Joshua Obar, Ph.D., Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Montana State University—Bozeman, has been honored with a 2013 ICAAC Young Investigator Award for his research on factors affecting the regulation of immunological memory responses to infection.
Obar earned his B.A. in Microbiology from Ohio Wesleyan University in 2001 and went on to complete his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from Dartmouth College in 2006. He performed his Ph.D. thesis research in Edward Usherwood’s laboratory at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, where his graduate work focused on understanding how latent viral infections affect the formation, maintenance, and function of memory CD8 T cells. Of Obar, Usherwood says, “I have encountered very few young scientists at his level who have such a depth of perception into their chosen field, combined with the intellectual drive and rigor to pursue projects through to completion.” In 2005, his graduate work was recognized by the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) with the Huang Foundation Trainee Achievement Award (now the Life Technologies Trainee Achievement Award). The following year Obar joined Leo Lefrançois’ laboratory at the University of Connecticut Health Center as a postdoctoral fellow, where he received a NRSA postdoctoral fellowship in 2007. During his postdoctoral research he developed the methodology necessary to quantify the number of antigen-specific naïve CD8 T cells within a polyclonal population, which he used to study early events regulating effector and memory CD8 T cell development during numerous infectious diseases.
In 2010, Obar joined the faculty in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Montana State University – Bozeman. Since starting his own laboratory he has been studying the innate immune response in the respiratory tract following viral and fungal infections by trying to understand what regulates the balance of immunity and immunopathology during these infections. Obar’s nominator and Chair of his department at Montana State University, Mark Quinn, said “since coming to Montana State University, Josh has continued to excel in his research on understanding the role of T cells and other leukocytes in the immune response to viral pathogens.” In addition to the Huang Foundation Trainee Achievement Award, Obar has also won a NIH K22 Award and in 2012, he was selected by the AAI Public Policy Fellowship Program. Quinn concludes by saying, “Overall, Obar is an outstanding young investigator with amazing potential for a stellar career in microbiology and infectious diseases.”
Frank Leo van de Veerdonk, M.D., Ph.D., Nijmegen Medical Centre Radboud University (RUNMC) and Nijmegen Institute for Infection, Inflammation and Immunity (N4i), has received a 2013 ICAAC Young Investigator Award for his work in the field of fungal immunology. Charles Dinarello, University of Colorado, says, “I see Frank as one of the new generation of innovative thinkers in the field of cytokine biology, particularly as it applies to infection.”
Van de Veerdonk earned his medical degree in 2001 from the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. He started as a resident in Internal Medicine at Jeroen Bosch Hospital in s’ Hertogenbosch under the supervision of Paetrick Netten. In 2006, he continued his training in Internal Medicine at Radboud University in Nijmegen where he was supervised by Jos van der Meer. He began his Ph.D. in 2007, and under the supervision of Mihai Netea, he studied pattern recognition receptors and pathogen associated molecular patterns of Candida albicans and Candida-specific innate and adaptive immune responses. During this time new insights in Th17 biology were discovered and van de Veerdonk found that mutations in STAT1 that lead to gain of function are responsible for autosomal dominant chronic mucocutaneous candidiasis. Mihai Netea, Radboud University Nijmegen, considers this discovery, “a major breakthrough in the diagnosis of immunodeficiencies with fungal infections.”
While completing his Ph.D., he worked at St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital in the laboratory of Thirumala Kanneganti, where he studied the role of the inflammasome in invasive candidiasis. After receiving a Niels Stensen Stipend in 2010, he went to the University of Colorado to study the role of the new interleukin-1 (IL 1) family members IL-36, IL-37 and IL-38 under the supervision of Charles Dinarello. Dinarello considers van de Veerdonk “a gifted physician/scientist who always has his eye focused on what we can learn from patients.” While van de Veerdonk was at the University of Colorado, he discovered that IL-38 binds to the IL-36R and acts similar to IL-36Ra on immune cells. After returning to Nijmegen he finished his Ph.D. and graduated cum laude from Radboud University.
In 2011 van de Veerdonk completed his fellowship in infectious diseases. Then in 2012 he became a faculty member at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre where he works as an internist-infectious diseases specialist. He received a grant from the Nijmegen Centre for Molecular Life Sciences (NCMLS) and a Veni grant from Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO) to build his own research group in the laboratory of Mihai Netea and Leo Joosten. Van de Veerdonk is focusing his research on the host defense against Aspergillus and the functional biology of the new IL 1 family members IL-36, IL-37 and IL-38.
Back to the ICAAC Young Investigator Awards
Ken Cadwell, Ph.D., New York University School of Medicine, has been given a 2013 ICAAC Young Investigator Award for his exceptional work in the fields of infectious diseases and pathogenesis. His nominator, Heran Darwin, notes that Cadwell’s findings have already had a “profound impact on the fields of infectious disease and immunity.”
Cadwell received his undergraduate degree in Biology, with Honors, from Northwestern University. He then joined the laboratory of Laurent Coscoy in the Department of Molecular Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley where he received his Ph.D. Coscoy describes Cadwell as an exceptional scientist and quick learner who has a “real passion for science and a genuine concern for his peers.” As part of his dissertation research, he identified a novel type of protein modification catalyzed by the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Herpesvirus. Following the completion of his Ph.D., he joined the laboratory of Herbert “Skip” Virgin at Washington University School of Medicine where he received an esteemed postdoctoral fellowship from the Damon Runyon Cancer Foundation to investigate how aberrant host-pathogen interactions lead to inflammatory disease.
As part of his postdoctoral research, he generated and characterized mice with a mutation in Atg16L1, a gene that is linked to inflammatory bowel disease and essential for the cellular pathway of autophagy. He found that these mice developed intestinal pathologies similar to the human disorder, but only upon infection with a norovirus. Virgin calls this discovery a “new paradigm for understanding how complex inflammatory diseases can be induced in a combinatorial fashion.” In recognition of this finding, he received the Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists, which is awarded by the Damon Runyon Foundation for individuals with great potential.
In 2010, he joined the Department of Microbiology at New York University School of Medicine as a faculty member of the prestigious Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine. Using the tools that he previously established, he is continuing to examine the role of Atg16L1 and autophagy in immune responses to pathogens. In addition to examining the mechanism by which a virus triggers intestinal disease, he is also investigating how autophagy deficiency alters resistance to bacterial infections. He is especially interested in revealing new roles for autophagy during inflammation that can be exploited for improving treatment of infectious and immunological disease.
Back to the ICAAC Young Investigator Awards
The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world’s largest high school science competition, was held May 8-13 in Los Angeles, California. Organized by the Society for Science and the Public, this fair brings together over 1,500 students from all over the world. Participants were finalists from 443 regional ISEF-affiliated science fairs held in over 65 countries and territories. More than 65,000 students get the opportunity to compete in these regional fairs each year. This is ASM’s seventh year sponsoring special prizes in microbiology at ISEF. ASM’s team of judges is Robert Gunsalus (University of California, Los Angeles), Miriam Barlow (University of California, Merced), Daniel Buckley (Cornell University), and Eric Eisenstadt (Independent Consultant).
Alexandra Wheatley (Northwest Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas, NV) was awarded first place by ASM for her project, “Microbial Explorations of a New Window into the Death Valley Deep Hydrological Flow System.” She was inspired by a trip to Lehman Caves in northern Nevada after her freshman year in high school, where she was intrigued by the organisms that were able to live despite the extremes of a cave environment. For her project, Wheatley compared Nevares Spring deep well with other deep subsurface habitats to study microbial diversity, potential for novel life, and possible inter-basin flow in the Great Basin region. “Bacterial cell samples were collected using filtration and nucleic acids extracted,” she explained. “The 16S rRNA gene was amplified through polymerase chain reaction and cloned for DNA sequencing. Phylogenetic analysis of sequenced DNA showed that Nevares’ deep borehole houses an uncultured bacterium closely related (approximately 98% of 16rRNA gene) to other deep subsurface environments in geographically distant locations.” Barlow was impressed by this work: “Wheatley understood the statistical aspects of the phylogenetics programs she had used—in this respect, her knowledge exceeded that of many graduate students.” Her findings imply a possible ancestral linkage of bacteria in the deep subsurface. Wheatley received a $2,000 cash prize and a student membership to ASM.
This year’s second place laureate was Peter Yin (Ames High School, IA) for his project, “Functional Characterization of Green Tea-responsive Proteins in Escherichia coli.” Andrew Abboud (Tippecanoe High School, Tipp City, OH) received third place for his project, entitled “The Protective Effects of the Violacein Pigment against UV-C Irradiation in Chromobacterium violaceum.” Fourth place went to Francisco Orozco (Tucson Magnet High School, AZ) for “Plant Symbiotic Microfungi as Novel Forms of Cellulase and Ligninase Enzymes for Biofuel Production, a Two-Year Study.” Six fifth place prizes were also awarded:
- “Weaving Health: The Weaving of Antimicrobial Substances from the Ootheca of the Banana Spider II,” by Leonardo de Oliveira Bodo (Dante Alighieri, Sao Paulo, Brazil)
- “FIGHTING BAC!!, Phase IV: The Isolation of Anti-proliferative Phytochemicals from Cranberries to Eradicate Escherichia coli,” by Jordan Mark Grainger (Rio Rancho High School, NM)
- “Evaluating the Role of the HOG1 and ESCRT Pathways in Host/Cell Interaction and Stress Response of Candida albicans,” by David Kenneth Tang-Quan (Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Rolling Hills Estates, CA)
- “Interrupting Bacterial Conversation with Black Olive (Bucida buceras) Extracts, by Rohan Batra (American Heritage School, Plantation, FL)
- “An Eco-friendly Antifungal Agent: Leaf extract of Girardinia diversifolia,” by Diksha Gupta (Maharaja Agarsain Public School, Delhi, India)
- “Assessment of Various Organic Electron Donors for Electrical Production by Geobacter grbiciae in a Novel H-Type Microbial Fuel Cell” by Jyotishka Biswas (Hume-Fogg Academic High School, Nashville, TN) and Jiahe Gu (The School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt, Nashville, TN)
|Back Row: Leonardo Bodo (5th place), Rohan Batra (5th place), Jordan Grainger (5th place), Peter Yin (2nd place),
Andrew Abboud (3rd place), David Tang-Quan (5th place)
Front Row: Robert Gunsalus (Chair of the Judging Committee), Diksha Gupta (5th place), Alexandra Wheatley (1st place),
Francsico Orozco (4th place), Jiahe Gu (5th place), Jyotishka Biswas (5th place)
“All of the projects were well done,” said Barlow. “Some students had great resources and some used kitchen supplies, but all of them were excited and smart, and thought hard about their projects. They have a fresh perspective on science, good controls and a lot of creativity.” All of the ASM winners received cash prizes and student memberships to ASM.
The Intel Science Fair is a wonderful opportunity for high school students to explore their knowledge and cultivate their enthusiasm for the sciences. “Participating in Intel ISEF has been one of my most honorable accomplishments,” Wheatley explained. “It has given me and other young adults the opportunity to meet with professionals and peers who share my area of interest. It also allowed me to see how important science and engineering is to the world. As finalists we are constantly reminded we are the future; we are encouraged to be the ones who will make the world a better place and solve the problems of today.”
William P. Hanage, Ph.D., Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, has received a 2012 ICAAC Young Investigator Award. Hanage is honored for his work studying the epidemiology and evolution of infectious disease. “Hanage has provided game changing tools and expertise in the pneumococcal field, first with MLST and now with whole genome sequencing, to reach into the world of the organism,” explains Katherine O’Brien of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “His work has revealed ways in which the pathogen attempts to escape vaccine control. He is brilliant, innovative, and tangential in his thinking— one of those rare people who can see connections where others do not.”
Hanage graduated from the University of Bath, United Kingdom, with an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry. He went on to receive his Ph.D. from Imperial College London in the laboratory of Jonathan Cohen studying host microbial interactions, where he developed a passion for infectious disease research. After obtaining his Ph.D., Hanage worked in Brian Spratt’s laboratory at the University of Oxford and later in the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Imperial College London, studying the molecular epidemiology of bacterial pathogens. He joined the faculty at Harvard School of Public Health in 2010.
Over time, Hanage developed an interest in theoretical approaches to epidemiology to complement the molecular perspective gained from his formal education. He continues to combine empirical and theoretical methods in his research. “Hanage’s research productivity throughout his career speaks to his creativity and ability to cross over between disciplines, pulling from one area of expertise to apply tools to another domain,” says O’Brien. Especially interested in subjects that combine clinical importance with fundamental biological questions, Hanage looks at questions like how pathogens respond to novel selective pressures in the form of antimicrobials and vaccines. He has a specific interest in understanding the factors behind the response of the bacterial population to pneumococcal conjugate vaccination.
In addition to such clinically focused questions, Hanage has worked extensively on the phenomenon of homologous recombination in bacteria, which shuffles genetic material among lineages, studying how it can be detected and its consequences for how bacteria respond in the face of novel selective pressures. “He has developed new methods for data analysis and combining molecular and traditional epidemiology,” says Stephen Pelton, Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health. Indeed, recombination or horizontal gene transfer makes the very notion of species problematic for bacteria, another of Hanage’s major interests, one for which he was awarded a University Research Fellowship by the Royal Society. Hanage has also increasingly become involved with population genomic analyses of large numbers of very closely related pathogen isolates to probe in detail their patterns of transmission and diversification. His work on pathogen evolution was recognized with the 2012 Fleming Prize from the Society for General Microbiology. “Recently, Hanage has been among the pioneers of genomic epidemiology for bacterial pathogens. He exemplifies the combination of theoretical and experimental skills that will be fundamental to the future of infectious disease epidemiology,” describes nominator Marc Lipsitch, Harvard School of Public Health.
“I believe Hanage’s largest contributions have yet to come,” says Pelton. “I think he will lead us to new insights into genetic regulation that permit specific clones of Streptococcus pneumoniae to successfully compete in the nasopharynx, to be more easily transmitted from person to person, and to evade host defenses to cause disease. I am confident that this will inform new approaches to treatment and disease prevention.”
“Beyond his scientific accomplishments, for which his publication record speaks clearly, his personal and mentoring characteristics have to be emphasized,” summarized O’Brien. “He is a gem of a colleague—enthusiastic, welcoming of collaborations, generous with his time toward students, and a genuine scholarly partner.”
Back to the ICAAC Young Investigator Awards