A life-saver: Fellowship helps PhD student move MRSA models forward

Posted on 25. Jul, 2014 by in Alumni, Features, Gift Report, Healthcare and Medicine, Issues, People, Research, Students

Born in the Ukraine to two engineer parents, Nataliya Batina admits with a smile that she didn’t expect to become an engineer herself. With a master’s degree in mathematics, Batina credits many industrial and systems engineering faculty members for her career shift to health systems engineering when she came to UW-Madison for a master’s degree in industrial engineering.

However, after the funding for two of her research projects ended, she found herself struggling to pursue a PhD. “When you’re not funded,” she says, “that money is all out
of pocket.”

Having a family with two children, Batina didn’t have a lot of money available in her pocket. That’s when she applied for the Industrial and Systems Engineering Graduate Support Fellowship. The endowment provides income for fellowships and research assistant funding and, in Batina’s case, will allow her to continue PhD research in which she models how Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) spreads within nursing home communities.

Batina developed a strong interest in population disease modeling while working on her first research project under the guidance of ISyE Professor Oguzhan Alagoz. When she took a long-term care class with ISyE Professor Emeritus David Zimmerman, Batina realized she wanted to apply her experience in disease modeling in ways that could help nursing home communities adopt better informed infection control strategies.

Being able to predict the spread of MRSA, a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection commonly found in hospitals and long-term care facilities, is important to the entire healthcare system, not just nursing homes. The strain is particularly dangerous because it is resistant to common antibiotics, which limits treatment options. MRSA has been a leading cause of healthcare-associated infections and is accountable for a significant increase in morbidity and mortality among hospital patients and nursing home residents.
Frequent patient transfers between hospitals and nursing homes magnify the burden of treatment, and subsequent cost, of MSRA in both settings. However, unlike in hospitals, MRSA dynamics in community nursing homes are not well documented.

By studying and modeling the temporal dynamics of diseases, Batina says she enjoys being able to apply her research for such a practical purpose. “The modeling of diseases,” she says, “has a very clear application.”

In this case, that clear application is one that could be life-saving.

Batina, who has found her passion in teaching as much as in research, says she is honored to have received a second chance at her education. “Being awarded the fellowship is an acknowledgment that your work is important,” she says. “That it is inspiring.”Bucky Badger head

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