By Basel Moukaskas
What did your Stretch Experience involve?
In what way can novel research findings in health and wellness be conveyed to healthcare professionals for the purpose of teaching and awareness?
This is the question that I have tried to tackle with my Stretch Experience. Dr. Spencer Proctor served as my verifier for this experience, as well as the lead supervisor for the project’s development. Through his research, he has discovered that remnant cholesterol (RC) serves as a far better predictor of future cardiovascular complications than do traditional biomarkers such as low density lipoprotein (LDL). Both LDL and RC levels in the vasculature fluctuate throughout the day in response to fasting and fed states. Traditionally, LDL levels in the fasting state have been used by clinicians as a predictor of future complications such as heart disease and diabetes. This method has run into various issues in recent years. For one, given that levels are only recorded in the fasted state, patients are prohibited from eating for roughly 8-12 hours before the procedure. This also puts further strain on the healthcare system as testings are often scheduled early in the morning for all patients, further increasing wait times. But more importantly, it has been found that different patients with varying levels of LDL are actually at varying risks of future complications. It was found the RC levels serve as a far better predictor of future heart disease as their values have a stronger positive correlation with heart disease risk. In addition, RC testing relieves pressure on both patients and the healthcare system as levels can be taken at any time of day (not necessarily in the morning and in a fasted state).
Given these findings, it was my responsibility to determine how these new findings can best be conveyed to the healthcare community. Dr. Proctor’s lab had previously worked with a graphic design company, so we agreed that an infographic video was the best way to go. Before beginning work on the video, I had to do countless hours of readings and research review to familiarize myself with Dr. Proctor’s findings, as well as the physiological concepts behind them. From there, I developed an abstract that condensed countless papers of research findings into a potential script for a two and a half minute video. After the draft was approved, I moved on to developing a storyboard with the best graphics to accompany each point of the script, ensuring our message was accurately being conveyed in the video.
I feel that my leadership skills in delegation and collaboration have greatly improved thanks to my Stretch Experience. Throughout the summer, I have served as a liaison between Dr. Proctor’s lab and the graphic design team over at Kindea Labs. In addition to script and storyboard development for the video, I had to ensure that our research findings were properly conveyed in the video, and that the design team had everything they needed to take our ideas and transform them into entertaining and informative visuals. This required numerous email correspondences and Zoom conferences between our team and theirs. This not only taught me patience and proper delegation skills, but also how to take into account different ideas and viewpoints in a manner that produced the best result for the most amount of people.
This role developed my communication skills, as good communication is key in any leadership task. Part of that entails adapting to the needs of your audience to ensure that information and messaging are being conveyed in a way that is best understood by them. This has pushed me out of my comfort zone because it forced me to look at problems and ideas from different perspectives to try and assess the best course of action for a specific situation. Throughout the summer, I was also put in positions where I attempted various tasks that I knew I was not very skilled at (for instance, visuals art and design work for the storyboard). By pushing me out of my comfort zone, I have improved these skills and realized that perfection is not always what is needed for success.
Our lab is also working closely with Alberta Health Services to develop a mobile application wherein RC levels can be inputted and viable health choices are recommended in order to normalize RC levels and avoid the trajectory towards cardiovascular complications. This, therefore, will work to improve health outcomes for the greater community at large. I hope that the infographic successfully translates our lab’s research findings in a way that will educate current and future healthcare providers on the benefits of RC, thereby further improving patient outcomes as we move into the future.
The infographic has been approved and is in the process of being completed. I aspire towards a future career in health care and medical research. I think that this project with Dr. Proctor and Kindea Labs will really help me towards that goal as I have gained research experience. Although the lab work I did was not strictly clinical, my experience in discerning and translating scientific findings will greatly contribute to any kind of research position I take in the future.
My Stretch Experience has taught me the importance of being adaptable and remaining flexible in any kind of work you do. Having had to quickly develop and implement a new stretch project due to the COVID-19 developments, I can attest to this better than most. Although it was challenging to commit to such a project largely from my own home and computer, I have come out stronger as I have learned that if there is a will, there is a way to keep business and progress going.
Basel Moukaskas is an undergraduate student in the Department of Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry through the Faculty of Science.