Daniel Mendoza, M.D., Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine, has been honored with a 2014 Merck-ICAAC Young Investigator Award for his contributions to our understanding of protective immune responses against HIV infection. Robert Gilman, Johns Hopkins University, describes Mendoza as “a superb investigator and with impressive contributions to microbiology and infectious diseases.”
After earning his M.D. at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH), Lima, Peru, Mendoza was involved in the development of a novel assay for the rapid diagnosis of tuberculosis in resource-poor settings, and studied the epidemiology of H. pylori infection in Peru under the mentorship of Alberto Ramirez-Ramos and Fernando Llanos from UPCH, and Robert Gilman from Johns Hopkins University.
In 2004, he relocated to the U.S. to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. After being trained in internal medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he completed an infectious disease fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At the NIH, he joined the HIV-Specific Immunity Section of Stephen Migueles and Mark Connors to study the mechanisms that underlie protective immunity against HIV. For his work, Mendoza was awarded a scholarship to attend the AIDS Vaccine 2011 Conference to deliver an oral presentation and received the competitive NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence in 2012.
In 2012, Mendoza joined the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Medicine in the section of infectious diseases. Since starting his own laboratory, Mendoza’s focus has been to understand the mechanisms that underlie immune responses to glycan antigens.
Dennis Ko, M.D., Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center has won a 2014 Merck-ICAAC Young Investigator Award for his innovative and multidisciplinary research on the genetic basis for pathogen susceptibility in humans. Samuel Miller, University of Washington, describes Ko “as a uniquely qualified individual with the talent and ability to become a leader in biomedical science.”
In 1997, Ko received a B.S. from Cornell University and later he obtained a M.D. and Ph.D. from Stanford University where he worked in the laboratory of Dr. Matthew Scott. Using a combination of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and animal models, he pioneered a new subject in the lab examining how genetic alterations lead to the neurodegenerative lipid disorder, Niemann-Pick type C (NPC).
As a post-doctoral Life Sciences Research Foundation fellow in the lab of Miller, Ko developed a novel screening method termed Hi-HOST (high throughput human in vitro susceptibility testing) for identifying human genetic variation that affects cell-based readouts of bacterial infection. Through this approach, he was able to discover unexpected cell biology involving Salmonella-induced cell death and identify genetic differences important for sepsis.
Ko joined the faculty of Duke Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, Medicine, and the Center for Human Genome Variation in 2012. In addition to studies of host variation to Salmonella, his laboratory has expanded the pathogens under study with Hi-HOST to other bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. The long-term goal of the research is to fully understand human genetic variation for traits important for infection and inflammation that impact human disease.
A 2014 Merck-ICAAC Young Investigator Award has been given to Vincent Munster, Ph.D., National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH), for his work as a rising leader in emerging viral diseases. According to Heinz Feldmann, NIAID, NIH, Munster’s “expertise is uncommon and incorporates the best approaches in experimental and field work investigating high and maximum containment pathogens.”
Munster received his Ph.D. in virology from Erasmus University, Rotterdam in 2006. During his Ph.D. research in Ron Fouchier’s laboratory, Munster studied the ecology, evolution, and pathogenesis of avian influenza viruses. He continued his training in the Department of Virology at the Erasmus Medical Center where he focused on pathogenicity and human-to-human transmission of influenza A viruses. For this research, Munster was awarded the European Scientific Working Group on Influenza Best Body of Work Award for Young Scientists. In 2009, Munster joined the NIH’s Laboratory of Virology at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories as a visiting fellow to expand his research interest in the ecology of emerging viruses to include filoviruses and henipaviruses.
In 2013, Munster established the Virus Ecology Unit as an independent tenure-track investigator at NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories. The mission of the Virus Ecology Unit is to elucidate the ecology of emerging viruses and define the drivers of zoonotic and cross-species transmission. Since starting his own laboratory, Munster has primarily been involved in the response to the ongoing MERS-CoV outbreak by developing animal models to study its’ pathogenicity and to develop countermeasures. He also studies the virus in its’ natural and intermediate hosts.
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.”
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