaces in all 28 residence halls, making it “very convenient for all students to participate,” Wash said.

“It takes less than 10 minutes to participate,” she said.

The study’s questionnaire is confidential and anonymous and asks the participant’s age, height, weight, habits, and family and personal medical histories. The answers will help the students running the study analyze their data.

“We’ll look at the group of students who have a parent with diabetes and see if there’s a significant difference in their blood pressures [compared to other students],” Wash said.

From the outset of the study, participants are given a number that cannot be tied back to their identity, as for all analysis purposes the students will not use any identifiable information, Wash said.

Wash estimated about 50 students participated at the NDash booth at the Health and Wellness Fair, which was held in the Rolfs Sports and Recreation Center.

The course’s Web site – http://sites.google.com/site/ndashspring2009/Home – lists the dates the students will be at each residence hall to take measurements as well as contact information and other links related to the study.