Thursday, December 11, 2014

This stuff actually matters

I don’t think I can relay enough how much I enjoyed and appreciated the research proposal assignment. While I’ve had similar “come up with your own idea!” assignments in the past, in a variety of fields, this is one of the first times where I could really see the application of skills I now know I have or can relatively easily acquire, and come up with a realistic idea of how the project’s goals would be accomplished. I think that last point regarding how realistic the work needed to be really hit home for me when we were asked to think about how many grad students and post-docs it would take to accomplish the goals.

It certainly helped that the research proposal which my partner and I chose was one that was very important to both of us, given our interests. We are both heavily involved in global health work, and in particular, work with a system of HIV/AIDS clinics in Togo through GlobeMed at MIT (logo below - using our bacterial photography system!), to implement primarily technological capacity-building projects. We’ve seen some of the issues that the clinic staff and patients have to deal with, and some of the ways they overcome those challenges. Communities in low-resource settings have to deal with diagnostic techniques which are really only viable in well-off countries. Not only do they not benefit from the use of these technologies to the full potential possible given the tools, but that failing undermines credibility of the health care system overall. When a patient knows that health care worker whom they’re seeing will give them a diagnosis likely to be incorrect, they’ve lost faith in the system.

By developing the proposal for a rapid diagnostic test for TB, amenable to use in such settings, our team was able to apply that background in global health, and combine in with all we’ve learned in 20.109. We even got the chance to talk to experts in the field, including Angie’s husband, Dr. Bebinger, and Professor Dedon, also in the BE department. It was encouraging to see their positive responses, and their excitement at students trying to design such technologies. 

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