NEWS | February 2, 2021

Three medical students advance in global competition to address health inequities

The Innovate4Health contest inspires innovators to tackle urgent challenges such as antibiotic resistance


Three UC Davis School of Medicine students are finalists in a global competition to develop solutions for health inequities associated with emerging infections, including COVID-19. 

Erica Lin, Christina Lowry and Annica Stull-Lane are finalists in the international Innovate4Health competition  Erica Lin, Christina Lowry and Annica Stull-Lane are finalists in the international Innovate4Health competition

Annica Stull-Lane, Erica Lin and Christina Lowry joined the Innovate4Health competition because of their desire to improve community health by addressing the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in marginalized populations. 

They are among nearly 100 teams of medical and public health students from around the world who submitted their project ideas late last year. A panel of experts connected to several prestigious academic organizations, including Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health evaluated the projects. 

When their application was accepted in November, they became one of 32 finalist teams and transitioned into the so-called design-sprint phase, where they work several hours a week on their project with the help of mentors from UC Davis and elsewhere. 

The finalists are rewarded with access to national experts in infectious diseases, public health and advocacy to help them refine their projects. The outside experts work closely with teams to explain how to draw attention to their proposal, communicate with policymakers and funders, and leverage their status as students to address current issues. 

“Our goal for the design sprint is to reduce antibiotic resistance in marginalized populations by adapting best practices from major hospital systems to other health practice settings,” the students wrote in their proposal. “Through our participation in the design sprint, we hope to combine our interests in science and program development with our desire to improve public health, both domestically and abroad.”      

The team’s accomplishments have greatly impressed the director of the medical school’s M.D./Ph.D. program, Saul Schaefer

“This success demonstrates to me the incredible quality and resourcefulness of our students, their care for underserved populations, and the collaborative nature of their work – all qualities emblematic of the strengths and culture of UC Davis School of Medicine,” Schaefer said. 

The project started when Erica Lin, in consultation with Michael Wilkes, who is the School of Medicine’s director of Global Health, assembled a team that is passionate about improving quality of care in low-resource settings. 

The teammates bring diverse perspectives to the project. 

Annica Stull-Lane, an M.D./Ph.D. student in infectious diseases with experience in public health, microbiology and research, had recently designed an online course for the One Health Institute on the threat of antimicrobial resistance. Her laboratory dissertation work includes studies on better treatments for multidrug-resistant pathogens. 

“This project serves as both a wonderful learning opportunity and as an opportunity to improve community health.”

— Christina Lowry

Christina Lowry is a graduating medical student who has worked in low-resource health care settings both domestically and internationally, and she contributed to the feasibility of the project by assessing the needs within different communities. 

Erica Lin is a medical student with six years of experience working with free clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers where she developed resources and projects to further integrate medical care with social work programs. 

“We came together as a team and ideated about challenges around community health systems, food systems and emerging infectious diseases,” Lin said. “After a robust brainstorm we homed in on a project addressing antimicrobial resistance in low-resource settings.” 

The goal of the project, said Stull-Lane, is to create a replicable, sustainable model for implementing antibiograms – the periodic summary reports that indicate a patient’s antimicrobial susceptibility. UC Davis Medical Center has an antibiogram that’s used at the hospital, so the students are trying to adapt the tool and technology for low-resource settings. 

“We would like to have a proof of concept with local community partners and then share our experience with others as a template with the goal of decreasing inappropriate antibiotic usage and improving health outcomes,” Stull-Lane added. 

The students have tapped UC Davis Health experts for the project, including Wilkes; Natasha Nakra, an associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases; and Stuart Cohen, chief of the UC Davis Division of Infectious Diseases and clinical director of hospital epidemiology and infection prevention. 

They also worked with global health leaders to design innovations within one of three pillars identified by the organizers: reducing zoonotic disease transmission in food systems, ensuring effective prevention and treatment of emerging infectious diseases in the hospital setting, or making community health systems more resilient to emerging infections. 

In addition to Johns Hopkins University, the other major organizations that back the competition are: ReAct, an international, independent network to articulate the complex nature of antibiotic resistance, and the International Federation of Medical Student Associations

Over the next month or so, the students may be selected to present their findings to an international panel of experts or potential clients who could help implement the project. 

“This is an amazing opportunity to delve into theories of change and understand how our complex health care systems work,” Lowry said. “It is great to be working on the pressing issue of antimicrobial resistance. This project serves as both a wonderful learning opportunity and as an opportunity to improve community health.”