Oct 26, 2020 5 min read

Future Kings Awarded Grant for COVID-19 Research

Future Kings recently announced that they've been awarded a grant from Illumina for research of COVID-19. Future Kings guides young men in grades 6-12 in underserved communities to explore career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Program areas include cybersecurity, biomedical sciences, custom engineering, computer game design, and applied learning.

How Will the Grant Be Used?
With the grant they've received, Future Kings will conduct a research study to determine if there are genetic differences between people who are resistant to the COVID-19 virus, and those who are susceptible to it. Students in the Future Kings program will get hands-on experience as research assistants in this study. The project has two goals: to use the science of DNA to learn why certain people are more resistant to COVID-19 infection than others and to measure the effect on students toward careers in biotechnology.

The project takes a state-of-the-art approach to understand genetic variations that define a person's predisposition or resistance to COVID-19 infection. As a detailed understanding emerges, students in the biomedical sciences program of Future Kings will use their knowledge and skills in molecular biology and DNA cloning to engineer lentiviral vectors that could be used to fight COVID-19.

With the leadership of Dr. Tshaka Cunningham and his team from Trugenomix, students will identify and compare the genetic markers of those who are susceptible and those who are resistant to the virus.

What Do We Know About COVID-19?
As scientists learn more about COVID-19, it has been noted that certain communities seem to be at a higher risk of contracting the virus. For example, it's estimated that African Americans are 2 to 6 times more likely to die from the infection than others.
Future Kings researchers are especially interested in how genetic factors contribute to the pandemic's racial and ethnic disparity.

What makes this grant so exciting is that young boys of color in Grades 6 through 12 will perform college-level tasks that will add to the growing body of knowledge about the COVID-19 virus. Future Kings hopes that their model of direct, hands-on participation in

advanced science, combined with the mentorship of practicing professionals, can be the foundation for similar projects.

What is the Biomedical Science Track?
The Biomedical Science track of Future Kings aims to help students understand life science concepts and develop skills in planning and performing scientific experiments. Students learn basic lab skills and concepts like nucleic acid structure and manipulation, cell structure and function, protein structure and analysis, drug development, science communication, and entrepreneurship. Future Kings believes in an active instructional process that involves hands-on laboratory work, presentations by innovative scientists, field trips, performance-based assessment, and internship opportunities.

Graduates of this program can successfully plan an experiment using proper controls, conduct a scientific experiment to collect data, analyze data sets, draw sound conclusions, and communicate scientific information to a broad audience. Students learn how to use essential laboratory equipment, perform necessary laboratory calculations, analyze DNA and protein data, approach the drug development process, communicate science, and establish a start-up company in the field.

What is the Mission of Future Kings?
The mission of Future Kings is, "To use education, mentoring, training, practical experiences, and mastery of 21st-century technology in order to create a pipeline of young men from underserved communities who excel in STEM-related careers and positively influence their communities." Their goal is to shrink the gap of opportunities by teaching each student in the program how to use STEM to maximize career possibilities.

Participants learn a combination of advanced engineering concepts and soft skills to give them a competitive edge when looking for employment in the 21st century. Since 2011, more than 500 students have gone through Future Kings programs, leading them to study at universities like the University of West Virginia, NOVA, University of Virginia, and Morehouse College.