Lower Mekong Initiative 2019 (LMI) - Public Health & Bioinformatics: Using Information Technologies to Address Public Health Challenges

Vientiane, Lao PDR, July 30th, 2019 – Funded by the U.S. State Department, the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) and implementing partner Arizona State University launched year two of the LMI Young Scientist Program. This year’s program is “Public Health & Bioinformatics: Using Information Technologies to Address Public Health Challenges brought by Vector-Borne Diseases in the Lower Mekong Region.” 

“The LMI Young Scientist Program is a great example of how science diplomacy programs can convene multi-country researchers and scientists to develop professional relationships for collaborative projects, but also convene around common problems in their countries with linkages to U.S. counterparts and programs,” said Jeffrey Goss, PI and Associate Vice Provost of SE Asia for ASU. 

On July 1st, 2019, the opening ceremony was launched at the National University of Laos (NUOL) with remarks from the Honorable Rena Bitter, U.S Ambassadorto Lao PDR; Assoc. Prof. Khamphoui Southisombath, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at NUOL; and Assoc. Prof. Mayfong Mayxay, Vice President of the University of Health Sciences. The program includes participation of 33 early-career scientists and researchers from the five LMI member countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

To achieve the creation of a scientific research community for the young scholars in LMI member countries, the Young Scientist Program includes the following activities: a Four-week Technical Program, an Annual Scientific Symposium, and a Seed Grant Competition as illustrated in the following timeline:

About the LMI Four-week Technical Program

Hosted by the NUOL, the LMI Young Scientist Program focused on the delivery of skill-building workshops. These workshops were aimed at enabling participants to work on multidisciplinary projects using information technology, computer science, and bioinformatics toward research initiatives and new technology development to address public health challenges in the Lower Mekong region.

The focus of the first week was to introduce participants to the main public health issues regarding vector borne diseases and current regional programs to combat these issues. The second week included a “Design Thinking” workshop, led by experts from the School of Global Studies, Thammasat University, Thailand.

Mr. Hermes Huang, Lecturer from Thammasat University, works closely and guides participants through Design Thinking process.

During the workshop, the young scientists were introduced to the human-centered design methodology – an iterative process seeking to understand final users, challenge assumptions; then re-defining problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions, which was not intially apparent.

"Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems; it is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods," Mr. Hermes Huang, Lecturer at School of Global Studies, Thammasat University, Thailand.

The scientists were also invited to the Pasteur Institute of Laos to attend a mosquito identification workshop at the entomology lab and learn from the experts on innovative traps to reduce the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

As an outcome of the second week, the Scientists were grouped into six teams. Each team was encouraged to use design thinking models, computational methods and information technologies to clearly define and propose solutions for public health challenges in the Lower Mekong Region caused by vector borne diseases.

A team, from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos from, is working on an activity using post-it notes to help visualize, quickly brainstorm and carefully examines the ideas for their projects; also, clearly define what has potential and might not work.

Scientist analyze different species of mosquitoes at their different stages in their life-cycle at the Entomology lab of the Pasteur Institute of Laos.

The week concluded with a field trip to the Lao province of Savannakhet where the Young Scientists visited the Provincial Health Offices, Department of Communicable Disease Control. The participants conducted field work at the Tonhen Village, Xaybouly Districtto follow up with patients sufferring from dengue feverand participated inmosquito and larvae collection activities. These mosquito and larvae samples were then analyzed at the entomology lab in Savannakhet to identify the species of mosquitoes found in the village.

“I have been working in public health area, and my works have had its focus just on immunization. I had no idea about the severity of Dengue outbreak in Lao before I joined the program. LMI open my perspectives on a very importance issues such as vector borne diseases control and prevention. I got to meet brilliant entomologist from Cambodia and learned from them how to identify mosquitos. And I got to meet a mathematician from Thailand who taught me the principle of machine learning,” Ms. Souliya Channavong from Laos, specialized in Epidemiology, Michigan State University, recalled and shared her experiences about the memorable field trip to Savannakhet.

Vannida from Laos and Duy from Vietnam review the data collection log.

Xaythavy Louangvilay from Laos is testing the mosquito collection tool.

For the third week, the program focused on building 21st century professional skills, such as: running effective meetings, interpersonal communications, design of experiments, team optimization, presentation skills, critical thinking and conflict resolution. 

Mr. Robert Schoenfeld from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University delivered a 4-day 21st Century Skills workshop during the LMI Young Scientists program.

The week also included a field trip to the Mahosot Hospital to visit the microbiology and virology labs to learn about laboratory methods to identify dengue and other infectious diseases through techniques such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Dr. Sayaphet Rattanavong from the microbiology laboratory at the Mahosot Hospital shows how they use PCR to diagnose dengue at the lab

The fourth and final week of the program was dedicated for the six multidisciplinary and transnational teams to put their knowledge and skills learned into practice through working on applied projects. At the closing ceremony, seven prototypes – seven solutions using information technologies to address public health challenges brought by vector-borne diseases in the Lower Mekong Region was showcased during the poster session. 

33 Young Scientists from the five lower Mekong countries

During the ceremony, Mr. Songyos Rajborirug from Thailand, Ph.D. Graduate, specialized in Epimiology, Prince of Songkla University, shared his thoughts,

“The LMI program gives me both the opportunities to learn things that could not be learned in school or universities and the opportunities to meet with cool people which could not be met easily in everyday life. The skills such as design thinking and professionalism will undoubtedly help me in organizing work, and people in my organization; while the connection I got would open the possibility of future collaboration among fellows of the LMI Program.”

“Our goal of developing early-career researchers to grow academically and professionally was accomplished again this year. The 33 participants from the five LMI member countries have demonstrated their capabilities to use computational models and information technologies to address public health challenges caused by vector-borne diseases; we are really proud of our young scientists,” Mr. Jose Quiroga, Director, LMI Young Scientist Program. 

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About LMI Young Scientist Program

Funded by the US. State Department, the goal of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Young Scientist Program is to foster collaboration, knowledge sharing and the creation of a network of young scientists in the LMI countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

As implementing partners of this program, Arizona State University (ASU) will leverage its decades of experience in sponsored project implementation in Southeast Asia through the Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program (HEEAP); the Building University-Industry Learning and Development through Innovation and Technology (BUILD-IT) and the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).

The program supports youth and young professionals by creating opportunities for collaboration. Joint research, workshops and symposiums encourage the sharing of scientific knowledge, ideas and experience, including authorship of peer-reviewed research papers. The program has two objectives: to foster and promote scientific collaboration within the region, and to promote knowledge sharing on science and technology best practices and research ideas.

Learn more about the LMI Young Scientist Program, and subscribe to our exclusive email list to receive future updates.