New degree program focuses on global diseases, medicines

By Shannon Findley

In room A156R Baylor Sciences Building, hundreds of mosquitoes feed on chicken blood and swarm around in mesh cages and larvae swim around nearby in large, plastic vats.

This mosquito lab, primarily operated by Dr. Cheolho Sim, assistant professor of biology, will play an integral part in the mosquito-borne disease portion of Baylor’s new global diseases and tropical medicine curriculum set to go into effect around fall 2015.

The new curriculum will be part of Baylor’s biology program and will offer courses such as mosquito-borne diseases, microbiology and neglected tropical diseases.

“The neglected tropical diseases course provides a comprehensive introduction of where the neglected tropical diseases occur and how they have become the most common diseases among the world’s poorest people,” Sim said.

The mosquito lab is going to be used to study the potential development of new vaccines to combat mosquito-borne diseases prevalent in nations around the world.

“Two billion people in the world have a tropical disease,” Dr. Richard Sanker, director of the prehealth science studies office said. “They can’t work so they can’t get out of poverty. If they’re not getting treatment they’re not going to recover. This program fulfills both Baylor’s educational and outreach goals.”

The biology department will offer the new integrated bachelor of science and master’s of science program in collaboration with the Baylor College of Medicine’s National School of Tropical Medicine. Selected undergraduate students in the tropical disease biology program will be admitted directly to the program.

The program will lead to a bachelor of science in biology and a master’s of science in tropical disease biology in five years. The bachelor of science degree will be awarded by Baylor. The exact structure of the joint master’s of science program is still being developed.
“It’s a very unique curriculum and a very unique program,” Sanker said.

Though the curriculum for the program has not been laid out yet, it will most likely be similar to degree tracks such as pre-health and general biology. These degrees require 31 hours of biology in addition to other required courses. Sim said the tropical disease biology program will likely have one or two additional courses required in biology since it is a more specific degree track than the others.

Students with a degree in tropical disease biology will be very competitive when pursuing global health jobs. Some of the students of this track will go on to medical school and others will pursue a doctorate. Others may join national government organizations working directly with efforts to address some of the key national tropical diseases of the world. The skills learned in this program will complement these professions and equip students to work in global health once they have completed their education.

There is no specific funding for the tropical medicine program at this time. The College of Arts and Science provided some funds last summer to help deter the cost of the Summer Institute for the student participants. Currently, the students pay for the summer institute and the housing options as well.

With regard to the future tropical medicine graduate program, the program is still in negotiation and development, so no funds have been allocated for it at this time, Sanker said.