NIAID-Howard STD Summer Research Program a Success
By James Hadley
Photos: Bill Branson
A program that began as a 1-hour lecture on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) research is now entering it's fourth year as a successful 10-week summer research program for medical students at Howard University's College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.
STDs, including HIV infection, disproportionately affect adolescents and minority populations in this country. Part of the solution to this problem depends on training minority physicians in infectious diseases and STD research. A historically Black college, Howard University has conferred more doctorates and medical degrees to African Americans than any other academic institution. That's what the NIAID-Howard University Sexually Transmitted Diseases Cooperative Research Centers (CRC) Summer Program aims to accomplish. Five to 10 Howard University students work on research projects in laboratories or clinics at one of NIAID's eight STD centers located throughout the United States.
The program has been cosponsored by NIAID's Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and the Office of Special Populations and Research Training as well as the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health.
"All of our students have great things to say about the STD center directors," said Dr. Warren K. Ashe, dean of research at Howard University College of Medicine. "The STD center directors have been wonderful at giving our young people the opportunity to enhance their research careers."
According to Brian Robinson, a second-year medical student: "The people at Indiana University were supportive and nurturing and interested in helping me learn about the science behind the procedures we were doing. This allowed me to build a stronger foundation in the basic sciences. The program has definitely made me see the importance of incorporating research into whatever field I select in the future."
"If Brian Robinson is typical of Howard University students, then the college will be contributing a lot of leaders to the research and medical communities," said Dr. Stanley M. Sponola, director of the STD center at Indiana University.
Robinson worked in Sponola's laboratory isolating proteins of the bacterium Haemophilus ducreyi, which cause bacteria to adhere to the skin and cause an infection. He became well-versed not only in research techniques, but also in writing grant proposals.
"We've had three students from Howard University and I believe it was a great experience for all of us," said Dr. Keerti V. Shah, director of the STD center at Johns Hopkins University. "Without question, these students are dedicated, intelligent and accommodating."
"I had choices in selecting my summer assignment," said Ana Burgos, a second-year medical student who was placed at Johns Hopkins for the summer. "I could work in a laboratory setting, or do data analysis or go into the community and work at an STD clinic."
She elected to work with Dr. Noreen Hynes, who directs two STD clinics in Baltimore. At that time the city had the highest rate of syphilis in the United States. Burgos designed and administered a survey on patient satisfaction with the clinics. "Dr. Hynes was never too busy for me and my project. We worked closely together," she said.
As a part of the program, for 2 weeks in the middle of summer, the students attend an STD/HIV training course at the University of Washington in Seattle along with M.D.s and Ph.D.s from all over the world, including Greece, Russia, France and Belgium. The course covers the current state of STD/HIV research including prevention, transmission, diagnosis, treatment and behavioral science.
"The course was an outstanding update on STDs and HIV," says Burgos. "Despite the fact that we were students, we felt the course was designed so that everyone would benefit."
"Our students were able to meet and interact with the best and the brightest," said Dr. John T. Stubbs, III, an assistant professor of microbiology at Howard University College of Medicine and a faculty representative who attended the STD/HIV course in Seattle. "It was a meeting of the minds and sharing of ideas."
Dr. Penny J. Hitchcock, chief of the STD Branch in NIAID's Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, who helped to establish the program, said it allows students to expand their vision of medicine. "It is clear from talking to these young people that the experience changes their lives," she said.
Dr. Vivian W. Pinn, NIH associate director for research on women's health, told the students that a summer opportunity prompted a career change for her. "Having served as chief of pathology at Howard University, I know how great the students are," says Pinn. "I was pleased to be able to support this program and I know it will become a model for future programs." Pinn heads ORWH, which cosponsors the program.
Hitchcock proudly highlights some of the results realized by students in the program:
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