The Ecuadorian Andes from my Computer

Hi! My name is Ana Skomal and I’m a rising MS2, currently in the summer of my MS1. A little background about myself: I was born and raised in south San Diego near Chula Vista. I’m a Mexican-American woman and a native Spanish speaker. My mom immigrated from Mexico when she was in her 30’s and my dad is from New York. I studied Food Science and Technology at UC Davis and during my gap years went on a Fulbright grant in Borneo, Malaysia. 

This summer has taken an interesting twist to say the least. Earlier this year I expected to find myself working with children in the Andes of Ecuador this summer. The pandemic has shifted the ground from under our feet, the uncertainty, the fear of what’s to come hit us all differently. We adapt the best we can. 

Ecuador is one of the largest exporters of flowers worldwide. The majority of the flower production occurs in floricultural villages within Pedro Moncayo. My research this summer is part of the ESPINA (Estudio de la Exposición Secundaria a Plaguicidas en Niños y Adolescentes; Secondary Exposures to Pesticides among Children and Adolescents) study. This longitudinal project, established in 2008, focuses on studying the various clinical effects (neurobehavioral, mental health, enzymatic, and respiratory effects) of pesticide exposure in children living in Pedro Moncayo, a largely rural agricultural community. Most of the participants were recruited from a national survey as well as through community engagements. All the data collection is taken from the comfort of the children’s schools when they are out of session. 

A few images I found on google earth that are near the floricultural villages of Pedro Moncayo

Organophosphates (OPs) are becoming increasingly used in agricultural settings. OPs are one of the main causes of pesticide toxicity in Ecuador. When you get exposed to OPs via ingestion, inhalation, or contact, they irreversibly inhibit the enzyme, acetylcholinesterase (AChE). AChE breaks down acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) in heart, muscle, and brain neurons. If you inhibit AChE, you will have a buildup of acetylcholine in your synapses which can cause an array of symptoms.

Currently, I am in the process of writing a manuscript investigating the association between the well-established biomarker of organophosphate pesticide exposure (AChE) and urinary pesticide metabolites. There is limited research in pediatric toxicology investigating the direct relationship between a biological determinant of pesticide exposure (i.e. urinary metabolites) and their effect on the enzyme, AChE. My research will be focused on participant samples that were collected between July-October of 2016. I’ve been learning a lot of statistics, mathematical models, and structural components that make a successful manuscript. Hopefully, the paper can close the research gap and refine clinical diagnoses. Below is what my computer looks like for pretty much the whole day

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Outside of my GHAC research, I have been filming for the Anti-Racism Coalition (founded by medical students at UCSD) as well as the Intersectional Health Project San Diego. One of my greatest passions is visual storytelling and capturing human narratives through filmmaking. I’m happy I found ways to do that this summer. Something I was excited to do was make a documentary highlighting the floricultural communities of Ecuador. 

I tried my best to really place myself in Ecuador, in this village, with these children, with the community, in order to better understand the project I would be working on this summer. My Principal Investigator, Dr. Jose Suarez, is from Ecuador and has done so much work for these communities. His cultural guidance and personal experiences have really given me the opportunity to gain insight and perspective into what it’s like to be working for this part of the world. I know… this can only take me so far. However, this is the best we could do given the situation. 

Hasta luego!

-Ana

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