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Overview of MHIRT

The Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT) Program is a unique international research opportunity and a component of the NIH's National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD). This program is a long term strategy to establish a cadre of biomedical, behavioral, and social science researchers working to reduce the disparate health burdens among underserved populations in the United States and ultimately eliminate those disparities.

The MHIRT awards support the ability of U.S. academic institutions to offer short-term international training opportunities in health disparities research for undergraduate and graduate students in the health professions who are from health disparity populations and/or are underrepresented in basic science, biomedical, clinical, or behavioral health research career fields.


In general, academic institutions sponsor MHIRT programs in an effort to broaden the scientific research experience of students and ensure that participants receive:

  • Training in experimental research design, procedures for analyzing and interpreting data, and the use of current scientific literature;
  • Cultural, linguistic, ethics, and other training pertinent to professionals engaged in scientific and public health research at the foreign site;
  • The opportunity to present written and/or oral presentations of their scientific research experience and results at appropriate academic or professional fora; and
  • Encouragement and mentoring during the remainder of their academic years leading to the completion of degree requirements and possibly pursuit of a career in health disparities research.

Specifically, MHIRT grantees conduct research for at least 10-12 weeks during the summer or one semester during the academic year on a wide variety of diseases and health conditions. The MHIRT Program participants travel to work with international investigators in countries around the world such as Australia, Ghana, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Spain and South Africa.

Our participation in MHIRT is centered in Japan and is administered through the MHIRT program at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC-MHIRT) [bio.research.ucsc.edu/mirt/app.htm]

MHIRT-Japan at UC Merced

Hypertension accounts for approximately 6% of adult deaths worldwide and is common to virtually all human populations. Unfortunately, certain minority populations such as Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans are more susceptible to cardiovascular complications and hypertension, largely due to the increased prevalence of obesity and diabetes in these groups. Nonetheless, coronary heart disease (CHD) continues to be the leading cause of death in Hispanics despite the fact that the prevalence of hypertension in Hispanics is lower than that of the general population. Therefore, extensive reach in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, where health disparities exist, are warranted.

Our current research program includes studies of hypertension, and cardiovascular and metabolic disorders (diabetes and obesity). The studies in collaboration with our colleagues at Kagawa Medical University focus on the contribution of aldosterone, angiotensin II (Ang II) and renal Na + regulation to cardiovascular and renal disease as well as their contributions to diabetes and obesity. Through the UCSC-MHIRT program, undergraduate and graduate students have the opportunity to participate in a unique research experience that is a highly rewarding 10-12 week research intensive program at Kagawa Medical University where we are hosted by my colleague, Dr. Akira Nishiyama, chair of the Department of Pharmacology. While our research in Japan addresses highly relevant biomedical health disparities, the greatest benefit of the program is that it provides an invaluable biomedical research experience for undergraduate and graduate students. These students are selected in a competitive process and possess tremendous potential to pursue a career path in biomedical research.  


Andrew Mamalis

Andrew Mamalis (Summer 2006)

The opportunity to conduct research in Japan through the UCSC-MIRT grant remains one of my most memorable experiences from my undergraduate. From building my confidence in my own abilities to learning about Japanese culture while collaborating with colleagues – Japan taught me many lessons I could not have learned in the classroom. I strongly recommend the UCSC-MIRT program, you won’t regret it!

Harry Ramirez (Summer 2008)

This experience was nothing short of excellent. The MHIRT program immerses you in research.  While conducting research I had the pleasure to work with researchers of different cultures and countries than mine. Research has no borders with that said Japan has excellent researchers located in a spectacular country. The MHIRT program has changed and influenced me in countless ways. Domo Arigato MHIRT PROGRAM!

Harry Ramirez
Ruben Rodriguez

Jose Viscarra (Summer 2009)

My experience in Japan was difficult due to the language barrier and cultural differences but was also rewarding as I was given the opportunity to explore a beautiful country while learning a great deal from those who live and study there.  Thanks to the various researchers I worked with, I learned an assortment of different laboratory techniques and at the same time became more familiar with the non-laboratory aspects of research.  Taking part in this program allowed me to see all the work that goes into a study and so will definitely help me when it comes time to start conducting my own studies.


Ruben Rodriguez (Summer 2009)

My experience in Japan was an interesting one; I was able to experience their culture in a different manner than a typical tourist would.   I say this because the people that we got to interact with on a daily basis were not your typical Japanese person; they were doctors, professors and graduate students.    During my stay in Japan I learned how to perform new protocols that I did not know how to perform before such as real time PCR and oral glucose tolerance tests, but most important of all I was able to learn how to plan and run an effective study, which will enable me to attain my goals because I will be able to plan and run an effective study for my Masters thesis and then PhD dissertation.

Ruben Rodriguez
Debye Conte

Debye Conte (Summer 2009)

My experience in Japan provided an opportunity for me to grow as a researcher.   I was able to see the differences and similarities between how I have been taught and how research is conducted in a foreign country.   I was able to set up and conduct my own research project from start to finish in an incredible location.   Although I learned much, the most important thing I gained from this experience is a huge increase in my self-confidence and self-reliance.   This will be valuable for me to complete the tasks ahead of me. This is a great program; there is a lot of work, but a great amount of fun to go with it. I will always remember this experience and I am thankful for that.