By Katharina Rains
Kenny Long, M.D./Ph.D. student in Bioengineering, recently received a prestigious National Institute of Health fellowship. The Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual Predoctoral National Research Service Award (NRSA) for M.D./Ph.D. and other Dual Degree Fellowship is awarded to a very small number of pre- and post-doctoral students each year and is intended to help students continue their research and clinical training. Applying for the fellowship is a rigorous undertaking that includes more than 100 pages of instructions and a six-month application process per cycle.
Long’s research is focused on building a portable smartphone biosensing platform and translating that technology into point-of-care HIV viral load testing. Long’s proposal summarizes the need for this technology: “The World Health Organization has identified viral load testing as the preferred method for monitoring; however, current testing methods are too technically complicated, infrastructure-dependent, and financially burdensome for the majority of countries most affected by the disease.”
Many countries that are severely affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic do not have adequate lab facilities to process all the viral load tests. Some only have a single lab, making it impossible to run tests for everyone even on a bi-yearly basis. In addition to benefiting patients, the development of a portable smartphone biosensing platform also offers advantages for clinicians and the scientific community at large. As Long notes in his research aims, those benefits are wide-ranging: “geolocation, remote data sharing, cloud communication and storage, epidemiologically relevant GIS data, and immediate information dissemination capabilities.”
In addition to the Kirschstein Fellowship, Long also recently received the 2015 Illinois International Graduate Achievement Award at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Each year, this award is presented to a graduate student on campus “whose innovative and sustained international research or public service abroad has had the greatest impact (or has the greatest potential impact) on the university, larger community or internationally.”
Along with Illinois faculty, Long has been working to develop a cross-campus partnership focused on global heath care between Illinois and Njala University in Sierra Leone. The progam initially started as a certificate and study abroad program, but currently the Illinois team and their Njala University collaborators are exploring other areas for partnership expansion, including both education and library resource development.
The goal, Long said, is to work with institutions to create international partnerships that are appropriate and equitable and ensure that participation results in positive experiences for all parties.