Medicines are an integral part of our everyday health and wellness. This past summer, the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences (SEAS) launched a pilot program, Medicine Engineering and Drug Innovation STAR (MediSTAR), to give students a chance to learn about the process of drug development and clinical trials that define the path for drug approval.
MediSTAR complements another program designed for high school students, BioSTAR, launched by Harvard’s Active Learning Labs under mentorship of Samir Mitragotri, Hiller Professor of Bioengineering and Hansjorg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering, which focuses on bioengineering and drug delivery.
Five high school students from across the nation participated in MediSTAR, which was directed by Vinny Chandran Suja, Postdoctoral Fellow in Bioengineering, with mentorship from Mitragotri and the Active Learning Labs.
MediSTAR is a virtual, two-week program. In the first week, the students dived headlong into the process of clinical trials and their phases. The instruction included lectures on each phase of clinical trials, open discussions and student-led presentations.
“The unique and open-ended structure of the program allowed my peers and I to explore our individual interests, empowering us to learn from each other in an insightful and engaging way,” one student said in the program’s evaluation survey. “Additionally, the emphasis on presentation and communication skills was incredibly helpful. Through regular opportunities to present our findings, we were able to expand our knowledge on the world of clinical trials while also gaining confidence in our public speaking abilities.”
The second week of MediSTAR added a new dimension. In a hands-on exercise, the students were tasked with understanding the clinical trial process in the context of diseases for which therapies are actively being researched. Each student group was given a specific disease to focus on. Utilizing a vast database managed by the National Library of Medicine, students identified promising clinical trials associated with their assigned disease. Working in groups, the students dissected each clinical trial to understand important features such as the clinical phase, the relevant therapy mechanism, and the outcome measures. At the end of the week, students presented their findings, painting a succinct picture of the clinical landscape corresponding to their assigned disease. The presentations and the MediSTAR program ended with an outlook slide reflecting on how the success of the investigated clinical trials could change our future for the better.
Learning about advanced data analytics and translational medicine and drug development were also highlights of the program for students.
“I'm glad that I got exposed to advanced data analytics because it's such a cool tool to use in the future,” a student said in the survey.
SEAS and Active Learning Labs hope to build upon the successful launch of MediSTAR and continue to offer this program in following summers.
“It is good to understand the complexity of drug development and appreciate the work that goes into making drug products,” Mitragotri said. “I am delighted that the students enjoyed learning about it. I am grateful to Dr. Vinny Chandran Suja for his dedication to designing and directing this program.”
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