Authors: Anessa Quintanilla
Press Release: December 2021


While sitting in an introductory course on medical anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Samira Khabbazzadeh-Rashti was captivated by the significance of this discipline as her professor started the lecture with a simple yet profound statement.

“He began the class by saying, ‘If you give me a zip code of anyone living in Los Angeles County, I can tell you their life expectancy and some common illnesses they’re probably dealing with,’” said Khabbazzadeh-Rashti. “At that point in my life, I had never really thought about how someone’s area can influence their health outcomes. It is a very interesting way to see how the outside world has an intimate impact on people’s everyday lives.” 

Now a California State University, Northridge (CSUN) graduate student, Khabbazzadeh-Rashti is leading a medical anthropology-based project alongside Angelina Geisen, an equally passionate undergraduate majoring in psychology. 

As student fellows of the Autonomy Research Center for STEAHM (ARCS), they are collaborating with Medtronic, a premier biomedical device company serving millions of consumers, to conduct research on experiences related to Type 2 diabetes and its comorbidities among the San Fernando Valley Latinx community.  

The team’s goal is to offer Medtronic qualitative data by identifying prevalent patterns among neighboring Latinx households that are affected by Type 2 diabetes. The data will help develop a socio-technological tool that can better serve these communities and the treatment of illnesses associated with this disease. 

Khabbazzadeh-Rashti and Geisen continue to prepare a diverse team of student associates for upcoming interviews with local Latinx households. As leaders of the project, they have been educating the student associates on anthropological methods, theories and interview protocols that will be utilized in their research. With a team consisting of various backgrounds and skill sets, new frameworks of understanding are being applied to different concepts in the project.  

In addition to collecting data from the San Fernando Valley’s Latinx community, the team intends to encourage diversity in research and remain involved within the community. Through these efforts, they are able to maintain cultural competence towards local community members and foster a positive relationship with them, which can be beneficial for future studies. 

Practicing anthropology, which in this case straddles the applied and academic domains, is about an opportunity to become not someone who is leading community health efforts but someone who can truly listen to those within the community and learn how to be an ally,” said Kevin Zemlicka, the faculty co-investigator for the project.

The team aims to showcase the importance of socioeconomic factors in relation to the health issues among the Latinx community. Social determinants such as family dynamics, access to resources, gendered roles and other factors will be explored through the in-depth interviews. Collaborating with Medtronic will help highlight issues many underserved communities face in the medical sphere as well as the gaps in developing a useful device. 

“Personally, I want to emphasize that technology is not enough of a solution until you address socioeconomic circumstances and those mitigated by who is controlling power and resources in these communities,” stated Khabbazzadeh-Rashti. 

Providing Medtronic with a critical perspective to creating a socio-technological tool with the assistance of anthropological methods has been rewarding for the team. Khabbazzadeh-Rashti is fueling her interests by gaining experience in consulting a major client and researching marginalized groups while Giesen is identifying health equity issues within the Latinx community. 

“I think health, in general, is so important,” said Geisen. “My passions lie in learning how to become a better ally to these marginalized communities as well as learning what resources do they need and how to get that to them.” 

The research team presented an extensive literature review to professionals at Medtronic and will begin conducting interviews to about 30 to 60 Latinx households in the fall.