A senior majoring in Biology and Spanish from St. Louis, MO, Maxton Thoman has been partaking in undergraduate research for the past two years while at the Capstone. Originally introduced to academic investigation through the Computer-Based Honors Program, Maxton has long been drawn towards a career in the medical field, but only recently discovered his passion for the study of metabolic disease epidemiology, thanks to the encouragement he has received from his mentors here at the University of Alabama to expand his horizons. In much the same manner, upon being introduced to the communities of the Alabama Black Belt, Maxton has cultivated aspirations to rectify the copious health disparities currently plaguing the rural south, and has developed considerable interests in public and community health.
Consequently, during his sophomore year, Maxton began working as a research assistant and project lead under the direction of Dr. John Higginbotham in the College for Community Health Sciences Institute for Rural Health Research. In particular, Maxton contributes to the community-based participatory research initiative, known as Project UNITED: Using New Interventions Together to Eliminate Disparities, by programming and developing the “Fit Sprint” program. This healthy gaming initiative is composed of a mobile-application-based, platformer game with the ultimate goal of enticing K-12 students into developing a greater understanding of their diet and maintaining healthy eating habits via the method of food journaling. Through this entertaining, quick and easy gaming application that requires users to input their lunch contents, “Fit Sprint” assigns basic health scores to each food entry, allowing for the collection of individual nutritional data. Once implemented within K-12 schools, said data will be tracked for each individual participant, allowing for a quantitative record of how “Fit Sprint” and other Project UNITED initiatives impact student food selection, nutritional intake, and correlating clinical data, so as to evaluate the relative efficacy of each program. Through his participation in the Project UNITED program, Maxton has only further established his passions for epidemiology, academic research, and social justice in the public health sector, and has sought to participate in other opportunities relevant to those fields.
As a result, Maxton was fortunate to discover the Mayo Clinic Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, where he has spent the past two summer terms conducting nephrological and epidemiological research under the direction of Dr. Andrew Rule. As a member of this translational research team, Maxton participated in investigations regarding the understudied renal characteristics of a healthy population, and further researched the negative clinical implications of obesity in the living kidney donor selection process. During the summer of 2014, he optimized a protocol for imputing missing renal cortical volumes from compromised CT scans, and returned in 2015 to investigate the efficacy of using initial nephrolithiasis characteristics as predictive measures for kidney stone recurrence. As a research assistant, his responsibilities the in the lab included CT analysis, data management, statistical analysis, renal pathophysiology, academic writing, and oral presentation.
As a result of this exposure to such examples of translational medical research, Maxton has resolved to continue along his academic path, and has aspirations to attend medical school to obtain degrees in medicine and public health. Meanwhile, during his final year here at the Capstone, Maxton is serving as the President of the Honors College Assembly, is continuing to participate in both the University Fellows Experience and the Computer-Based Honors Program, and is looking forward to taking in as much of the Tuscaloosa and University of Alabama communities as possible.