Member Spotlight

Q&A with Dr. Mary Katherine Ray

Mary Katherine Ray, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry 
Washington University in St. Louis

Q: Tell us about yourself and your background.

I’m from Alabama originally, and I went to a small liberal arts college there where I majored in psychology and minored in biology. I knew I wanted a career where I studied the brain, but I didn’t know what about the brain I wanted to study until right after college when I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. With that diagnosis, I became really interested in looking at the relationship between brain health and diabetes management. That led me to graduate school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where I got my PhD in psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and then to my postdoc here at Washington University with Tamara Hershey in the Department of Psychiatry. I joined faculty two years ago, and I am now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry where my research is focused on assessing barriers to care and cognitive function in kids with Type 1 Diabetes.

Q: What is the most compelling information that you’ve found in your research to date? 

I am still very early career, so the line of work that I’m trying to build is in its infancy. We’re still collecting a lot of feasibility data before we can answer the research questions that we’re interested in. In this early work, I would say the most compelling thing I’ve found so far is how receptive kids are of the research that we’re doing. They have been extremely engaged and enthusiastic about participating in diabetes research. A lot of the research that we do includes using mobile health technology such as smartphones, continuous glucose monitors, and Fitbits. It’s so interesting because our adherence for using all those tools is always a lot higher than we expect it to be, which I feel like never happens in research. I think just observing this willingness of kids to participate is really encouraging. I think it expands our ability to better understand diabetes in the daily lives of kids at a much smaller temporal resolution than anything that we’ve ever had the ability to do in the past. We are fortunate to have these technologies now and kids are able and excited to use those tools to contribute to scientific knowledge.

Q: Tell me about what you wish your research could solve right now and or a burning question that your research could answer in the future.

Type 1 diabetes is a difficult chronic condition to care for. I am very fortunate to have all the resources that I need to take care of my diabetes, such as plenty of access to insulin and the newest technologies that are available to help with diabetes care, and it is still challenging to live with. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to care for diabetes without those resources which is, unfortunately, a reality for many kids from minoritized and low income communities that are often underrepresented in diabetes research. The ultimate goal of my research is to engage youth from those communities and find ways to help them care for their diabetes. Specifically, the right now would be identifying short term barriers to care in kids with Type 1 Diabetes and then long term would be to use that information to develop interventions to address these barriers to care in real time using mobile technologies.

Q: How did the CDTR help you with your research and what services did you use?

They have honestly been so invaluable in helping me move this research forward in so many ways. From a financial perspective they awarded me the CDTR Pilot and Feasibility award so that I could start collecting data that is imperative for developing this new line of work.

They’ve also provided vital feedback through discussions with experts from the Solutions to Diabetes in Black Americans Core, the Social Needs and Health Communication Core, the Dissemination and Implementation Core, and seminars with CDTR leadership. I’ve been able to tell through every interaction that each person is passionate about moving diabetes research forward and they are willing to help researchers do this in any way that they can. I am truly fortunate to have access to such a fantastic resource that is so enthusiastic about diabetes research and supportive of early career investigators.

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