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Thesis Research Expands Douyon’s ’20 View of Public Health


A senior project on lead toxicity morphed into a summer research opportunity for Aliane Douyon ’20 before she heads off this fall to the University of Miami to pursue a master’s in public health.

Douyon was exploring lead toxicity’s effect on Drosophila (fruit fly) reproduction, development, and behavior with Assistant Professor of Biology Rhea Datta for independent research when the project was cut short due to COVID-19. “[We] arrived at this topic because we wanted to research the effects of a toxicity that is out of one’s control and not a result of behaviors engaged in like cigarettes or alcohol,” Douyon said.                   

About Aliane Douyon ’20

Major: Interdisciplinary Studies

Hometown: Miami, Fla.

High school: New World School of the Arts 

read about other members of the class of 2020 

Physician shadowing opportunities at local hospitals offered through the Career Center initially sparked Douyon’s interest in understanding which factors, beyond the biological, influence one’s health. “Based on my observations during these internships, I saw the importance of treating patients holistically — taking the time to understand the patient and the conditions they face in their everyday lives that contribute to the symptoms that initially brought them into the hospital,” she said. 

While conducting research with Datta, Douyon also worked with Professor of Africana Studies Shelley Haley and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Vivyan Adair to identify a thesis topic that incorporated her interest in the Black infant and maternal health crisis and reflected her interdisciplinary major.

“As I continued to explore both topics, I realized that they overlapped, which led me to my thesis topic,” Douyon said. Working with the three faculty members, she was able to investigate this topic from biological, public health, and policy perspectives.

Douyon’s thesis examined the social conditions that influence housing locations and conditions that disproportionately expose Black women and children to lead. Then she looked at the disproportionately high numbers of Black women and infants who experience complications or death during the birthing process and in the time following.

“Our work this summer explored the intersections between genetics and community health, looking at the effects of lead exposure on reproduction and early development,” Douyon said. She worked with Pablo Reina-Gomez ‘22, Hector Rivera ‘22, and Katie Novack ’22 to investigate the topic. The group worked remotely and met via Zoom to conduct a literature review and design experiments.

In her master’s program at Miami, Douyon said she’ll take classes that teach research and quantitative skills in addition to a core public health curriculum. “I hope to further develop my skills and knowledge so I can continue to conduct research similar to what I had started at Hamilton,” she said. “In the future I hope to work as a physician and public health professional to research and address health disparates.” 

Douyon credits Datta, Adair, and Haley with influencing her education at Hamilton. “While [none] of them taught classes specific to health or environmental toxins, their courses expanded my understanding and perspective of public health,” she said. “In their classes I learned about the intersectionality of many issues in our society that ultimately led me to the topic of lead toxicity, which is as much a social issue and it is a health issue. All three have … inspired me to always think beyond what’s on the surface.”

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