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Category: CTEGD Blog

Trainee Spotlight: Kerri Miazowicz

trainee Kerri Miazgowicz

Kerri Miazowicz is a 3rd year Ph.D. trainee in Courtney Murdock‘s laboratory. She grew up in southern Michigan where she received a B.S. in microbiology from Michigan State University in 2012. After graduation, she spent more than two years as a Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIH/NIAID in Montana with the Virus Ecology Unit within the Laboratory of Virology.

Choosing the University of Georgia

Kerri chose the University of Georgia for her graduate training because she wanted to conduct interdisciplinary research related to disease ecology and vector-borne disease transmission.

“UGA hosts many experts across several scientific disciplines allowing me to link molecular biology and individual level phenotypes to population-level dynamics,” said Kerri. ” UGA is also home to the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases and the Center for Ecology of Infectious Diseases (CEID), which both provide valuable research resources and expertise.”

Research Focus

Kerri’s research focuses on environmental drivers of mosquito-borne disease transmission. Mainly, understanding how the environment affects the mosquito vector and modeling the consequences of these interactions on transmission dynamics.

“My current project revolves around temperature effects on Anopheles stephensi [the primary mosquito that transmits malaria in Asia] trait performance (longevity, biting frequency, and population growth), and mathematically exploring the implications these effects have on transmission.”

She will also investigate how Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria, exposure and infection modify these mosquito traits which are critical in transmission events.

“I find vector-borne diseases interesting due to the immense complexity that these systems contain,” said Kerri. “I also find it interesting to think about ‘scaling-up’ the outcome of molecular interactions and individual phenotypes to the context of population-level dynamics.”

Kerri has been able to conduct fieldwork within the Athens area to study how microclimate across an urban area can influence mosquito development along with adult mosquito traits with are important for mosquito-borne disease transmission.

“If I was able to travel for research purpose, it would be to India or Africa, where malaria is endemic, to study local mosquito populations.”

 

trainee field work

Trainee Earns Accolades

Kerri has received a number of awards recognizing her academic and research achievements.  In 2009, she was named a 2008-2009 Regional Semifinalist for the Young Epidemiology Scholars (YES) Program. In 2010, Kerri was named a National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholar.

In 2014, she received an OITE Travel Award to attend the NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair, which allows NIH interns and postbacs to explore where the next step in their training will be.

Since coming to UGA, she has received an American Society of Virology Travel Award (2016) and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship that funds 3 years of research training. In 2017, she received a travel award to attend the annual meeting of the Vector Behavior Ecology Research Coordination Network (VectorBITE RCN) at Imperial College in London.

What’s Next

While Kerri has a few more years of training at UGA, she hopes to continue conducting scientific research related to disease ecology and transmission dynamics in either an academic or government setting.

 

Your financial gift to CTEGD funds the Training Innovations in Parasitologic Studies (TIPS) Fellowships which allows trainees like Kerri Miazowicz to travel to international field sites for research. Give Today!

Trainee Spotlight: Beatrice Colon

trainee Beatrice Colon

Beatrice Colon, an Illinois native, is a Ph.D. trainee in Dennis Kyle’s laboratory. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Science degree from the University of South Florida (USF). She began her Ph.D. at USF as well.

Beatrice moved to the University of Georgia in January 2017 with the Kyle Lab.

“I decided to transfer universities because of the excellent infectious disease department,” said Beatrice.

Research and Training

“My favorite thing about the CTEGD is the openness for collaborations; the center is also very focused on training a new generation of scientists. “

Beatrice is currently working on a drug discovery project for the brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri. The disease was the major factor that drew her to the project. Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis is nearly always fatal and affects young healthy children. Moreover, there is not an effective drug treatment for people that do get infected with the amoeba.

In her short time at UGA, Beatrice has won first place for a poster presentation at the graduate student and postdoc symposium. She was also selected for the Biology of Parasitism course at Woods Hole, MA this past summer.

“This course was definitely a career-changing experience – I was able to work with a variety of infectious diseases and learn techniques that were not available for the parasite I work on.”

What’s Next

Beatrice is interested in staying in drug discovery for infectious diseases and currently looking at positions in both academia and industry.

 

Support trainees like Beatrice Colon. Give TODAY!

UGA receives life sciences industry awards from Georgia Bio

By Allyson Mann

The University of Georgia was well represented at the Georgia Bio Awards, with five awards recognizing programs either at or affiliated with the university. The awards were presented by Georgia Bio, the association for Georgia’s life sciences industry, at its 2018 annual awards dinner Feb. 15 in Atlanta.

This year, two UGA units—the Center for Vaccines and Immunology and the Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases—received awards, as did ArunA Biomedical, a biotechnology company that grew out of faculty research. The university also is affiliated with two additional award winners, the Georgia Clinical & Translational Science Alliance and the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies.

Georgia Bio members include pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies; medical centers; universities and research institutes; government groups; and other business organizations involved in the development of life sciences-related products and services.

“Improving human health and welfare is a vitally important part of UGA’s land-grant mission in the 21st century, and we have worked hard to expand our capabilities in this regard,” said UGA Vice President for Research David Lee. “It is gratifying to receive these awards from Georgia Bio, as they testify to the impact of our programs and the success of the faculty responsible for them.”

Ted M. Ross accepted the Phoenix Award, presented jointly to the Center for Vaccines and Immunology (CVI) and Sanofi Pasteur. Recipients of the Phoenix Award, sponsored by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and celebrating the best in industry and academic collaboration, have forged academic and industry relationships that drive translation and lead to new treatments and cures. Ross is Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Infectious Disease and director of CVI, which is dedicated to improving human and animal health through new and improved vaccine technologies.

Two Deals of the Year Awards were presented in recognition of financial or commercial transactions that are significant to the development of Georgia’s life sciences industry. The first was awarded to the Georgia Clinical & Translational Science Alliance (Georgia CTSA), a team comprising UGA, Emory University, the Morehouse School of Medicine and the Georgia Institute of Technology that will train new investigators and develop the infrastructure for accelerating research-based improvements in clinical care and outcomes for the benefit of Georgia citizens. Bradley Phillips, the Millikan-Reeve Professor of Pharmacy and director of the Clinical and Translational Research Unit, is UGA’s principal investigator for Georgia CTSA, which received a $51 million National Institutes of Health statewide grant.

The second Deals of the Year Award was presented to the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT), which received a $20 million grant. CMaT is a federally funded consortium based at the Georgia Institute of Technology and designed to lower the cost and improve the reliability and safety of advanced cell therapies for chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. The UGA lead for CMaT is Steven Stice, director of the Regenerative Bioscience Center, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Stice also accepted an Innovation Award for ArunA Biomedical, a biotechnology company he founded. ArunA Biomedical are experts in the design and scaling of a new class of cell-free biologic therapeutics and neural-specific drug delivery systems to treat central nervous system injury and neurodegenerative disorders. The Innovation Award honors those who are forging new ground by thinking outside traditional paradigms to create unique technology.

The Center for Tropical & Emerging Global Diseases received a Community Award, presented to those whose contributions to Georgia’s life sciences community are worthy of special recognition. Directed by Dennis Kyle, CTEGD is one of the largest international centers of research focused on diseases of poverty common to undeveloped and poor regions of the world. CTEGD researchers work on diseases that afflict hundreds of millions of people around the globe, including malaria, schistosomiasis, African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, cryptosporidiosis, toxoplasmosis, leishmaniasis and filariasis.

Originally published at https://ugaresearch.uga.edu/uga-receives-life-sciences-industry-awards-from-georgia-bio/

Visiting Scholar: Elvis Ofori Ameyaw

 

scholar Elvis Ameyaw

Elvis Ofori Ameyaw is a Fulbright Scholar visiting M. Belen Cassera‘s laboratory in the department of molecular biology and biochemistry. He is a senior lecturer, Head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and the Vice-Dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences in the College of Health and Allied Sciences at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.

Dr. Ameyaw holds a B. Pharm and Ph.D. in Pharmacology. His research focuses on natural product drug discovery for infectious, in particular, malaria and Leishmania, and inflammatory diseases. At the University of Georgia, he is using in vitro techniques to screen some natural products isolates from plants that are traditionally used to treat malaria in Ghana.

“UGA is globally known for excellent research and education and my host scientist, Prof. M. Belen Cassera has created an envious and reputable niche in natural product research,” said Dr. Ameyaw.

The availability of seminars and other opportunities to interact with leading scientists also factored into Dr. Ameyaw’s decision to come to UGA.

“The research staff at UGA are very supportive and willing to share ideas.” said Dr. Ameyaw.

Athens reminds him of the college town of Cape Coast where he resides and works in Ghana.

“The city makes me feel at home away from home.”

Read more about Dr. Cassera’s natural products research.

UGA Researcher Seeks to Unlock Secrets of Malaria Parasite

malaria parasites
Super-resolution microscopy showing malaria parasites infecting human red blood cells. Image credit: Muthugapatti Kandasamy, Biomedical Microscopy Core

Vasant Muralidharan and his research team at the University of Georgia’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases are making great strides in understanding how the malaria parasite hijacks red blood cells to cause disease but many of the parasite’s strategies remain elusive.  A new $1.875 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow them to continue this research.

Malaria is a parasitic disease that infects nearly 220 million people and kills nearly half a million people every year. Almost all the deaths occur in young children and primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. The parasite Plasmodium falciparum invades human red blood cells which directly leads to malaria symptoms that include headaches, muscle pain, periodic fevers with shivering, severe anemia, trouble breathing, and kidney failure. The parasite can also cause the most severe forms of malaria, such as cerebral malaria which can lead to brain damage, coma and death, and placental malaria, which occurs in pregnancy and can be life-threatening to both the mother and fetus.

Complete control of the infected red blood cell is required for parasites to grow and spread. The malaria parasite remodels the host cell by exporting hundreds of parasite proteins across numerous membranes that transform all aspects of infected red blood cells to suit its needs. The export of these proteins by P. falciparum to the host red blood cells is a unique parasite-driven process that is associated with many of the clinical manifestations of malaria, including death. The mechanisms which these proteins are exported are unknown.

“Exported proteins, many of them absolutely essential for the growth of the parasite, are recognized and sorted throughout the trafficking process by dedicated machinery that we have only now begun to understand,” said Muralidharan, assistant professor in the department of cellular biology.

His lab hopes to reveal unique protein trafficking mechanisms of P. falciparum that may be targets for antimalarial drug development.

 “We expect that this project will significantly advance our understanding of the protein export pathway in P. falciparum and how key decisions are made within the parasite that usher exported proteins to their site of action in the infected red blood cells,” concluded Muralidharan.

National Institutes of Health Award R01 AI130139 “Elucidating the trafficking mechanisms of effector proteins to the Plasmodium infected red blood cell.”

Trainee Spotlight: Karla Márquez Nogueras

trainee Karla Márquez Nogueras

NIH T32 Trainee Karla M. Márquez Nogueras is in her 4th year of graduate training in Silvia Moreno‘s laboratory. Before entering the Ph.D. program at UGA, she taught for a semester at Turabo University in Puerto Rico, teaching undergraduate courses like Introduction to Microbiology and Human Anatomy. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Microbiology and a Master’s in Science where she focused on generating renewable energy systems using methane generated by anaerobic microbial communities.

Karla’s research focus

Karla’s project focuses on calcium signaling in Toxoplasma gondii. Calcium is a universal signal molecule and very little is known about calcium signaling in T. gondii, even considering that all steps of the parasite’s lytic cycle are regulated by calcium. Calcium is highly regulated by Toxoplasma, specially upon exit from host cells and the surrounding calcium changes from very low levels inside the host cell to the high concentration found in the extracellular environment. In order to shed light into the mechanisms involved and to discover the molecules involved they are studying two key aspects: the calcium channels that could be responsible for calcium entry into the cytosol and the calcium binding proteins that could regulate them.

“When I first entered grad school my research goals were different,” said Karla. “During my rotation in Dr. Moreno’s lab, I became fascinated by the biology of Toxoplasma and by how little is known about calcium signaling in T. gondii. As a scientist, I became very curious and interested in finding more about these signaling pathways and I decided to change my research focus.”

Trainee capstone experience

Each T32 trainee is provided with the opportunity to complete a capstone experience at the end of their fellowship. This experience allows for an extended visit to a collaborator’s laboratory or travel to a scientific meeting where they present their research and interact with colleagues.

“I was invited to the University of Puerto Rico to present my research project and discuss graduate and fellowship opportunities available at UGA. I would be presenting at an undergraduate event organized by the University.”

In addition, she would like to visit the laboratory of Dr. Ivana Kuo at Northwestern University to study the function of two TRP channels that Karla is characterizing. Dr. Kuo uses lipid layers and regular patch-clamp to characterize intracellular and plasma membrane channels. Using this system Karla hopes to understand the physiology of these channels that are important for calcium signaling in T. gondii.

T32 Fellowship helps trainees achieve their goals

“The fellowship will provide me with the necessary experience and opportunities for me to develop the skills to become a better scientist.”

Karla would like to go back to Puerto Rico and establish her own research lab. She would like to have the opportunity to train and give students the same opportunities that were given to her during her Ph.D. training.

“All the skills gained throughout this two years will prepare me for my ultimate goal which is to have my own research lab.”

Learn more about our trainee fellowship programs.