Research Abstracts


Investigating Mental Health Phenotypes and their underlying Genetics in African Americans using an in silico Approach

 

Christopher Cross, M.S.1,2,

Marjorie C. Gondre-Lewis, Ph.D.1

Latifa Jackson, Ph.D 3

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.2,4

 

  1. Department of Anatomy, Howard University

  2. Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

  3. National Human Genome Center, Howard University

  4. Department of Biology, Howard University

Among American populations, African Americans represent one of the most marginalized in terms of their health seeking behavior and access to mental health care.  This has led to a deficit in studies that have characterized African American mental health phenotypes and their underlying genomics.   We propose to use both in silico and molecular genomics approaches to address the extent and amount of functional genetic variation that is contributing to mental health phenotypes in a subset of individuals from the Cobb Collection.  The groups include an African American population with associated brain causes of death (abCOD), a European American population with abCOD, and a non-abCOD population for control. Using bioinformatics, candidate gene clusters will be identified that will capture relevant genes for schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. We will examine these genomic clusters for mental health in the Cobb Collection subset using a newly developed technique for isolating ancient DNA (aDNA) with high purity. Once the aDNA is extracted and our gene regions of interest are sequenced we will generate a polymorphism table for each group and compute their allele frequencies. We will statistically analyze for significance using an ANOVA/t-test comparing the groups to one another in addition to modern population data.


Forensic Investigation on the Pelvic Anatomy of African American females during the late 19th to mid-20th Century

 

Christina Hopkins 1,2

Christopher Cross, M.S. 1,3

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D. 1,2

 

  1. Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

  3. Department of Anatomy, Howard University

During World War II until the end of the Civil Rights Movement, African American women were especially subjected to labor in some precarious occupations with poor access to health care in racially segregated America. This research evaluates the variation in pelvic morphology that may be attributed to these adverse environmental conditions in a subset of women in the Cobb Collection.  Using the established methodology by Caldwell and Molloy, measurements are taken to relate the variation in dimensions to the racial typologies of the time. In addition, using the clinical records of the individuals, we aim to link these findings to the harsh occupational and pugnacious environment conditions faced by these women.


Hypertension genotypes in an historic African-American population dying from cardiovascular disease, stroke, and renal disorders 75 years ago: Comparison with contemporary hypertension genomes and health disparities

 

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.1

Georgia Dunston, Ph.D.2

Uzoamaka Nwaogwugwu, M.D.3

Hannes Schroeder, D.Phil.4

Latifa Jackson, Ph.D.2

Bradford Wilson, Ph.D.2

Hasan Jackson, M.S.5

 

  1. Cobb Research Laboratory and Department of Biology, College of Arts and Sciences, Howard University

  2.  National Human Genome Center and Department of Microbiology, College of Medicine, Howard University

  3. Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, Howard University

  4. Center for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, DENMARK

  5. Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland

Hypertension and its sequelae disproportionately affect African-Americans.  The Cobb Research Laboratory houses a unique historic collection of demographically and clinically annotated human skeletal remains composed largely of African Americans from the greater Washington DC area. Using bioinformatics approaches, we will identify important genomic regions for hypertension, stroke, renal, and cardiovascular disease. aDNA will be extracted and sequenced for a subset of 150 Cobb Collection individuals who died from these diseases. Comparing our subset to contemporary groups will expose important insights into the historical antiquity of particular gene sets contributing to the over-prevalence of these diseases and their health disparities. Geospatial analysis of these 150 individuals will allow us to characterize the historical chemical and physical environment for future epigenomic studies.



Prevalence and anatomical evidence of Treponemal Infection in the Cobb Collection

Nicholas Guthrie1,2

Christopher Cross, M.S1,3.

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.1,2

 

  1. Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

  3. Department of Anatomy, Howard University

Understanding the health of our ancestors can give us a viewpoint to understand present-day health conditions. The relationship of African American (AA) ancestry to infectious disease status has not been extensively studied. This study aims to characterize AA health by osteologically investigating the microbial effects of Treponema palladium (TP) bacteria on AAs who died in the greater DC metropolitan area from 1930 to 1969.  The gram-negative, spiral shaped bacteria has four pathogenic subspecies; pallidum, pertenue, endemicum, and carateum, causing syphilis, yaws, endemic syphilis, and pinta, respectively. To confirm TP infection, we will use the Cobb Collection autopsy and clinical records in conjunction with scientific methods of microscopic analysis, microbial analysis, and various imaging techniques. Our expected results will yield better understanding of the pathology of TP and its contribution to AA morbidity and mortality during the era of overt racial segregation to the present day.


Autism in the Cobb Collection

 

Jayla Harvey1,2

Christopher Cross, M.S.1,3

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.1,2

 

  1. Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

  3. Department of Anatomy, Howard University

 

 1 in 88 children in the United States are diagnosed with autism; this number has grown exponentially over the past couple of years, primarily due to raised awareness of this disorder. The definition of autism as we know it today didn’t come about until 1980.  Prior to that, autism was defined as schizoid personality disorder attributed fundamentally to a lack of maternal warmth.  Mental health issues, in general, in African Americans have not been extensively studied and are frequently under-diagnosed. Differential expression of mental disease likely stems from the multi-generational inhumane effects of the transatlantic slave trade, segregation, racism, and discrimination. As a result, the literature is scant on explicit descriptions of autism for the African American population. However, new scientific advances are suggesting that autism is genetically linked by clusters of DNA markers. Since African American’s rich diversity is not widely represented in either genetic or behavioral studies, this research will look for evidence of mental disease in specific individuals in the Cobb Collection try to develop a bridge between the behavioral expression of mental disease and the presence of genetic susceptibility genes for autism. This study will focus on African American adults from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia area who died in either the 1930s, 40s and 50s and for whom clinical reports and other clinical and demographic clues suggest evidence of mental disease. Advanced bioinformatic approaches will be used to identify likely autism gene clusters in the targets of study.


Osteological Markers of Advanced Pulmonary Tuberculosis in the Cobb Collection

 

Atila Libutsi 1,2,

Christopher Cross, M.S.1,3,

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.1,2

 

  1. Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

  3. Department of Anatomy, Howard University

Pulmonary tuberculosis is a common chronic infectious pathogen that is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. When left untreated by aggressive drug therapy, pulmonary tuberculosis is commonly fatal. This study analyzes observations of skeletal tuberculosis of deceased individuals dating back to the 1930’s. The manifestation of skeletal tuberculosis is rare, accounting for only 10 - 35% of clinical cases of advanced tuberculosis, although it can be distinctly observed through various bone lesions and bone decay caused by osteomyelitis. Using established anatomical methodology and pathological reports, we aim to analyze the osteological markers of pulmonary tuberculosis (e.g., the characteristic lesion), generate individual case studies for the tuberculosis-affected individuals, and prepare for subsequent biomolecular DNA analysis.


Determining the Impacts of Tuberculosis on African Americans 75 Years Ago to Present

 

Chidere Wilkins-Agomo1,2

Christopher Cross, M.S.1,3

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.1,2

 

  1. Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

  3. Department of Anatomy, Howard University

The Cobb Collection holds almost 700 individuals born between the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. We have analyzed the associated clinical records and determined 67 causes of death related to tuberculosis. This study aims to establish the presence and prevalence of tuberculosis as it relates to the African Americand in the collection. We aim to understand the impact of tuberculosis on our target population and its relevance to present day epidemiological factors using a variety of comparative research techniques. These findings will add to the scientific knowledge of historical and contemporary tuberculosis among African-Americans and other ethnic minority populations.


Chronic Kidney Disease and its Sequelae within the Cobb Collection: Osteological Lesions and Clinical Record of Evidence

 

Matthew Calhoun1,2

Amanda Strong 1,2

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.1,2

Uzoamaka Nwaogwugwu, M.D.3

 

  1. Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

  3. Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, Howard University

 

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is an ailment that disproportionately affects African Americans. Caused mainly by protracted high blood pressure or diabetes, this disease causes a build-up of waste, when then can lead to the degradation of other systems within the body. Chronic, untreated kidney disease is associated with a unique lesion of the bone. Within the Cobb Collection there are a limited number of documented cases of chronic kidney failure as a cause of death. The likely reason for the underrepresentation of death by CKD is that renal failure was overlooked due to the other problems it causes (e.g., cardiovascular pathology and neurological degeneration). This purpose of this research is to examine the skeletal remains of the individuals with documented cases of chronic kidney disease and find any anatomical clues or clinical record insights that may help find other cases within the Cobb Collection. Finding more cases would allow us to begin to more accurately understand the historical presence of CKD in this population.


Comparative Lower Limb Anatomy in the Cobb Collection and among Contemporary Age- and Sex-Matched Individuals

 

Andrew Price, B.S.1,2

Fatimah Jackson, Ph.D.1,2

Christopher Cross M.S1,3

 

  1. Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

  2. Department of Biology, Howard University

  3. Department of Anatomy, Howard University

This research seeks to compare anatomical patterns of individuals in the Cobb Collection and those an anonymous set of individuals at Howard University Hospital (HUH) and a few volunteers from the larger Washington DC community. The osteological focus will be on bones of the lower extremity, most notably the femur, tibia, and their articulation. Working collaboratively with the HUH Department of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation, key features of the lower extremities will be identified, measured, analyzed, and distinctive features noted. MRI scans of the bones of living individuals will be compared with those in the Cobb Collection with respect to gender, age, and height. Reasonable assumptions of health status and the presence of conditions such as tendinopathy, osteoporosis, and arthritis will be noted.


The Decline of Black Intellectual Spaces

Sherese Taylor, B.A.

Cobb Research Laboratory, Howard University

African Americans continue to experience substantial amounts of racial discrimination.  As a result African Americans (AAs) have created black political spaces, like historical black colleges and universities that aim to educate black people and counter racist policies that decrease minority participation. However despite the continued pervasiveness of racism, there has been a substantial decline in the need for and the preservation of these black institutions. This essay seeks to understand both the purpose of these institutions and the climate that is producing a lack of interest in the protection of these spaces. By using interviews with Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) faculty, students, and staff I will examine the context in which these communities live. Further I will employ historical text, and literature reviews to amplify and analyze principles and institutions that serve to create communities whom believe that black political spaces such as historically black colleges and universities are outdated or irrelevant to present social contexts. Thus one can understand the alleged or antagonistic threat behind black political spaces and deliver strategies that counter the destruction of these institutions.


Society and Space in the Cobb Collection

Hasan Jackson, M.S.

Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Maryland

Very little is known scientifically of the lives of urban, mid-20th Century African Americans and this limits our insights into evolutionary factors in contemporary African Americans. This research will characterize the geospatial relationships of 150 individuals of the Cobb Collection and provide an unparalleled window into the microevolutionary constraints, differential selection, and environmental nuance of this time period in Washington DC. The objective of this project is to develop a geohistorical residential map of Cobb Collection individuals using GIS to determine if there is evidence of spatial clustering of demographic, cultural, and ultimately biological information.

 

 

 

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