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Catherine O'Byrne, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Catherine wants to help others through science. Now she's improving women's health in South Carolina.

Biochemistry and molecular biology major, Catherine O'Byrne began making an impact early as a Gamecock by researching ways to prevent postpartum mortalities.

"Coming into college I was set on pediatrics because I really love kids," said Catherine. "After taking an anthropology course, I became more interested in focusing on the mother. I was surprised at how far we've come in maternal health but how little we still know about it."

Catherine began working in the Arnold School of Public Health Women's Vascular Lab during her sophomore year. There, she studied how diet and exercise might mitigate postpartum risks of women who have had adverse pregnancy outcomes such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure.

This patient-centered research experience allowed Catherine to work with real clients, apply techniques she learned in the classroom and develop new skills. She was even able to become a certified phlebotomist, which proved beneficial for her later research.

I looked for opportunities outside of biochemistry and biology because I wanted more hands-on experiences. Working in the lab has really prepared me for med school because I now have the skills to interact with patients. 

Catherine was awarded a Magellan Scholar Grant to continue her research focusing on the disparities among women with different races and ethnicities.

"I'm trying to see how a healthy diet and exercise can ultimately minimize the gap. Based on our preliminary data, we found positive changes in their heart health when they exercise during pregnancy rather than after they have the baby."

Beyond the lab

Catherine's research at South Carolina isn't just limited to maternal health. For her Honors senior thesis, she is researching homelessness and has developed a creative way to raise money for a local shelter.

"There is an underground tunnel that students walk through every day. I decided to make it more fun by turning it into an art walk. Organizations and students can reserve a square to decorate for a $50 donation. All the proceeds are given to the homeless shelter where I volunteer. Whether it's in health care or a shelter, I'm passionate about ensuring everyone has their basic needs met."

After graduating, Catherine plans to go to medical school where she can continue utilizing the clinical and research skills developed through her classes and experiences.

I am South Carolina.

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