An invaluable opportunity

Written by Eniola Kasim, MD candidate at University College Dublin and participant in the 2019 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public & Global Health Track

It is astonishing, and a little bit startling, how fast two months can just fly by. I remember when I initially got accepted into the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public and Global Health Track. Back then, eight weeks sounded like a lengthy period of time! However, between researching, attending seminars and exploring the city of St. Louis my time here is fast approaching an end, which is bittersweet.

For me, this program has been about broadening my knowledge of public health issues, learning new skills and challenging ideas that I thought I already knew. One of the most impactful moments for me during this summer took place during the “Applying to MD, MPH and PHD programs” seminar when we were asked to define “health”.

The author posing with an Elephant at St. Louis Zoo.
The author posing with an Elephant at St. Louis Zoo.

Prior to participating in this program, I would have described health as being free from disease or sickness. However, I have come to learn that the idea of health encompasses much more than just physical health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a, “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” In the same vein, public health research, encompasses more than just the study of disease and disease interventions.

Public health also takes into consideration the promotion of healthy behaviours, the implementation of healthcare interventions, overcoming barriers to health and policy making.

Throughout this summer I have been working with Dr. Jennifer Philips, associate professor of medicine and molecular microbiology and co-director of the Infectious Diseases Division, to study host-pathogen protein interactions which enable Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) to overcome our immune response and survive within macrophages – immune cells which help to clear infections.

Mtb is the bacteria that causes Tuberculosis (TB) – an infection of the lungs which is one of the world’s leading causes of death. Understanding the molecular pathways Mtb uses to evade destruction by macrophages, may be useful in developing novel anti-virulence therapies for TB treatment.

In the past, my research projects have been within the field of biomedical engineering, so this was my first-time being exposed to public health research and working in a wet lab. I have learned so much working in this lab and moving forward, I see myself continuing to take part in lab based clinical research. I really enjoyed working in Dr. Philips’ lab and in the short time that I have been here I have been made to feel like part of the lab family.

Throughout this summer I have made connections not only with the people within my lab but also with the people in my program. When this program ends, I definitely see myself keeping in touch with my other colleagues – especially the ones aiming to get into medical school, I will be rooting for them while I am back home in Dublin!

Overall, participating in this program has been an invaluable experience for me and I am very grateful for the time I have spent here in St. Louis.