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Arnold School of Public Health

Doctoral student Joshua Mercadel awarded National Cancer Institute Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research

October 9, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Joshua Mercadel’s interest in epidemiology began when he was working for the Colon Cancer Prevention Network – his first job after graduating from UofSC with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. Although born in New Orleans, he moved to Fort Mill at the age of 10. As a patient navigator with the Network, Mercadel learned even more about South Carolina.

“I was working with uninsured people across the state to offer them free colonoscopies, a procedure these patients would otherwise not have access to,” says Mercadel, who also gained health experience through his role as a nursing assistant with Palmetto Health Richland Hospital during this time. “Dr. Jan Eberth was a faculty member on the project who talked to me about applying to the Master of Science in Public Health in Epidemiology program.”

Through his master’s program, Mercadel met associate professor of epidemiology Jim Burch, who introduced him to the study of heart rate variability. Since then, they’ve worked together on multiple projects, particularly the relationship between heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback and pain, stress, depression, cognition and insomnia.

Their next collaboration will be supported with Mercadel’s recently awarded Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research from the National Cancer Institute. With Burch serving as mentor, Mercadel will use the three-year grant to support his dissertation research examining the role of circadian factors in inflammation and colorectal adenoma risk.

The project builds on a Foundation for Education & Research in Biofeedback and Related Sciences – funded study that Mercadel is currently wrapping up. It also complements an NCI R01 grant that Burch received earlier this year.

Together, the researchers will examine how HRV relates to circadian sleep-wake rhythms (i.e., an individual’s naturally occurring sleep-wake cycle during a 24-hour period), gastrointestinal inflammation and colorectal adenomas (i.e., benign tumors that have the potential to become malignant and account for 85 to 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases). They will also investigate whether these relationships impact the racial health disparities that are widespread in South Carolina.

“Throughout my career, I have encountered such disparities firsthand, and I intend to continue to devote myself to this issue,” Mercadel says.

Though passionate about cancer epidemiology, he continues to explore other areas within the field. For the past year, Mercadel has been gaining experience as a statistical analyst in the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Division of HIV/STDs. He is also advising a team of pediatric physicians at Nemour’s Hospital in Florida on a clinical trial to improve development outcomes for preterm infants.

“I am interested in every aspect,” Mercadel says of epidemiology, a field in which he has also discovered a passion for mentoring undergraduate students. “I would enjoy continuing my training through a postdoctoral fellowship and then work at a research hospital as a lead epidemiologist helping advance medical techniques and knowledge. Additionally, I could see myself completing my career as a faculty member helping train and mold young epidemiologist as I have been trained here.”

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