Across the world, student gets glimpse into health research

August 29, 2012

Working at a research center in Ghana this summer gave senior David Glidden a chance to delve into a global health issue at the community level.

David Glidden began many days this summer bal­anced pre­car­i­ously as the second rider on a one-person motor­cycle, buzzing through Navrongo in northern Ghana. His des­ti­na­tion: the homes of new mothers, where he helped admin­ister sur­veys for an ongoing health study focused on malaria risk in infants.

Glidden, a senior biology and com­puter sci­ence com­bined major at North­eastern, spent two months working at the Navrongo Health Research Centre. In his role, he and a field worker reg­u­larly made home visits to new mothers who had malaria during preg­nancy, asking the women sev­eral ques­tions about a range of health issues. The survey was part of an ongoing research project to eval­uate the risks of malaria in infants born to mothers who received inter­mit­tent pre­ven­tive treat­ments as com­pared to those born to mothers who received inter­mit­tent screening and treatment.

“We asked the mothers about a range of health issues, like their breast-feeding habits, whether their babies reg­u­larly slept under insecticide-treated bed nets and about their babies’ health his­tory and most recent hos­pital visits,” Glidden said. The visits, he added, also included taking infants’ blood samples.

For Glidden, the experiential-learning oppor­tu­nity proved to be a fas­ci­nating glimpse into a global health issue at the com­mu­nity level. At North­eastern, he’s sought ways to com­bine his inter­ests in health, sci­ence and soft­ware devel­op­ment. On co-op with the Beth Israel Dea­coness Med­ical Center’s Divi­sion of Clin­ical Infor­matics in Brook­line, Mass., for example, he helped develop a web-based med­ical records system for a Kuwaiti health institute.

The project, he explained, opened his eyes to the pos­si­bility of combing his inter­ests in a ful­filling way. “That expe­ri­ence made me realize I could be a pro­grammer but still get into med­i­cine,” said Glidden, who noted the increasing need for tech-savvy physicians.

This month, Glidden began his final co-op working as a devel­oper with Meraki, a San Francisco-based wire­less net­working firm. Glidden’s pro­fi­ciency in Scala, a pro­gram­ming lan­guage, helped him nab the posi­tion, he said. He honed his pro­gram­ming skills working on co-op with Firefly Bioworks Inc., a Cam­bridge, Mass.-based devel­oper of next-generation mul­ti­plexed assays for bio­marker detection.

Glidden has also worked in chem­istry and chem­ical biology pro­fessor John Engen’s lab, con­tributing to a col­lab­o­ra­tive project studying a pro­tein called Nef, which is expressed in HIV.

“At North­eastern, I’ve tried to take advan­tage of every oppor­tu­nity, learn as much as pos­sible and try many new things,” he said. “I think that’s the point of college.”

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill