Tyler Maiers watched as a nurse performed finger-stick tests while patients weaved in and out of a crowded blood collection room at the Themba Lethu clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa. The treatment center sees hundreds of tuberculosis and HIV-positive patients every day.
A second-year medical student, Maiers took part in a trial to test the feasibility of a device designed by a team of Northwestern University engineers led by David Kelso, PhD, director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health Technologies, which aims to verify the efficacy of an HIV-positive patient’s anti-retroviral medication.
Maiers chose this project for his Area of Scholarly Concentration (AoSC), a four-year research project that will complement his basic science and clinical training. A part of the new curriculum at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, medical students start their work during the summer between their first and second year.
“I’m hoping that my research will encourage Dr. Kelso’s laboratory to make the transition from conceptualizing a device to creating a working model that can be used on patients,” he said. “Bridging the gap between engineers with new ideas and physicians with clinical experience can be really exciting. The big test will be whether or not this device can simultaneously reduce spending and improve patient outcomes in resource-limited settings. The most crucial part of this research is still to come, and I’m really looking forward to being involved in each step along the way.”
AoSC projects range from global health research and clinical investigation to translational medicine and studies in medical humanities. Even within global health there are a variety of research topics. While Maiers’ project tests new technologies, his peer Claudia Leung assessed the quality of care in clinics in Tanzania.
Struck by the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases in rural and developing areas, Leung became interested in working on a project to improve the delivery of care to patients in resource-limited settings.
Growing metropolitan centers like Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, have increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, and there is a rising need for prevention and management in these communities. The success of the area’s current system of HIV care presented an opportunity to levy an existing model to include treatment and prevention of non-communicable diseases.
“The goal is to better understand the current state of care and the resources available for management of these diseases in order to find ways of better integrating it with HIV care in resource-limited settings,” she said. “The best part of the experience has been the opportunity to visit many different clinical sites, from small dispensaries to large, hospital-affiliated clinics, and see the different environments of HIV care.”
Second-year student Ariella Pratzer is also doing a global health project focused on public health. Over the summer, she helped the Israeli government’s Office of the Chief Scientist launch a global health investment initiative. The program will operate as a government-backed venture capital fund with the money being granted to Israeli companies, start-ups, and labs that are developing products related to global health improvement.
During her four weeks there, Pratzer began the process of identifying practical metrics to track the success of each funded company and building an evaluation model that will process data, enabling constant feedback.
“I am hoping to help the government of Israel allocate their financial resources as effectively as possible, with the outcome of maximizing their ability to positively impact global health,” Pratzer said. “I believe that targeted investment is a better way to improve a country’s health outcomes than is pure aid, and so I also believe it is important to show that this investment model is effective.”
As the academic year begins, second-year students will present their projects at an AoSC Poster Presentation Day and will continue to work on their projects at least three hours per week.
“I am looking forward to sharing my experience, but also excited to see how my classmates are impacting the lives of others through their research projects,” said Pratzer.