A life-changing summer in Seattle for six STEM students

July 28, 2016 by Rachel Hart

David Shoultz talks to Siemens Foundation-PATH Fellow Henon Gebre.

Siemens Foundation-PATH Fellow Henon Gebre, a recent graduate of Utah State University, shares a moment in the lab with David Shoultz, PATH’s program leader for Drug Development and Devices and Tools. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

The Siemens Foundation-PATH Fellowship aims to nurture the young scientists who will shape the future of global health.

This summer, six future global health innovators are working shoulder-to-shoulder with top scientists in PATH’s diagnostic laboratory on the next generation of tools to control and eliminate deadly diseases that affect billions of people around the world.

Meet the 2016 Siemens Foundation-PATH Fellows, the first group selected for this competitive fellowship, which offers hands-on experience, advanced skills, and a double-dose of mentorship—from scientists at PATH as well as Siemens Healthineers, employees of the global technology company’s health diagnostics division.

The fellowship aims to shape young scientists who will shape the future of global health.

Working together to solve global health puzzles

“This is one of those perfect opportunities for PATH to align with a like-minded corporate collaborator, Siemens, around the need to get simple, effective, inexpensive diagnostic tools to the point of care, especially in low-resource countries,” says Steve Davis, PATH president and CEO. “I’m convinced that some of the biggest solutions in global health will come from cross-sector collaborations like this one.”

Nearly 300 undergraduate and graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines applied for the six spots in the first fellowship class.

“As new technologies emerge—digital tools, advances in genomics, and things we can’t even imagine today—smart young scientists will use them to keep pushing the envelope on innovation,” says Steve. “PATH and Siemens have a shared interest in promoting STEM education and nurturing these bright young people.”

A selfie of six Siemens Foundation-PATH fellows.

Fellow selfie! (From left to right) Rose Marzan, Eyad Helwany, Meilin Zhu, Sara Ann Aldridge, Scott Khuu, and Henon Gebre. Rose is working on ways to test the integrity of dried blood samples; Eyad and Meilin are working on malaria diagnostics; Sara is st

Bright minds with hearts for humanity

“We set out to recruit STEM students with the best and brightest minds in science as well as a passion for serving humanity,” says David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation. “I’m happy to say that’s exactly who we found.”

Scott Khuu is one of them. There’s nowhere University of Utah senior Scott Khuu would rather be this summer than the lab at PATH’s Seattle headquarters, where he’s working with Jason Cantera, a PATH senior research scientist, on a nucleic acid amplification test that detects soil-transmitted helminthiasis, infections caused by parasitic intestinal worms.

The World Health Organization estimates that two billion people worldwide are infected with these parasites, which are spread through soil contaminated by human feces, usually in places with poor sanitation. For infected children, the effects—which can include stunted growth and impaired cognitive development—last a lifetime.

The test Scott is working on could give health workers a tool to detect infections by even a small number of parasites, a potential game-changer in the race to eliminate these infections.

Scott says his experience this summer is stretching his skills, fueling his passion for global health, and connecting him with people who could well influence the course of his career. “PATH and the Siemens Foundation are a powerful combination,” he says. “It’s inspiring to meet people from different backgrounds and talk about ideas that could shape the world.”

Portrait of Meilin Zhu, Siemens Foundation-PATH Ingenuity Fellow.

Mentorship is one of the highlights of the fellowship for Meilin Zhu. “A perfect mentor inspires you,” she says. Photo: PATH/Tom Furtwangler.

Meilin Zhu, a rising sophomore at Arizona State University, is working with Maria Kahn, a senior research scientist on PATH’s Diagnostics for Malaria Elimination Toward Eradication (DIAMETER) team, on a test for malaria infections that existing tests can’t detect.

“It’s exciting, because the right diagnostic tools allow you to identify and provide the right treatment to people who are asymptomatic but infectious,” says Meilin. “The test I’m working on could really accelerate the elimination of malaria.”

Maria and Meilin’s other advisors at PATH and Siemens challenge her to think about research from different perspectives, she says. “At Siemens, I’m paired with the director of research and development, which is pretty amazing! He gets me to think about the big-picture significance of my work and is always reminding me that even though I’m creating this in a lab, it’s going to end up in the real world, in someone’s hands.”

Meilin and the other fellows will meet their Siemens mentors in person in mid-August, when they travel to the Siemens Healthineers facility in Tarrytown, New York, to present and showcase their projects.

Learn more about the six Siemens Foundation-PATH Fellows and their projects.

When they’re not in the lab, the fellows are taking advantage of the mild Pacific Northwest summer—riding bikes, rafting rivers, and exploring Seattle.

Interested in applying for the fellowship in 2017? Check the PATH Careers site this fall.

Senior leaders from the Siemens Foundation and Siemens visited Seattle in July to welcome the fellows and meet with PATH leaders and scientists. See why they’re optimistic about the future of global health. Video: PATH.