November 21, 2019

Faces of Innovation: Dr. Joseph Tucker, researcher at University of North Carolina

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant

Faces of Innovation—a new GHTC project that features scientists on the front lines of research and development on new global health tools and technologies—profiles Dr. Joseph Tucker, who we met at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Conference, who uses grassroots methods, like open challenge contests, to influence health messages and interventions in local communities, at the University of North Carolina.

My Name: Joseph Tucker, MD, PhD.

Where I work: University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

I’m funded by: National Institutes of Health 

My research: My research is in sexually transmitted diseases (STD), including HIV, in low- and middle-income countries and is primarily focused on diagnostics. We are interested in having open challenge contests where we solicit ideas from the community and then select great ideas and implement them. We’ve used this open challenge approach to come up with new ideas for promoting HIV and STD testing in a wide range of contests. In many parts of China, for example, gay men hesitate to get tested for HIV and many campaigns are top-down—they’re focused on expert-driven ideas and solutions. The idea with the open challenge approach is to have grassroots ideas from local communities influence the messaging and services and, in this case, for HIV testing. We had an open challenge contest where local gay men contributed images, memes, and short messages, and those all fed into the intervention to promote HIV testing for gay men. 

Motivation: There’s a huge unmet need in terms of low- and middle-income countries and diagnostics. For me, personally, I do a lot of research in China. I studied Mandarin in college…there’s a number of different links between me and the city of Guangzhou. It’s been fun to develop this line of research over the years. 

Why federal support is critical: These open challenges are a very low-cost way to engage communities and add value. Many times, we hire companies and it’s a clunky, top-down, expert-based approach, but there’s so much innovation within local communities—and the US government has recognized this for many years. There are many federal agencies that use open challenge contests and, I think, this is a simple, effective way of improving global health.

When I’m not in the lab: I have two sons who are seven and four months old, and they keep me very busy.