Samoan expert to share research with community
A Samoan PhD student in New Zealand will be able to share her findings on the genetic roots of illness like heart disease in Pasifika populations with the very people she is studying.
Jaye Moors is a biochemistry expert. That gives her unique insight into how Polynesian-specific genetics can influence the prevalence of these diseases among Pasifika communities.
Which is the subject of her PhD research.
But a prestigious Health Research Council Pacific PhD scholarship will give her a chance most postgraduate researchers do not get; to make her discoveries available to the very people she is studying.
Ms. Moors holds a Bachelor of Science in Anatomy and Structural Biology; a Postgraduate Diploma of Science in Anatomy; and a Master’s degree in Science specialising in biochemistry - all from the University of Otago.
The grant will allow her to organise meetings and teach those involved in her study and their families about what she has learnt about their diseases and how to improve their health.
A way to share research findings with the subjects of a study is not an opportunity most PhD students get to pursue.
Ms. Moors is currently writing up her PhD thesis and she believes that it is a priority that her research is shared directly with the communities it studies.
“I am passionate about wanting to work with Pasifika communities and also ensuring the research directly benefits the health of our communities," she said.
Her PhD has been funded by a New Zealand Health Research Council scholarship to specifically apply biochemistry to Pasifika communities.
In an email to the Samoa Observer Ms. Moors told the Samoa Observer that her research will look at “the current metabolic health status of young Pacific people in [New Zealand].”
But more broadly, she told this newspaper she will be examining “Polynesian-specific genetic variants of cardio-metabolic disease in the Māori and Pacific populations”.
To that end, Ms. Moors has identified a Polynesian-specific version of a gene involved in cholesterol metabolism.
It is associated with an increase in ‘good cholesterol’ and lower ‘bad cholesterol’ (low-density lipoprotein) among Polynesian people.
Her research has also shown that the elevated alcohol intake of Pasifika teenagers in New Zealand is correlated with increased weight and in turn with risk factors for illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes.
She had developed a solid appreciation and understanding of the complexity of cardio-metabolic conditions (cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes) and obesity which she says are conditions that have a genetic predisposition which means that genetics is an important tool in the multi-faceted approach to understanding and treating these conditions.
“These kind of genetics studies are important to understanding the biology of our Māori and Pacific people, and it is the hope that it may help develop better ‘personalised medicine’, a model that employs genetic and lifestyle information to tailor better medical interventions and treatments for an individual,” Ms. Moors said
“Cardio-metabolic conditions and obesity are often associated with shame. In an attempt to reduce the stigma and shame associated with these conditions, we acknowledge the importance of education and communicating our findings the correct way so people are able to apply it to their everyday lives, and feel empowered to take ownership of their health.”
There were challenges she faced while conducting her research, however, Moors added that getting up in the mornings was always a challenge for her but her excitement for the search for scientific truth through biochemistry was a motivating factor for her.
Ms Moors will be looking into post-stroke neuro-regeneration with Dr Andrew Clarkson of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Otago after she finishes her PhD.
In the long-term, however, she hopes to continue examining the genetics of disease in Pasifika populations as she is passionate about working with Pasifika communities to ensure their health benefits.
“I would like to continue training in the space of identifying Polynesian-specific genetics of cardio-metabolic disease and applying my skills to improving the health of Pasifika people to decrease disparities and inequities," she said.
“Understanding biology, and how our bodies work is crucial. We know that these conditions have a genetic predisposition, and our research may help de-stigmatise them, highlighting that our communities affected are not at fault. This research is important to removing the shame associated with these conditions so that our Māori and Pasifika people may take ownership of their health.”
With the support of numerous people, Ms Moors said that she has been able to grow in this space and continue to work towards her vision.
“Particularly my families and friends, as well as the great mentorship and guidance of my supervisors, Professor Tony Merriman and Dr Mele Taumoepeau. I’d like to acknowledge the University of Otago, and my funding body, the Health Research Council of NZ. Also extremely grateful to the study participants who generously gifted their DNA and information to the study,” she added
Moors is from the villages of Saleufi, Vaitele, Vailoa Palauli and Sala’ilua.