I believe that my background in bioengineering and global health will allow me to establish a design process which is both unique and effective. Specifically, my previous experiences doing bioengineering research have given me the skills to evaluate current products and research, and identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. Additionally, my time studying community health while studying abroad has allowed me to appreciate some of the cultural, distribution, and education challenges which we may encounter as we try to implement our product.
With these skills, I have spent a lot of time with my team looking at other sickle cell anemia diagnostic tools. By observing their strengths and weaknesses, we have been able to start the design process for a test strip. For example, two products, Alibaba and Sickle Scan, are low cost but are also difficult to interpret due to subtle color changes indicating a diagnosis. With this in mind, we were able to decide on a lateral flow test strip, since the absence or presence of a line leaves less room for user error. We were also able to find two other lateral flow test strips for sickle cell anemia. One, Sickle Dex, is commercially available, but utilizes a direct binding method, and therefore requires a dilution step in order to work. A different lateral flow test, a competitive test still in the research phase, is easier to use than the Sickle Dex product since it does not require a dilution step; however, its utilization of a competitive binding method also makes it less specific. By analyzing these two sickle cell anemia lateral flow tests, our team was able to think of a solution which incorporates the specificity of a direct binding test, without the need for blood dilution. Specifically, by incorporating a T-Junction shape, and having the sample and colored beads travel from separate directions, we can theoretically avoid pre saturation of the beads, preventing the need for a dilution step.
Despite that three of these products are commercially available, none of them are available in lower and middle income countries. By decreasing the training required, increasing the specificity, and specifically utilizing our on-the-ground partners, we hope to use our unique backgrounds to complete an effective design process, and actually get the product to the community.
As we continue with this design process, we will utilize several resources in order to validate our progress. For example, in order to validate our project concept and technology, we will hopefully be able to get feedback from people in industry. Our advisor, Prof. Cheng, has a few contacts who work on commercial lateral flow tests, and will hopefully be able to connect us with them to learn more about what works well, and what doesn’t, with our technical design. Furthermore, we will hopefully be able to validate the usability of our product during our fieldwork this summer. Specifically, we hope to have a working prototype prepared by the time our team goes to Sierra Leone, and will be able to get feedback from community healthcare workers on what is easy and difficult about using our test. Finally, we also hope to start looking at how our product will fit into the Sierra Leone health system during the field work. Although our team is currently very bioengineering focused, we hope to eventually recruit business students to work on the operational/business model, and that they will be able to use our experiences in Sierra Leone, as well as their own expertise with business, to start validating the operational aspects of our project design.
My Philosophy of Engagement
There are several reasons why I am excited about this project, and why I specifically chose to engage with communities in low-income countries.
Although I know that there are socioeconomic and health challenges locally as well as globally, I love learning about cultural differences. Being born in Germany, an English citizen, and an American resident, I have always been very aware of the different cultures surrounding me. Because of this, I have always aspired to work with people from diverse backgrounds.
Furthermore, I love learning. I believe that working to solve challenges in low-income countries presents several unique challenges. Figuring out how to work through these obstacles presents unique learning opportunities, and allows for exciting problem solving.
Finally, I want to make an impact, and to help the communities that I am working with. Coming from a high-income, powerful country, I understand that I have opportunities and resources which are unavailable to many others. Because of this, I want to be able to take my privilege and turn it into something beneficial.
By combining my interests and aspirations, I believe that my philosophy of engagement will help to keep me focused and excited as I continue to work on this project.