DRIVE in Research Pilot Program Participant
While most DRIVE students worked remotely over the summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Devin Moua was on Stanford’s campus running experiments in the lab of Professor of Pediatrics Kanwaljeet (Sunny) Anand, MD, D.Phil. As a human biology and anthropology double major, Devin had had prior lab experience with the Departments of Neurology and Biology before beginning the DRIVE Program.
Still, it took a few weeks for Devin to master his pipetting skills under the tutelage of lab manager Cynthia Rovnaghi, MS. Dr. Anand is an expert on pediatric pain and stress, and he and Cynthia tasked Devin with analyzing cortisol levels from hair samples. In total, Devin prepared assays on over 70 children and parents; his DRIVE project focused specifically on assessing pre- and post-pandemic cortisol levels in several young children from families affiliated with Stanford.
Devin’s findings were interesting— instead of declining with age, the children’s cortisol levels largely remained stagnant, suggesting chronic stress. Had their cortisol levels followed a normal physiological pattern, they should have declined after age 2. Devin speculates that lockdowns during the pandemic may have exposed children to adverse childhood experiences, thereby keeping hair cortisol levels high. Dr. Anand says Devin is the first person in the world to uncover this important trend.
How were you paired up with Dr. Anand?
Devin: Dr. Anand and I, we had ranked each other pretty highly, I think. He was my first option, and I was really passionate about his project because I think adverse childhood experiences are extremely important to examine. I had some personal experiences of abuse, low socioeconomic status, and housing insecurity and I think my story made it obvious that I cared a lot about this research and really resonated with Dr. Anand.
What was most surprising to you about working in Dr. Anand’s lab?
Devin: Just how much work it takes, to be quite honest. I would essentially go in for five-to-six hours a day, and then continue working after lab as well, just to read up and learn even more about things that Cynthia had said. And so, I think getting that experience was so crucial in informing me of my choice in becoming a physician-scientist.
And I can only imagine the work that Dr. Anand does behind the scenes. Working with the IRB, developing protocols, and testing numerous procedures to see what works best—it shows how dedicated he is to examining such an important problem in our society.
Dr Anand: Simply the fact that Devin is the first in his family to go to college is so inspiring, and this is something I relate to very closely because my father came from a very poor landless laborer’s family in undivided India. He was the first person in his entire village to receive a high school or college education. Even in the face of political upheaval in India, he went on to have a career as a civil servant. When you are the first in your family, there are many, many firsts that come with that one first.
BY LAURA HEDLI
Laura Hedli is a writer for the Division of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics and contributes stories to the Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute.