At today’s upper school meeting, biology teacher Kate Schafer announced that The Harker School would be participating in a study on influenza with Dr. Marcel Salathe, assistant professor of biology at Penn State University and head of the Salathe Group, a start-up research group based at the university.
During the 2009-10 school year, Salathe conducted a study at Harker on how infectious diseases transfer between high school students. Salathe’s work was published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” (PNAS) the official journals of the United States National Academy of Sciences. He received a $1.4 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the upcoming study, which is expected to last between one to one and a half years. The previous study enjoyed a 95% participation rate from the student population, a primary reason Salathe chose Harker again for his research.
“This time around a core group of students will have the opportunity to work directly with Dr. Salathe on ground-breaking research that has the potential to guide the way we understand and manage disease outbreaks,” Schafer said at the meeting. “Students will be working on a variety of different projects, such as investigating the accuracy of rapid influenza tests and looking for bacterial and viral hot spots.”
The process to find students to participate in the project is slated to begin as soon as Oct. 18. Anita Chetty, science department chair, said at the meeting that the entire project will consist of five studies, each led by a lead investigator from grade 11. Under each lead investigator will be a team of students from grades 9-12. Due to the length of the project, only juniors are eligible to be lead investigators, as the seniors will have graduated before the study is complete. Chetty said that more information on the application process for lead investigators would be divulged in Tuesday’s class meetings, and information on the application process for each lead investigator’s team would be available in the coming weeks.
Chetty estimated that the study would begin in earnest in November, “just in time for flu season.”
“We’re very excited about this opportunity and think it reflects the true research community we continue to build here at Harker,” Schafer said.