Research at TouroCOM: The role of Hyaluronan in healing wounds; the relationship between autism and folic acid
Born in the Philippines but raised in Nigeria and Argentina, Kessiena Aya grew up surrounded by family members who were doctors. “From an early age, I was privileged to gain insight into the rewards and unique challenges of a career as a physician. So becoming a doctor was a natural fit for me.”
She came to TouroCOM via Canada, where her family currently lives. When she heard a TouroCOM OB/Gyn professor, Dr. Steinman, was offering a few second-year students the chance to work on a project relating to autism, she jumped at the opportunity. Her nephew had been diagnosed with autism, so she "had a great deal of interest. I really wanted to learn more about it, and here was an opportunity.”
Dr. Aya was privileged to co-author the fifth chapter (“Autism and Folic Acid”) of The Cause of Autism: Concepts and Misconceptions (Baffin Books, 2014), a comprehensive tome that provides evidence-based etiologies of autism while also questioning unsubstantiated and mythical theories. In her writing, she summarized the existing body of research and data identifying the positive relationship between folic acid supplements during pregnancy and a lowered risk of autism in children. “There’s a strong hypothesis there, but we need more research, of course.” When the book was published, she sent a copy to her aunt.
That year, she also assisted Dr. Robert Stern in his research on tissue repair, an area which would relate practically to her future specialty: orthopedic surgery.
In the article she coauthored, “Hyaluronan in Wound Healing: Rediscovering a Major Player”, published by the Wound Repair Regen in 2014, she and Dr. Stern found that the highest-molecular-weight forms are prominent in the earliest stages of wound repair, and that “progressively more fragmented forms occur in a manner not previously appreciated.”
“The prevalence of hyaluronan in the wound (initially termed "hexosamine-containing mucopolysaccharide"), particularly in its early stages, was pointed out over half a century ago by the Harvard surgeon J. Engelbert Dunphy,” wrote Kessiena in their abstract. “It appears we are now returning to where we started.”
Ms. Aya will be doing her residency at in Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Texas this upcoming year.
First “physician” moment
“It was the beginning of clinical rotations in the third year of medical school. During my ER [Emergency Room] rotation, the attending physician had me present him with the patients’ history and physical, after which we would round on the patients together and come up with treatment plans. With increased confidence and experience, he would grant me more autonomy. Towards the end of the rotation the magnitude of what I was doing hit me, and I had a small epiphany: I wasn't just reciting memorized facts; I was actually impacting patients’ lives!”