Exploring the Breadth of Global Health Opportunities During Subspecialty Training at CHOP with Dr. Katherine Laycock

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Global Health Update

At the beginning of her undergraduate education, Katherine Laycock, MD, was interested in establishing a career in medical illustration. However, a semester-long Biodiversity and Resource Management Program which took her to Fort Dauphin, Madagascar, changed her perspective. Working with a local non-governmental organization, Dr. Laycock supported efforts to improve child nutrition. The experience drew her attention to healthcare disparities and their impact on the lives of children in limited-resource settings. She quickly pivoted and pursued medical training, where she again encountered the effects of health disparities among communities in Alabama. Thus, she began exploring ways in which interventions to reduce disparities in low-and-middle-income settings could be used to improve healthcare in the U.S. and vice versa, leading her to pursue Pediatric Infectious Disease Fellowship training at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Dr. Laycock and her team in Botswana Dr. Laycock (center right) in Botswana with (L to R) Dr. Paganotti, Faith Hungwe, and Keneuoe Nthontho taking a break from mosquito specimen collection. “CHOP offers a world-class training program that includes robust clinical training in the first year of fellowship, followed by two years in which fellows complete a research project while continuing to hone their clinical and leadership skills,” says Dr. Laycock. “CHOP also cares for hundreds of patients who travel from other countries for expert care, enabling trainees to experience disease pathologies that may not be common in the U.S. Additionally, subspecialty fellows can participate in Global Health research and activities through well-established long-standing partnerships with institutions in various countries including CHOP’s primary partner sites in Botswana and the Dominican Republic.” As a result of her commitment to global health and infectious diseases, Dr. Laycock was selected by the Division of Infectious Diseases and the CHOP Global Health Center as the 2020-2022 Melissa Ketunuti Memorial Endowed Fellow in Global Health and Infectious Diseases. This award broadened the training opportunities she could benefit from during her time at CHOP.

The mentorship and access to global health experts available through CHOP and the University of Pennsylvania have also made a big difference. “Andrew Steenhoff, MBBCh, DCH, Medical Director of the CHOP Global Health Center has been an excellent Global Health advisor,” she says. The Global Health Center is home to several highly-accomplished faculty in different disciplines committed to training future pediatric Global Health leaders. When Dr. Laycock expressed an interest in studying mosquito-borne viral diseases, Dr. Steenhoff introduced her to Giacomo Paganotti, Ph.D., a research collaborator and Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Botswana. Dr. Paganotti’s research primarily focuses on studying host and pathogen genetic factors related to the development of drug resistance, especially malaria drug resistance. Under Dr. Paganotti’s mentorship, Dr. Laycock is conducting research to assess human arboviral infections in Botswana. “This is part of the first arboviral research in Botswana in over 50 years and will provide important guidance for mosquito control programs both in Botswana and in neighboring countries,” says Dr. Laycock. The project looks at arboviruses through a One Health approach, meaning that it takes into account the interplay between humans, animals, and the environment. The Soulsby Foundation, a charitable organization based in the United Kingdom (UK) that advocates for One Health research, recently awarded Dr. Laycock a Soulsby Fellowship to support her work in Botswana.

While the pandemic delayed the start of her arboviral research in Botswana, it allowed Dr. Laycock to support work on other Global Health projects. She partnered with former CHOP Infectious Disease Fellow Sarah Geoghegan, MBBCH, BAO, to assess Group B Streptococcus colonization and vaccine acceptance in near-term women in the Dominican Republic. In Kenya, she is collaborating with Leslie Enane, MD, MSc, a former Melissa Ketunuti Memorial Endowed Fellow in Global Health and Infectious Diseases, to develop and implement an innovative adolescent and young adult peer mentor program to improve outcomes in adolescent and young adult TB care. Both projects differ from her arboviral diseases research in that they involve human subjects and are centered on health service delivery. As a result, she is gaining skills in basic science research with Dr. Paganotti and qualitative and implementation science research with Drs. Enane and Geoghegan. “Having had limited research experience before coming to CHOP, I didn’t expect to like research. To my surprise, I have enjoyed it a lot, and it has helped me understand how we get to the medical tests and treatments that we have to care for patients.”

Before she completes her Infectious Disease fellowship, Dr. Laycock will also receive training in the clinical management of tropical diseases. In spring 2022, she has been selected for the Gorgas diploma course in clinical tropical medicine.

Dr. Laycock has found her Global Health experiences to be the most rewarding part of her fellowship training ― “I knew I would be completing one project as part of the program, but I have been a part of three which speaks to CHOP’s commitment to training tomorrow’s Global Health leaders!”

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