June 1, 2013 Tom Berlin

A Tour of Mercy Hospital Research Lab

Let me begin by telling you that it all started at the playground at the last Floris UMC building. Then let me tell you about Mackenzie, a graduate student at Notre Dame, who is staying here at the Missionary Training Center in Bo with our team. We spoke with her yesterday when the team toured the Mercy Hospital Research Lab (MHRL), located at the United Methodist Hospital that our church helped to establish. Mackenzie is finishing up her Master of Science in Global Health by spending seven weeks in Sierra Leone. She is studying Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), a neglected tropical disease transmitted by mosquitoes, which infects over 120 million people worldwide, 40 million of whom are disfigured and incapacitated by the disease. She is working at the MHRL with Rashid Ansumana, the lab’s director. Rashid—whose research grants are administered by George Mason University—spent time in Herndon while doing some training in the Washington, DC area on the equipment he now uses in the lab. Rashid attended Floris while living with Dave and Stacy, two members of our church. Dave is the person who initiated this research and who worked with Rashid to begin his projects.

Mackenzie was telling me that Rashid and the MHRL have made some serious discoveries over the past few years that just amazed me. This small lab figured out that Chikungunya, a disease that has not been present in Sierra Leone since the 1970’s, had reemerged and was carried by mosquitoes. They also discovered two separate genes in the human body. Genes. This is amazing to me. (If you have a science background and want to read more about it, Rashid wrote up the technical aspects of this work.)

Mackenzie is assisting in analyzing the data that the LF Programme in Sierra Leone has collected on current LF transmission levels. She will also be mapping household infection rates to see how each monitored household has either maintained or lost their infectious status as a result of the treatment. Recently MHRL came across a seven year-old boy in a remote village that suffered from advanced LF disease, known as lymphedema, causing a severely swollen lower leg. This is very rare as LF disease takes time to progress and normally afflicts 20-30 year olds. Through MHRL, they were able to get him appropriate treatment and testing at Mercy Hospital, to which he previously would have never had access. (Blogger’s note: I made Mackenzie type that because I wanted to sound really intelligent.)

All of this began several years ago when Dave was talking to Cynthia, a doctor in our church who helped start Mercy Hospital, on the playground at the last Floris UMC building. He asked if Mercy might be interested in a research lab on their compound. If you would have told me years ago that one day our church would help start a hospital that would have a lab that would be the first to discover a re-emerging disease, or that it would identify two genes, or that we would have a graduate student living in our housing who was doing serious scientific research connected to Notre Dame and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, I would have told you that you were crazy and such things were not possible. But apparently with God, all things are possible, including the church working with scientists to heal the sick. Apparently God can do far more than we can ask or imagine, as the good book says. The church and science should be working together, I think, because both believe in the wonder of creation and both are seekers of answers. I have been thinking all day, since we toured the lab and talked with Rashid, how good God is, and how blessed we are to have started this work, having no idea where it would take us…which is a wonder in itself.





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Tom Berlin

Rev. Tom Berlin is the Lead Pastor of Floris United Methodist Church. Tom was raised in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and has lived in Virginia most of his life. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech and his Master of Divinity is from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He has co-authored three books and is the author of several small group studies. Tom and his wife Karen have four daughters.

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