Shada Sinclair is indeed going places

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EIGHT years ago Evol Beckford, vice-principal at Hampton School in Malvern, St Elizabeth, said Shada Sinclair was going places.

Sinclair, who celebrated her 27th birthday yesterday, has lived up to that pronouncement as she had the delicious dilemma of having to choose from the five top-tier universities in the United States that offered her scholarships to pursue a medical science degree, after completing a first degree in molecular biology and biochemistry at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

It wasn’t easy, though, for the Ballads Valley, St Elizabeth, girl as she faced hardship being the eldest of four children for a single mom.

But her determination, academic prowess and humble demeanour got her the help she needed in the form of financial support and college preparation coaching from educators at Hampton and Dr Dennis Minott through his A-QuEST programme that helps to prepare top Jamaican students for colleges abroad.

The support helped Sinclair snag a full scholarship in 2012 to Wesleyan University worth US$58,000 annually.

While at Wesleyan, Sinclair decided she wanted to make meaningful contributions to the university, so she became president of the Caribbean Students Association, participated in mentorship activities and co-created Kumina Dance Group.

The summer after her freshman year, Sinclair started doing research on the cholera toxin, and stayed in the structural biology lab toiling until she graduated.

“It [cholera] is a bacteria. And you know, when it infects the human body it usually does so through contaminated water. The bacteria, what it does is pokes holes into your cells, and it injects toxins into the cells. What I was looking at was what’s the structure of this protein that is poking the holes in the human cells? You know, how does it identify these cells? And then, how can we use that knowledge and apply it to other bacteria to understand how they work, so we can develop treatment or preventative measures,” Sinclair told the Jamaica Observer.

The results of that study — ‘Structural basis of mammalian glycan targeting by Vibrio cholerae cytolysin and biofilm proteins’ — which Sinclair conducted with four colleagues, is published in PLOS Pathogens journal and available through the PubMed research database.

Sinclair has also worked at Albert Einstein College of Medicine under the guidance of principal investigator and mentor Becky Harold, spending a lot of time in the HIV and herpes lab looking at different drugs for the prevention of HIV in women.

“The bacteria at the site of infection, which is usually the female reproductive tract, actually affects how effective drugs are in terms of HIV prevention. Up to now, there is still no effective form of HIV prevention for women. There is for men, you know, there is oral PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis], and it works very well. But in terms of for women there doesn’t exist an equivalent that works effectively,” she said.

“I was really passionate about that project, because I think that’s something that we need. The scale needs to be balanced. If we have PrEP for men, why can’t we work just as hard to create PrEP for women? So that’s the project that I was working on, just looking at different drugs for HIV prevention in women,” Sinclair shared.

With regard to research into HIV prevention for women, Sinclair has co-authored three additional research papers — ‘Impact of reproductive aging on the vaginal microbiome and soluble immune mediators in women living with and at risk for HIV infection’, published in PLOS One; ‘Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate intravaginal ring for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis in sexually active women: a phase 1, single-blind, randomised, controlled trial’, published in The Lancet, HIV; and ‘Vaginal microbiome modulates topical antiretroviral drug pharmacokinetics’, published in JCI Insight.

Next month, Sinclair — who was accepted into Stanford, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Yale to pursue a medical science degree — will begin studies at Stanford, a choice she made based on the curriculum and Stanford being the only school that offered her a full ride.

“The programme is for four to five years. It’s flexible because you can take an optional one year to do research. I think that’s something I’m really excited about, because research is really important to me,” she said.

Sinclair also told the Sunday Observer that she hopes to continue researching infectious diseases and women’s health.

“As you can see with the COVID-19 crisis, infectious disease is very important. A lot of work needs to be continued to be done in that field. Doing working on HIV projects, you realise, oh, HIV disproportionately affects different communities, and women are the ones who bear the burden of HIV globally. And so, I think women’s health and infectious disease are two really important fields in medicine that are very attractive to people that I don’t want to limit myself. I want to go into medical school with an open mind. But I know that these two areas have a special place in my heart,” said Sinclair, whose life experience has instilled her with a commitment to help other people.

As such, she spent a year volunteering at a nutritional centre in the Dominican Republic through the Elizabeth Seton Foundation

“Since leaving Einstein in 2018, I’ve been volunteering in the Dominican Republic in a community called Ban. It’s a very resource-limited community… similar to where I grew up in St Elizabeth. And so, they have the centre there that’s been there for 40 years. They provide nutrition, education, social services and things like that for kids who are one to six years old from the surrounding community, and they’ve been doing a good job. They have great leadership, the principal of the school does a really great job. While I was there, I was helping out with the nutritional data… helping to analyse it, teach the staff members how to also analyse it and also in the classroom, you know, kind of like a teacher’s aide, kind of helping the teacher looking out for kids who needed a little bit more assistance, who might have had some issues going on at home and might not be so attentive,” Sinclair said.

She also utilised her art skills to assist the centre.

“When I was there, I was able to make crochet earrings, which we were going to show for fund-raising. And I was also able to do paintings that they have on display in the dining room, in the kitchen, and offices,” she said.

“I’ve been doing this out of pocket in a foreign country, but it’s really important. I say that because you know when you look on my story, I see so many interested people stepping up for me, people advocating for me, people contributing to my life in ways that I never would have imagined. And that’s why I was able to complete high school, to go to Wesleyan, to work at Einstein. And I want to be a part of creating opportunities for other people to have similar opportunities, just like I did. If it stuck with me, then I would have been a failure, even though I have succeeded thus far, because it’s not about me,” Sinclair told the Sunday Observer.

“My goal in life is to improve the quality of life of others, and if you don’t give back you end the cycle. You don’t put that kind of positive energy into the world — that kind of stuff that keeps reproducing itself. If I help somebody, that person can help somebody else, to somebody else, and it just keeps repeating itself. But, if you don’t do that stuff, it ends with you. And I think that that’s a real shame,” she argued.

Subsequently, Sinclair has set up a small scholarship fund for children at the nutritional centre, and when she is finished with medical school she hopes to return to Jamaica and set up a clinic to help the less fortunate.

In addition to making crotchet earrings and dabbling in acrylics and oil paintings, Sinclair enjoys cooking and baking cinnamon rolls.

With the passing of each day, she ensure she remains positive through affirmations of her daily mantra: “I am a child of God, today is going to be a good day. I can do it.”

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