Thanks to the Breman Student International Research Travel Grant, Ryan Kobayashi (far right) and fellow Keck School student Grant Meyer (far left) spent time in Haiti working with members of a Haitian public health team (from left to right: Mackenzy Ambroise, Delince Pierre, Mackenson Gedna and Webert Constant) to research the link between childhood diseases and sanitation. (Photo courtesy Ryan Kobayashi.)
By Amy E. Hamaker
Second-year Keck School of Medicine of USC student Ryan Kobayashi got the opportunity to gratify his passion for global health when he and fellow student Grant Meyer spent eight weeks at an orphanage in Haiti last summer to pursue research on the link between childhood diseases and sanitation.
“We were able to work with the clinical staff in Haiti to analyze the relationship between people who get sick and their hygiene practices,” said Kobayashi. “We created a survey that could accurately portray the attitudes and practices of the population we were studying, and did a hand washing promotion and education intervention as well. It was an amazing learning experience.”
Kobayashi and Meyer’s research took place thanks to the Breman Student International Research Travel Grant (a part of the Global Health Scholars Program), supported by Joel Breman, a Keck School alumnus (‘65).
Breman spent his early career with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studying infectious diseases while living in Guinea and Burkina Faso, West Africa. There, he worked on the global eradication of smallpox and control of vaccine-preventable diseases.
During his time at the World Health Organization in the late 1970s, he was responsible for orthopoxvirus research and the certification of smallpox eradication. He also investigated the first epidemic of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with an international team in 1976. Returning to the CDC in the 1980s, Breman worked on the epidemiology and control of malaria.
More recently, at the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health, he has directed programs training leaders in science and public health in poor countries while continuing research on the epidemiology, control and eradication of malaria and other tropical infectious diseases. Breman has written more than 150 articles and book chapters and edited several books on disease burdens, malaria and research capacity strengthening in low-income countries.
This background led him to fund the Breman Student International Research Travel Grant, which allows Keck School students to experience clinical, field or laboratory research in a foreign country. Grants range from $2,000 to $5,000. Travel and research in a foreign country must be at least eight weeks, and a scientific report is required.
“This grant represents my great esteem for the Keck School, which gave me the tools to function in often difficult and uncertain conditions,” said Breman. “Students and the school are, increasingly, global citizens. Collaborating with foreign colleagues and institutions on medical problems of mutual interest strengthens all parties. I’m very pleased to support this opportunity for students.”
“The grant is based on Dr. Breman’s wishes to give students international research experience rather than a straight clinical shadow,” said Alejandro Sanchez, visiting assistant professor of clinical medicine and director of the Office of Global Health at the Keck School of Medicine. “The project can be very diverse. Previous recipients have traveled to the Amazon to determine the effectiveness of a particular book’s use in the field by village leaders with no medical training, and have researched the depression stigma within an HIV community in Africa.”
Sanchez believes that exposing students to different cultures is mutually beneficial and makes them more compassionate and informed doctors. “Issues that affect another community can have repercussions in the United States,” he said. “Their problems are our problems.
“Dr. Breman is a real Trojan,” said Sanchez. “Dr. Breman is a true believer in teaching the next generation through this grant.”