December 17, 2009 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
In the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, people with high blood pressure have traditionally sought relief by eating a native plant called mauby. “Folk remedies are popular there,” says Trinidad-born Kwame Amin, a second-semester science major at BMCC. “If you’ve got a health issue, people will always say, ‘Drink this, eat that.’” But is there anything to these treatments? Do they really work?
Amin decided to find out. His efforts earned him a first-place showing in the chemical sciences division at this year’s prestigious Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.
Taking a blackworm’s pulse
Amin began his investigation last year under the supervision of Professor Brahmadeo Dewprashad of the Science Department. “A doctor in Trinidad had done a clinical study—with hypertensive patients—and found that there actually were chemical compounds in mauby that could lower blood pressure,” he says. “Our goal was to expand on his study and confirm his findings.”
Testing on humans or animals wasn’t an option for Amin, so he and Dewprashad monitored mauby’s effect on California blackworms, whose physiological responses are easy to observe with a microscope. “There was a distinct lowering of their pulse rate, just as the Trinidadian doctor had reported in humans,” Amin says. “Our findings were consistent with his.”
Amin had first taken part in the Biomedical Research Conference in 2008, but with no expectation that he would win. “Mostly I was there to observe the work of others, see how they presented it, and learn what I needed to do to improve my own work,” he says. “I went back to BMCC, tidied up my research, collected more data—and, this year, I guess I impressed the judges.”
Sweetening the victory was the fact that Amin won out against sophomore students from an array of Ph.D.-granting institutions, including several Ivy League colleges. Now in its ninth year, the Conference attracts nearly 2,800 individuals, including 1,500 undergraduates and 230 graduate and postdoctoral students.
“Winning First Prize shows that there is really no difference between our students and those at the top-ranked, 4-year schools,” he says. “Professor Dewprashad demands a lot of his students and holds them to extremely high standards. We wound up beating out some very tough competition.”