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Across the world, student gets glimpse into health research

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.”

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