Spotlight on Student Research

Elizabeth GadzickElizabeth Gadzick took the idea of community to a new level with a Lead, Learn, Serve grant, awarded to students pursuing research in their academic field that also benefits the community.

Gazdick spent two weeks during a recent summer in Ghana, testing the water in different areas of the country to see how certain disease pathogens are spread. She was awarded the first international Lead, Learn, Serve grant from UD, which helped fund her research.

"I was really apprehensive to go to Africa because of how radically different everything is there,” Gazdick said. “But it was enjoyable being immersed in such a culture and learning more about the way of life."

Gazdick’s study focused on how humans contract the disease Buruli ulcer. This infectious disease, which is prominent in Ghana and affects mostly children, causes lesions and eventually ulcers on the skin. It is rarely fatal, but leaves the victim with deforming scars and impaired mobility. The disease is caused by a bacterium and while the route of transmission is still unknown, it is supposed that the pathogen is spread through water. Gazdick’s research focused on identifying the conditions in which the bacterium thrives.

"Her goal was to not only employ her research, but to educate locals about the disease and how important water reservoirs were to understanding the disease," said Dr. Eric Benbow, UD biology professor and Gazdick's research advisor, who also traveled to Ghana with Gazdick and five colleagues.

Benbow's Sustainability, Energy, and the Environment Seed Grant helped fund Gazdick's studies in his lab, where she examined water reservoirs in the Dayton area to see how they flood and dry out, and how frequently this occurs. Unstable and flood-prone water bodies are suspected to be associated with Buruli ulcer outbreaks in Africa, so Gazdick used methods employed in her research in Dayton to study the ecological conditions important to the disease in Ghana. She has presented her research findings at the Ohio Academy of Science.

"No one really understands how this disease is spread to humans and why outbreaks occur in certain areas," Benbow said. "Hopefully we can soon better understand how humans get this disease." Although the analysis of Gazdick’s project is still ongoing, Benbow is optimistic that research will yield promising results.