Tag Archives: Five Questions

Five Questions With Medical Scientist Aisha Bassett

Name: Aisha Bassett
Job: Pediatric Clinical Researcher
Country: United States, England, Bermuda
Age: 33

Aisha Bassett is a Senior Post-Doctoral Research Fellow working in clinical research in Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She was born and raised on the island of Bermuda. She obtained a BSc. Psychology at McGill University in Canada and her medical degree from Norwich Medical School in England. Her research interests include maternal-infant immunityvaccine efficacy and the maternal-infant microbiome. Her hobbies include singing, song-writing, composing on the piano and art. Dr. Bassett has had a vegan diet for over three years. She enjoys cooking and curating new plant-based recipes which combine her knowledge of nutrition and its role in disease prevention and health. She is passionate about using her knowledge and experience to help people live healthy and full lives by incorporating tasty and nutritional recipes into their diets. Find her on Instagram, and LinkedIn.

On why she chose to study medicine:    

“I remember being fascinated at a young age by this magical place called the hospital where my mom, who was a nurse, would disappear and then emerge with interesting stories about the people she met. After loosing my grandfather to a preventable disease, I became interested in how diseases develop, their complications and how they could be prevented. At age 13, I started volunteering at a hospital in Bermuda and did so until I graduated high school. I enjoyed getting to know the patients and felt natural compassion towards them, several of whom had become resident in the hospital due to chronic diseases. The stories they would tell me made each patient and their condition memorable and fueled my desire to understand the underlying mechanisms of the diseases I was seeing.

Seeing first-hand preventative disease such as diabetes, that particularly affected Blacks and minorities, and the plethora of complications that developed further fueled my desire to study medicine. As a medical student, I began to learn that most deaths in the western world were due to preventable diseases. I became interested not only in how to treat the disease but how to stop or reverse the disease process and how we develop protection from diseases starting in infancy, the topic of my current research.

The research I am performing in the Pannaraj Lab at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is investigating how to make vaccines work better. One such vaccine that we are researching is the Rotavirus vaccine. Rotavirus is a leading cause of diarrhea in children and results in roughly 130,000 deaths in children worldwide every year. While the vaccine is very effective in high-income countries, it is much less effective in low- and middle-income countries. We are looking at the role of breast milk and the infant microbiome, the trillions of organisms that live in us, in how the vaccine works in different parts of the world.”

On her experience in medicine across countries: 

“The clinical experience I have has come from working in various healthcare settings, namely in Bermuda, Canada, Belize, England and the US. Each healthcare system had similarities in terms of leading causes of mortality and morbidity that were preventable through diet and lifestyle factors such as Type II Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, strokes and certain cancers. Across all countries, differences in access to the resources, socioeconomic status, and patient education play a role in access to health resources. In some countries, the cost of healthcare is a deterrent to seeking medical attention, in others, the understanding of when and where to seek healthcare impacts utilization of resources. Working in various settings has taught me the importance of the cultural and socioeconomic factors involved in the health of individuals and communities. These experiences solidified my desire to work to reduce global health outcome disparities.”

A couple of plant-based meals that Dr. Bassett cooks and curates on her Instagram.

On the role our diet plays in disease prevention:    

“When thinking of disease prevention, I adopt a holistic approach. There are several factors that play a role in prevention including diet, daily exercise, dental hygiene and attending regular checkups with your doctor. Many of the top causes of deaths such as heart disease, stroke and cancers are due to lifestyle factors including diet, that include consumption of processed food, refined sugars, and animal products such as meat and dairy as a main source of nutrition.”

Scientists are discovering more about the role of the microbiome in disease prevention and development. The hygiene hypothesis explains the role of the microbiome in eczema and allergies and explains why there has been an increase over the last few decades in allergic diseases, such as respiratory, skin, and food allergy. It explains that modern living conditions are very clean and so there is less microbe exposure early in life. This results in the immune system not being taught to be able to recognize and fight foreign organisms. In addition, an imbalance of the microbiome is known to affect the skins immune response in a way that predisposes to immune conditions, such as eczema. On the other hand, a healthy microbiome is reported to have a protective influence on the immune system. The development of the infant microbiome has been found to be influenced by early life exposure such as delivery method, breast milk ingestion, infant nutrition, and antibiotic use.

On the science behind the benefits of plant-based meals:

“Plant-based meals focus on foods primarily from plants. It means proportionally choosing more foods from plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, beans and more. Plant-based meals are beneficial for many reasons. Some vegetables and fruits can reduce inflammation in our bodies. This is important for our health because inflammation, when it goes on for a long time, can lead to certain diseases. Eating foods that reduce inflammation or avoiding foods that cause inflammation, can promote health in the body. There are also substances in fruits and vegetables called phytonutrients. These phytonutrients have different roles. Some can actually ‘turn off’ gene that lead to cancer, which is simply an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Other phytonutrients can repair damage in our cells that would usually lead to disease states.

I have met so many people who have said to me, “I want to eat healthier, but I don’t know where to start.” People who want to make that change can often have a lot of information to sort through before they feel comfortable adding new foods to their diet. I started curating plant-based meals on Instagram to help people make food choices that would help them live a healthy life. As a doctor and researcher who has had a plant-based diet for over 2 decades, I enjoy sharing the meal I have created while also sharing nutritional facts about the foods I eat.

Regarding meal prepping and recipes development, the foundation of each meal is first ensuring it is balanced – that has good portion of protein, carbohydrate, and healthy fats. Then I consider what flavors, spices and textures would complement the meal. Next, I create something new or put a healthy spin on a well-known recipe by replacing certain ingredients with healthier ones. Lastly, I also consider how to make the meal colorful and appealing. So much of what we choose to eat is based on our senses, how it is presented and how it tastes. Making nutritional meals that people want to eat is my goal, so that their bodies can have the fuel it needs for them to function at their best.”

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Diagram from a journal article showing factors that influence maternal breast milk microbiome and proposed mechanism of how breast milk may alter the infant gut microbiome and health outcome. The article was co-authored by Dr. Bassett and her colleagues. Learn more.

On her best advice to new mothers: 

“Motherhood can be an exciting time, but it can also come with navigating all the surprises that come with being a new mother. Many moms have concerns about what is normal for their baby from how much their baby is feeding to the changing colors of their stool. The best advice I have given to new moms is that I encourage them to use the resources around them to navigate challenges as they come so that concerns don’t build up. This includes talking with breastfeeding consultants, doctors, more experienced mothers as well as making use of their support systems so that they can engage in self-care while caring for their baby. Some moms just need to be reminded that every mother’s journey is different because every baby is unique and has its own special personality. I remind them that they are doing a good job even when they hit speed bumps on the road of motherhood.

For example, it is especially helpful for mothers to learn how breastfeeding and the microbiome are linked to health and longevity. Breast milk is a specialized secretion that provides many nutrients, antibodies, and microbes. Breast milk helps establish the gut microbiome. This microbiome plays a role in our metabolism, that is how well we can get the nutrients we need from the food we eat. It is also vital to educating the body’s natural defense system, the immune system. Breastfeeding also provides protection against respiratory and gastrointestinal infections and is associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and obesity. Having a healthy gut microbiome and immune system is a key part of health and longevity.”

I started curating plant-based meals on Instagram to help people make food choices that would help them live a healthy life.

Aisha Bassett, MBBS

Five Questions With Engineer Kayse Lee Maass

Name: Kayse Lee Maass
Job: Industrial Engineer
Country: United States
Age: 29

Kayse Lee Maass is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and leads the Operations Research and Social Justice lab at Northeastern University. She also currently holds a research appointment with the Information and Decision Engineering Program at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Maass’s research focuses on the application of operations research methodology to social justice, access, and equity issues within human trafficking, mental health, housing, and supply chain contexts. Her work is supported by multiple National Science Foundation grants, centers interdisciplinary survivor-informed expertise, and has been used to inform policy and operational decisions at the local, national, and international levels. A recipient of multiple awards, she currently serves as the INFORMS Section on Location Analysis Secretary and is a member of the H.E.A.L. Trafficking Research Committee. Find her on TwitterLinkedIn, and her website

On why she chose to study engineering:

“When I was growing up, I was interested in a lot of social justice types of topics, but I also really loved math. I knew I wanted to do something with applied math. In college, I studied math and physics [I had some physics in high school and liked it], but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. I wanted to tie in social justice with math, but I didn’t know how to do that until I took an operations research course in my senior year. That’s when I learned about the field that I’m in, which is industrial engineering.

I like to explain Industrial Engineering as the mathematics of decision making where we can look at things from a systems perspective. It’s nice because anything—any application or any topic that you think of—involves decision making. However, it wasn’t until I was pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) from the University of Michigan that my mentors provided me with space and encouragement to explore how industrial engineering and social justice applications, like human trafficking, intertwined.”

On her self-care practices for a healthy lifestyle:

“I’ve been thinking about this [self-care] a lot lately. I read somewhere that when we talk about self-care, what we often need is community care. There are things I personally need to do for self-care, but we also need to make sure we design our systems and communities around making sure people have space to have healthy lifestyles.

As a professor, I work with a lot of students interested in pursuing a PhD or a career as a professor. I know that academia gives this idea that everyone’s always working, rarely has time for fun, and it’s very intense [which it is]. But, that’s not true for everyone in academia, and the assumption that it is true is one of the major barriers to creating an inclusive, diverse academy. I want students interested in academia to know that the field can be welcoming to people with diverse family needs or diverse health needs with different accessibility levels – but to do this I have to help create an academic environment where people know that flexibility and accessibility are the norm. For example, I try to be intentional about encouraging students to step away from their work to take time for their own self-care and relaxation, to be with family, and to generally just not work when they need to not work. This involves setting boundaries between work and other areas of your life and creating an environment where stepping away and having other interests is normal. The workplace can do a better job at normalizing healthy living. In fact, stepping away from your work to focus on other parts of your life is healthy and can lead to you being more engaged and productive once you are back at work!

In my personal life, I try to exercise as much as I can with realistic expectations. If I don’t reach my goal on a day, then self-care for me means I have to avoid being hard on myself for missing the goal. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to listen to my body a lot more, including understanding when I’m starting to get stressed or anxious, and when what my body really needs is to rest rather than move.

Learn more on her website.

On how engineers can help fix healthcare:

“A lot of people in our field also look at healthcare applications. Sometimes it’s looking at telehealth options for people who either cannot drive anymore or live in rural populations. Industrial engineering can help answer questions such as: How can these populations have better access to a healthy lifestyle and check-ins? There are also people in our field who use industrial engineering to determine how often people should get screened for different conditions as they get older. If people were screened all the time, that would put a lot of time and financial burden on patients and they probably would not go to their screening. But if patients are not screened frequently enough, then they might have an undetected medical condition that can progress or get worse over time with limited treatment options available in the future.”

On how she uses data to fight human trafficking:

“There are researchers in other fields that use quantitative data to get insights into what human trafficking. Statisticians are working on better ways to determine the prevalence of human trafficking; economists create economic models to understand ways to reduce the profitability of exploiting people by using trafficked labor; there are quantitative social scientists researching, among other things, ways in which systems of poverty, racism, and homelessness intersect with human trafficking.  But, in industrial engineering, there really hasn’t been much prior work focused on data and mathematical, systems-based models to provide decision support to anti-human trafficking stakeholders. For example, there’s often not enough of a budget for anti-human trafficking agencies or non-profits to adequately address the needs of trafficking victims and survivors. They don’t have enough resources. They already have a lot of things they need to do. Industrial engineering is great for those kinds of applications because we can help figure out, “How do I make the most efficient use of my resources?” For example, in some of our current work, we focus on how to increase access to shelters and other services for human trafficking survivors. After people come out of their trafficking experience, they need safe and stable housing options, they need access to food and medical care and many additional things, but those supports currently are not adequately available throughout the world, including the United States.

Some of our work is focusing on determining how to best increase access to shelter and other services if an organization/government has a limited budget to spend. We work with human trafficking survivors to determine what they want and need after they leave their trafficking experience. From this we can answer questions such as: Where should you build these additional shelters? What types of services should each shelter offer? How can the shelters best coordinate with other community support partners? In short, one of the things we as industrial engineers can do is help determine how to most efficiently use your resources to meet your goals.

This a similar problem to something like what any other company would do when they are going to create a new warehouse or storefront. They use these kinds of models to say, “Where am I going to open my next warehouse?” or “Where am I going to open my new store?” And we’re just doing it in a different application while also considering things that aren’t focused primarily on demand and profit. Instead we incorporate more human components as well.”

On her tips for combining engineering and social justice passions:

“It’s important to understand both the technical aspects of industrial engineering and the nuances of social justice issues. Sometimes what can happen is a prospective engineer who has a math/engineering background can get so excited about a social justice topic that they just jump into it without understanding all the nuances and all the complexities of that social justice topic. And while it’s good to have interest and passion in all these topics, it can also be harmful if we don’t understand how there are many different complexities and overlapping systems involved. For example, creating a new decision model that looks at stopping trafficking within a city might just push the traffickers outside of the city and into the suburbs or rural areas, causing problems for other populations or marginalized groups.

So, I think it’s important that industrial engineers come with a passion, and start working on these topics, but also come with the willingness to really get connected with people that have expertise in human trafficking.

It’s important that if you’re making decisions about trafficking-whether through industrial engineering models or policy-, you need to have trafficking victims and trafficking survivors centered at the decision table with you; they understand what the complexities of the system are, and are crucial to making sure that we aren’t having any unintended consequences.” There’s that saying, “Nothing for us without us” that is particularly helpful for us as industrial engineers to remember as we work on problems that have very real impacts on people’s lives.

I read somewhere that when we talk about self-care, what we often need is community care.

Kayse Lee Maass, PhD

Five Questions With Development Practitioner Sachi Shah

Name: Sachi Shah
Job: International Development Practitioner
Country: Malawi and India
Age: 28

Sachi Shah serves as founder/director of Truss Group, a multi-faceted social enterprise that works towards environmental sustainability and human health improvement in low-income urban areas in Malawi. She has worked as a Global Health Corps fellow and Communications and Programs Associate at the Boys & Girls Club of Newark. Previously, Sachi wrote and edited for Global Health Aging and has interned with The Rockefeller Foundation among other organizations. Find Shah on LinkedIn and Truss Group on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  

On her job description:
“I run a social enterprise in Blantyre, Malawi that focuses on waste management, and plastic recycling. We create cement substitutes from recycled plastic and focus on high-impact building projects such as disaster-resistant housing and pit latrines.

We are aiming to come up with a model for disaster resistant housing before the end of the year. We are also looking at how we can move into exploring other infrastructure that can support better health and environments beyond waste management. Outside of work, I like to watch spend time in nature and with friends, watch movies, and read.”

On why she started the Truss Group
“Truss is an extension of a project I started with high-school students four years ago in Blantyre. I believe that if spaces are freed of waste, and more sustainable construction is encouraged in urban areas, then human and environmental health will benefit exponentially. I wanted to return to do more than just volunteer work for a couple of months.”

Truss Group is 1 of the 11 ventures that will go through the first cohort of the Grow Malawi Growth Accelerator Entrepreneurship Challenge. Truss Group will grow and scale their venture through technical assistance, mentorship and funding provided by MHub, GrowthAfrica – Growth Frontiers, Accesserator and Kweza, with support from UNDP Malawi and the Royal Norwegian Embassy.

On how environmental sustainability affects human health:
“Mismanaged waste is known to breed diseases and negatively affect both human and environmental health and productivity. A healthy environment benefits everyone, especially children and vulnerable older adults who live at risk in the community.

On her experience as a fellow with Global Health Corps:
“I did communications, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and health program development for the Boys & Girls Club of Newark in the USA during my fellowship year. Global Health Corps is a wonderful world-wide community of dedicated professionals working to develop better health care for all. It is also a very supportive community invested in peer learning.”

On her proudest moment(s):
“I think my ability to be resilient and resourceful. Entrepreneurship requires you to learn this and quickly. I serve on the board of Renew’N’Able Malawi (RENAMA), a Malawian non-governmental organization (NGO) for sustainable energy and manages the Blantyre Farmer’s Market. I have also pursued research and fieldwork in various subjects including, water, sanitation, and hygiene 9(WASH), sustainable energy, child development, urban design 10 and policy, environmental policy, and movement building.”

Plastic waste is a growing and increasingly detrimental problem in Malawi. Learn more.

Better health infrastructure, decreased corruption, and waste management are top three needs in Malawi.

Sachi Shah

Five Questions With Dietitian Vanessa Rissetto

Making Kale and Lentil salad – Recipe

Name: Vanessa Rissetto
Job: Dietitian Entrepreneur
Country: United States
Age: 40

Vanessa Rissetto is on a mission to promote healthy eating. She is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist who specializes in Weight Loss, Weight Management, and Medical Nutrition Therapy as it relates to Diabetes, Cardiac Disease, and Gastrointestinal Issues. Her media appearances include Hallmark Channel, Refinery29, Men’s Health, and Chicago Tribune, among others. A chocolate lover, Rissetto lives in the USA with her husband, daughter, son, and four-legged friend Marley! Find her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and her website

On why she chose to study nutrition:

“I was always interested in science, medicine, nutrition, so I decided to take a few classes at New York University to see if it would be something I would want to pursue  – it was!”

On what she has learned about the science behind nutrition:

“That it is science-based, and not just all these gimmicks that people are putting out there. Just because you hear of one study doesn’t mean it’s gospel.  We have to find the reasons why and do a deeper dive.” 

Vanessa discusses nutrition, fad diets, exercise, and maintenance with Marci Hopkins, host of the national talk show, “Wake Up with Marci,” airing on the CBS-owned WLNY-TV New York.

On how to make healthy eating affordable:

“It can be with proper planning. Just going to the supermarket without anything in mind can cause you to overspend. Having a handle on your schedule and the things you like to eat will ensure you don’t waste.” 

On her favorite meal to make:

“I like to roast a chicken at the beginning of the week and use the remainder for a chicken salad or fajitas. It’s pretty versatile and easy to do.”

On her future goals:

“Honestly, I think if I can help people understand the science behind nutrition and get them to have a better relationship with food, then I can consider myself successful.”

Hearty meals from Vanessa’s kitchen

It isn’t just about losing weight. It’s about feeling great, re-energizing, and finding a new lust for life.

Vanessa Rissetto, MS, RD, CDN