Trip to CHOP and Wistar Institute

Dr. Feemster (2nd from right) and the College's Teva InternsYesterday History of Vaccines staff had the pleasure of accompanying the College’s Teva interns and that program’s staff to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Our host was Kristen A. Feemster, MD, MPH, an infectious diseases physician at CHOP and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Among her many research interests, Dr. Feemster studies factors affecting administration and uptake of immunizations.

The Teva interns are Philadelphia high school students working here at the College on a three-week project looking at the unique health and social challenges facing Philadelphia youth. This week they are learning about sexually transmitted infections – their natural history and epidemiology – and will be producing videos on human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. Teva Pharmaceuticals generously funds this program.

Dr. Feemster gave us a tour of CHOP, including a quick trip through an inpatient floor, and then led us over to the temporary home of the Wistar Institute while it’s being renovated. Hildegund C.J. Ertl, MD, gave the students a welcome and overview of HPV vaccines (including the possibility of a therapeutic HPV vaccine), and then staff scientist Xiang Yang Peter Zhou, MD, PhD, discussed the Institute’s work on an HIV vaccine in development that uses a chimpanzee adenovirus as a vector. Graduate student Juliana Small then took us to a laboratory where she showed let us view, via microscope, cultures of a cell line commonly used in the lab.

For some of the interns, the lab was the highlight of day. Healthy mentioned that visiting the lab and hearing first-hand from a young graduate student about the work she’s doing made the prospect of working in research lab seem “more do-able and realistic” (though she was shocked to hear how long it takes to develop vaccines). Ronald was surprised to see so much equipment and so many work stations in one place. He especially enjoyed viewing the cells through the microscope after they’d been stained and he could distinguish the dead cells from the live ones. Travis, who’s worked in a lab before, enjoyed a sense of familiarity because he recognized some of the equipment. Manuel, however, liked the lab for the opposite reason: he hadn’t ever viewed cells under a microscope before and appreciated that new expereince.

Next we walked to Dr. Feemster’s office building and talked with her about HPV-related disease, HPV vaccines, and public health and policy issues surrounding HPV vaccination. Among other things, the students were interested to learn that infection with HPV is, as far as we know, a necessary condition for cervical cancer. Through her wide-ranging tour and talk, Dr. Feemster was able to show the students the range of research inquiries that go into understanding a disease, developing a vaccine for it, and ensuring effective distribution and widespread adoption of a new vaccine.

We’re grateful to Dr. Feemster and the staff at the Wistar Institute for sharing their time and knowledge with us. As intern Kate noted, “Dr. Feemster is incredibly well educated and knows so much about HPV.” We were lucky to benefit from her knowledge, and we look forward to sharing the students’ HPV videos with you soon.