When Sarah Eltinge arrived at Brown she thought she’d study biology and work her way toward medical school. Then she took the two introductory Public Health courses “because people on my freshman floor were taking those classes.” What she learned in Intro to Public Health and Health Care in the US changed her trajectory. “I realized you can analyze things at the population level, and take that perspective to start answering some really big important questions.” Sarah became a Public Health and Statistics double concentrator and found she could apply her math and computational skills to real world health problems. Problems like alcohol use disorder.
Sarah’s thesis (winner of the Excellence in Public Health Honors Thesis Award for 2017), was "Effect of behavioral economics measures in a randomized controlled trial using doxazosin as a pharmacological treatment for alcohol-dependent individuals."
Currently, there are very few treatments available for alcohol use disorder (AUD, the medical term for alcoholism). Finding new medications to treat this disorder is an important ongoing research goal. Sarah’s thesis was a secondary data analysis of a drug trial that researchers in the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies did a few years ago. The original study found that Doxazosin was highly effective in reducing drinking among people with a family history of AUD, but was actually counter-productive in people without such a family history. One secondary analysis found that a patient's blood pressure was a moderator of the drug's efficacy. Sarah’s thesis investigated whether a behavioral economics measure called the Alcohol Purchase Task, which provides a way for measuring a person's demand for alcohol, also moderated the drug's efficacy. The overall goal of research like this is: we know this drug works really well in some people but not in others; we need to find ways to identify those people in a clinical setting, so that if this drug were to be FDA-approved for treating AUD in the future, doctors would have an idea of who could benefit the most from it.
“This experience has been all-around amazing,” Sarah said. “My reader, Dr. Carey, teaches the class that originally got me interested in alcohol research. It presents some really complex, important, and difficult questions, on both a technical level (how do we even measure drinking?) and a broader, interpersonal level. My advisor, Dr. Haass-Koffler, has truly welcomed me into her lab. She set high expectations for me and gave me the mentorship, skills, and personal support to reach them. Because of this experience, I have a clearer idea of what grad school and a career in academia would look like for me, and I'm interested in pursuing this path eventually!”
For now, Sarah will be working as a data analyst at Johnson & Johnson’s new technology center in Providence before pursuing graduate school and a career in academia.