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HHMI renews grant for Rice's global health program
10 percent of Rice undergrads have taken global health course

BY JADE BOYD
Rice News staff 

 BTB Backpack 

Rice student Catherine Slater demonstrates a diagnostic Lab-in-a-Backpack to doctors at a hospital outside Kigali, Rwanda. The pack, designed by students in Rice's Beyond Traditional Borders initiative, contains tools to allow health care providers to perform basic diagnostic exams in remote settings in the developing world.  

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has awarded a $1.2 million, four-year grant to continue Rice University's successful undergraduate global health program Beyond Traditional Borders (BTB)

BTB, which began with a $2.2 million HHMI grant in 2006, challenges students to come up with practical solutions to real-world problems in the developing world. The program has captured the imagination of Rice’s students; more than 10 percent of the university's undergraduates have taken a BTB class since 2006, and several dozen students have traveled to developing nations to test their designs in local clinics.

"Our program aims to open students' eyes to the challenges of global health and to help them use the tools of science and engineering to design solutions that are affordable, effective and culturally appropriate," said BTB creator Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Rice's Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering. "HHMI's continued support will allow us to expand our undergraduate and K-12 initiatives."

The technologies BTB students have created include:   

  • A low-cost fluorescence microscope that makes malaria and tuberculosis diagnosis easier.
  • A "lab-in-a-backpack" full of diagnostic tools – including a microscope, centrifuge and rapid tests – that nurses in the developing world can use to accurately determine what is making a patient sick.
  • A tiny clip that pharmacists can attach to a syringe to help parents and other caregivers deliver the proper dose of medicine to children.

BTB students take global health courses and work in teams to solve challenging health problems. In their first BTB class, students get an introduction to biomedical engineering and design a simple solution to a real-world global health problem. From there, they can enroll for a global health minor — which includes four additional BTB classes and two related electives — and tackle progressively more difficult design problems.

The new HHMI grant will allow Rice to expand BTB to a national scale. BTB's annual outreach workshop for high school teachers plans to recruit the best science and engineering teachers from across the country. Rice will also invite students from other universities and from high schools whose teachers were trained in the K-12 workshop to participate in an international health-technologies design conference and competition.

"I'm excited about the opportunity for students nationwide to be a vital part of the process of designing a new technology and seeing the impact that it has," Richards-Kortum said. "I think we're creating a generation of students who can design solutions to important global health problems."

Rice was one of 50 research universities in 30 states and the District of Columbia that received a total of $70 million from HHMI this week to strengthen undergraduate and precollege science education nationwide.