Benjamin Lu was one of several students recognized by former President Bill Clinton at the fourth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Health Initiative University in San Diego in early April. Photo Credit: John Hanacek / Clinton Global Initiative
Benjamin Lu, a senior at Rice University in Houston, Texas, says he has always been interested in biomedical technology and how translational research could bring cutting-edge solutions to the developing world. It was through a biomedical engineering course that Lu, a Bioengineering major with a minor in Global Health Technology, took during his junior year that he was able to bring his desire to help others to fruition. His outstanding work in this course won him the chance to travel to Swaziland to assist on a project targeted at preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Swaziland, a landlocked country in southern Africa, has been devastated by the AIDS epidemic. More than a quarter of the adults between the ages of 15 and 49 are infected with the virus, and the average life expectancy in the country is 37. Spoons or measuring cups are commonly used to take HIV/AIDS medication, but they often result in inaccurate dosing of antiretroviral medications, which limits the efficacy of the drugs and can lead to viral resistance.
“Technology and society have progressed enormously during the past century, but all of these advancements have occurred in developed countries and the wave of progress seems to have skipped over areas such as southern Swaziland,” says Lu.
In 2009, Rice University undergraduate students developed DoseRight, a simple, inexpensive plastic clip that attaches to an oral syringe and ensures accurate medical dosage by stopping the syringe plunger after the right amount of medication has been dispensed. In 2010, Lu joined a team whose objective was to demonstrate and gather feedback on the DoseRight for use with liquid antiretroviral medications in Swaziland. There was a significant interest in using these clips in the national program for the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS. Team DoseRight is now collaborating with Clinton Health Access Initiative 3rd Stone Design, and the Swaziland Ministry of Health to help distribute the clips.
Lu and other students who have worked with the clips (Cindy Dinh, Qing Lina Hu and Amanda Gutierrez) presented at the fourth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) in San Diego in early April of this year. President Clinton also featured the team when he announced innovative student projects that will improve health care in Africa, help the children around the world go to school, and increase understanding between American and Middle Eastern college students.
While in Swaziland with fellow intern Lauren Theis, Lu also noticed there were tremendous problems with recording medical information on a variety of forms for use by treating physicians. Lu came up with a simplified chart that, with little training, allows the caregiver to enter two sets of information that form intersecting lines and provide accurate reports for doctors to evaluate progress. Collaboration with the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University has resulted in widespread use of these adherence charts.
Lu says his greatest satisfaction came from working with people in Swaziland. He has since decided apply to medical school, where he feels his engineering can be put to good use.
“I’m grateful for the many opportunities to implement these innovations,” says Lu. “Based on our work in Swaziland, I want to make the best use of the infrastructure that was already in place, and then build on that to create even greater change.”
Ben gave a TEDx talk last November during which he discussed some of his work in Swaziland (his portion begins at 28:40)