International Collaborative Brings Health Researchers to Princeton

Nov. 28, 2023

Three graduate students from South America and the United Kingdom are visiting Princeton University this fall to further their research on antimicrobial resistance, male psychology, and social determinants of health. Doctoral candidates Ana Cláudia Barbosa and Felipe Betoni Saraiva from the Oswaldo Cruz Institute-Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) in Brazil, and Sam McBride from the University of Sunderland in England, are participating in the International Health Research Collaboration, an exchange program sponsored by the Center for Health and Wellbeing (CHW) and the School of Public and International Affairs.

The initiative, launched in 2022, invites foreign graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other researchers from CHW partner institutions to Princeton for one semester. While here, scholars have opportunities to innovate, present their work, audit courses, and integrate into the broader health-focused community at Princeton.

“The Center for Health and Wellbeing has a long history of collaborating with research institutions around the world. Princetonians regularly travel overseas for internships and research projects that offer new insights into the field of global health and related disciplines, allowing them to bring lessons home to the United States,” stated Gilbert Collins, director of global health programs and associate director of CHW. Over the past two summers, Fiocruz and the University of Sunderland alone have hosted 21 Princeton students through CHW’s Internships in Global Health Program.

“This endeavor allows us to reciprocate, making it possible for international students and stakeholders, from both developed and developing countries, to benefit from Princeton’s vibrant research community and to bring lessons back with them in turn,” added Collins.

Fall 2023 Visiting Scholars

This semester’s participating scholars come to Princeton with diverse, accomplished backgrounds and inspiring pursuits.

Ana Cláudia Barbosa

Ana Cláudia Barbosa, who holds a Master’s degree in Public Health, is working toward a Ph.D. in the same area at Fiocruz. She is also a professor at Instituto Federal do Rio de Janeiro and a physiotherapist specializing in orthopedics and gerontology. Barbosa’s career began as a clinician, but her interests evolved over time. “I enjoyed caring for people as a physical therapist, but I was also concerned about how they got sick, especially the elderly,” she explained. Her attention shifted to the influence of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, housing, and other factors on health outcomes.

Ana Cláudia Barbosa with statue of lion on Princeton campus

Ana Cláudia Barbosa

Barbosa’s doctoral research examines how health care can effectively serve vulnerable populations, such as Black and elderly women, through the lens of intersectionality in the Brazilian context of Covid-19. She is looking at inequality markers that affect groups already at risk and in need of social justice. Ultimately, her goal is to better understand social determinants of health and to identify alternative ways of delivering care to achieve more equitable outcomes.

In addition to conducting research, Barbosa is auditing two classes at Princeton: one focused on gender in global society, and the other on publishing articles related to race, gender, and sexuality studies. She is fully engaged in the courses while networking with colleagues, students, and the Princeton community. “Princeton is a very plural place,” she added. “I’m interacting with researchers from around the world and faculty I’ve only dreamed of meeting. In every way, this experience has exceeded my expectations.”

Sam McBride

Sam McBride, who holds a Master of Science in Psychological Research Methods, is a Ph.D. candidate and academic tutor at University of Sunderland, where he is focused on male psychology. He learned about this emerging area of study, which explores how men and boys think, feel, and behave, when Sunderland launched the world’s first male psychology module while he was studying for his Master’s degree. “A lot of the literature and research through the decades, if not centuries, has centered on female samples,” he noted. “While the world has become more aware of inequalities around women, we tend to overlook ways in which men are disadvantaged. For example, suicide, homelessness, and obesity are more prevalent among men.”

Sam McBride on lawn in Washington, D.C.

Sam McBride

McBride’s doctoral research project seeks to identify facilitators and barriers to bariatric, or obesity-related, care for men. His study targets Sunderland, England, where the obesity rate exceeds 70 percent and men are far less likely than women to seek treatment, especially bariatric surgery. This disparity is significant because obesity is linked to many chronic diseases, and men are predisposed to additional complications. As part of his project, McBride will develop recommendations for reducing obesity risk factors and increasing men’s access to and use of surgical intervention.

McBride is making the most of his visit to Princeton by discussing his research with Professor Alin Coman in the Department of Psychology and other faculty members. He is also gaining insights by participating in health-focused campus events and auditing classes on inequities in health and the anthropology of mental health. “This visit has been academically rewarding while broadening my horizons in other ways,” he added. “I’m strengthening my independence and enjoying new experiences, including an American ‘football’ game and a trip to Washington, D.C.”

Felipe Betoni Saraiva

Felipe Betoni Saraiva, who holds a Master of Science in Biological Chemistry, is a Ph.D. candidate in Cell and Molecular Biology and a public health technician at Fiocruz. He is particularly fascinated by multidrug-resistant microorganisms (MMR), which are increasingly common and pose a significant threat to public health. “Some people predict that, in 20 years, antimicrobial resistance will be the leading cause of death,” said Saraiva, adding that MMRs also have a substantial economic impact. “By 2050, the economic cost is estimated to reach $100 billion.”

Felipe Betoni Saraiva with Firestone library in background

Felipe Betoni Saraiva 

One of the critical MMRs is Acinetobacter baumannii, classified as a top priority by the World Health Organization. Conventional drugs are losing their effectiveness against this bacterium, making it difficult to treat and creating an urgent need for alternatives. While monoclonal antibodies have shown promise, the therapy is complex, costly, and not readily available. Saraiva’s doctoral research explores a new therapeutic option that may be more viable from economic and regulatory points of view. His project is focused on aptamers, also known as “chemical antibodies,” which are small, synthetic molecules that can bind to targeted molecules and block enzymatic activity. At Princeton, Saraiva is working with Professor Zemer Gitai in the Department of Molecular Biology to analyze this approach and determine its effectiveness. His goal is to develop an innovative treatment for Acinetobacter baumannii infections and potentially other diseases.

Additionally, Saraiva is auditing classes (on antibiotics through the life span, cellular biology, and biophysics immunology), engaging in seminars, and collaborating with researchers who share his interest in antimicrobial resistance. “This research partnership between Fiocruz and Princeton is crucial for advancing my project and addressing the antibiotic resistance challenge,” he stated. “I hope our work will be of great benefit to society, offering a solution and increasing people’s life expectancy.”