This summer, I am conducting a clinical study at Tijuana (TJ) General Hospital’s Clinica de Tuberculosis in TJ, Mexico to improve the accuracy and usability of a prototype assay which was designed to directly detect cell-free mycobacterium tuberculosis in patient’s circulating blood. Due to the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, the study came together quickly because of my amazing PIs, Dr. Tim Rodwell and Dr. Rafael Laniado, our research team, and Dr. Averbach. In a matter of 2 months, we wrote up and submitted an IRB, ordered supplies to the TJ General Hospital, and trained a team of people (including myself) to successfully collect data. My weeks consisted of learning new lab techniques in the UCSD lab to process our blood and sputum samples; formatting protocol and surveys; and traveling to TJ General Hospital to carry out the project and shadow Dr. Laniado. Outside of our main study aim, some of the questions we want to ask includes if COVID-19 is causing patients to avoid urgent care settings and delay TB treatment.
It’s been a challenging and exhilarating summer to say the least. I have learned so much about global health study design and teamwork, while simultaneously immersing myself in a brand-new culture. At every step, I am reminded that global health projects should not make TB treatment harder for the community, so we are always trying to figure out how to integrate the clinical study into regular TB care without making it feel like an extra burden on the patient.
I am grateful to have gotten to know the medical students and community at TJ General. It is a community hospital designed to serve the country and hence has some of the best TB care specialists in the world. The study is ongoing for the rest of the year, and we will slowly and steadily finish the large project at hand. It really takes a whole team of people to see a vision through.