Michael Harper

Michael is a senior medical student at the University of Colorado. Originally from Virginia, he attended the College of William and Mary in Virginia for undergraduate studies and earned a PhD in Immunology at the University of Colorado through the Medical Scientist Training Program studying innate immunity to HIV-1.


Project: "Adolescent Immune Responses to Vaccination against Mycobacterium tuberculosis"
August 28, 2016 - October 7, 2016
South Africa


What does the Kean Fellowship mean to you?
I’m excited for the opportunity to join the field of tropical medicine and to do research on preventing tuberculosis, an infectious disease of global importance. With acceptance into the Kean fellowship I feel I am being welcomed into the field. It is an important gateway through which I can pursue my dream of becoming a leader in tropical infectious disease research. During medical training, the demands of clinical training can obscure the bigger picture of what your place in medicine and the world may be. With the time I will spend in South Africa working with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, I have the opportunity to look beyond residency training towards what my career may actually look like in practice. I am also excited to be able to attend the ASTMH Annual Meeting in November.

What do you anticipate learning?
For my project I will be directly involved in a Phase 1b trial of new tuberculosis vaccines. This trial has unique strengths not only in the scope of immunologic questions it is asking, but more importantly how it is being performed by local scientists. I will learn about the challenges of building laboratory capacity and maintaining international standards of good research practice in settings where the laboratory infrastructure is still being developed. Moreover, I will participate in volunteer recruitment, enrollment and follow-up. I will not only learn about healthcare delivery in South Africa, but the social aspects of what motivates volunteers to be involved in trials, and the barriers they have to accessing and maintaining care.

What interests you about tropical medicine and what problems are you interested in solving?
The aspect of tropical medicine that I am most interested in is infectious diseases. I want to be a leader in the development and implementation of novel vaccines. Infectious diseases hit tropical countries particularly hard and are a driving force of global economic disparities. It is important that vaccines are tested in the populations that stand to benefit the most from new vaccines. Not only does it improve the chance that trial data will accurately predict efficacy in the general population, but the development of a vaccine trial network paves the way for delivery of a fully licensed vaccine. The challenges faced in recruiting volunteers for trials are the very same that will limit vaccine delivery. In the future, I want to be involved in training local scientists and giving communities the tools they need to better fight tropical diseases.