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Tag: spotlight

Trainee Spotlight: Ruby Harrison

NIH T32 trainee Ruby Harrison is a co-advised by Drs. Michael Strand and Mark Brown in the UGA Department of Entomology. She received a Bachelor’s of Science in Entomology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012 and lived in Madison an additional two years working with mosquitoes as a research assistant. Before coming to UGA to begin my doctoral studies, she spent a year in Gabon, Africa, working as a tropical ecology field technician.

Ruby’s research focus

Ruby studies mosquito-microbiome interactions. Currently, she is investigating the influence of the gut microbiome on mosquito reproductive processes. She also plans to begin exploring the role of the mosquito microbiome in deterring pathogen infection in the very near future.

“I chose this research focus because I was inspired by the research of a former graduate student of Dr. Strand’s, Dr. Kerri Coon. Kerri pioneered fascinating work on the influence of the microbiota on development in mosquitoes in the immature (larval) stage,” said Ruby. “I saw an opportunity to extend her work, to observe if the same bacterial signal essential to larval development is recapitulated in any way in the adult stage.”

More broadly, she sees insect-microbe interactions as a promising field which may offer new solutions for mosquito population control and reduction of pathogen transmission.

NIH T32 Fellowship helps trainees achieve their goals

Ultimately, Ruby hopes to build a career as a vector biologist. For the capstone experience provided by the NIH T32 Training Grant, she is interested in returning to francophone West or Central Africa to work with mosquitoes in the field.

“I am truly grateful to receive the T32 pre-doctoral training fellowship, which presents me the opportunity to interact more closely with the CTEGD, opens doors for possible collaboration, and will help me to pursue my research goals,” said Ruby.

Training Spotlight: Msano Mandalasi

Msano Mandalasi, a post-doctoral trainee in Chris West‘s laboratory, is originally from Malawi, (located in southeastern Africa) and obtained her bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Malawi. After graduation, she worked briefly for the University of Malawi and then came to the US to obtain a Master’s degree in Chemistry. Later, she enrolled in a doctoral graduate program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore where she graduated in 2012. She spent two years teaching undergraduate Chemistry before deciding to get back into research. She joined Dr. West’s group while he was at the University of Oklahoma and moved with the lab to the University of Georgia.

Msano’s research focus

The focus of Msano’s project is on the role of prolyl hydroxylation and glycosylation of E3 Ubiquitin ligase on Toxoplasma growth.

With a research background mostly in chemistry and biochemistry, her graduate research introduced her to some aspect of parasitology working on Schistosome glycobiology. However, she did not have a strong background in molecular biology prior to joining the West lab. This current project merges glycobiology and molecular biology and also extends some parasitology studies, thus giving her the opportunity to learn molecular biology and parasitology to complement her chemistry background. A combination of this expert knowledge will benefit her to address the research objectives on her Toxoplasma project.

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. Msano plans to use her capstone experience to give oral presentations at scientific meetings, to publish some of the studies conducted within this time period, and interact with other trainees in the program.

T32 fellowship helps trainees achieve their goals

“Through the funding provided by the T32 Training Grant, I will be able to address research questions that should lead to launching my own area of research,” said Msano.

Msano hopes to run her own independent research program in academia one day.

Trainee Spotlight: Evgeniy Potapenko

Evgeniy Potapenko, a post-doctoral trainee in Roberto Docampo‘s laboratory, is from Kyiv, Ukraine. He obtained his MD from Bogomolets National Medical University (Kyiv) in 1997. Then he proceeded to earn a Ph.D. from Bogomoletz Institute of Physiology (Kyiv) in 2004. Later he conducted postdoctoral training in Europe at the University of Goettingen and the University of Birmingham and also in the USA at Augusta University before coming to the University of Georgia. Evgeniy is a recipient of the Center’s NIH funded T32 Training Grant for Interdisciplinary Parasitology, Vector Biology, and Emerging Diseases.

Evgeniy’s research focus

Generally, Evgeniy is interested in mechanisms of transmembrane transport and their role in parasite homeostasis. His current project goal is to characterize how the IP3R function modulated within the Trypanosoma brucei, the parasite that causes African Sleeping Sickness, acidocalcisomes where it resides and how deregulation of this process can contribute to cell death. This research topic addresses poorly studied mechanisms of parasite physiology and has the potential importance of discovering new methods of patient treatment.

Capstone Experience

Each T32 trainee is provided with the opportunity to complete a capstone experience at the end of their fellowship. This experience often involves an extended visit to a collaborator’s laboratory to learn new techniques or to an endemic country to see how their research connects to actions being taken in the field.

“I hope to expand my expertise in both electrophysiology and cellular biology approaches, which will allow me to conduct independent research,” said Evgeniy.

T32 fellowship helps trainee achieve goals

“T32 is a unique possibility to prepare me for an independent research career,” said Evgeniy. “It gives great tools to achieve this goal.”

Trainee Spotlight: Manuel Fierro

Manuel Fierro is a pre-doctoral trainee in Vasant Muralidharan’s Laboratory. He is originally from Ecuador. His family moved to the US when he was 9 years old, and he has lived in Georgia ever since. Manuel received his Bachelor of Science degree in Cellular Biology from the University of Georgia in 2014. He is a recipient of the Center’s NIH funded T32 Training Grant for Interdisciplinary Parasitology, Vector Biology, and Emerging Diseases.

Manuel’s research focus

Manuel’s project deals with understanding how calcium is regulated in the endoplasmic reticulum of Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria.

“My undergraduate training was in Dr. Silvia Moreno’s lab studying calcium signaling in Toxoplasma gondii and I wanted to answer the same type of questions in Plasmodium,” said Manuel.

Capstone Experience

Each T32 trainee is provided with the opportunity to complete a capstone experience at the end of their fellowship.

“My home country of Ecuador is approaching elimination of malaria,” said Manuel, “and I would like to work with some of the researchers in the field there who track populations of infected mosquitoes as well as monitor cases of infection in humans.”

T32 Fellowship helps trainee achieve goals

“I truly enjoy working in a lab, but it is not the same as experiencing what diseases are like in the real world,” said Manuel. “This fellowship will help me expand my understanding of malaria by giving me the opportunity to see it in a different setting.”

Manuel is currently considering a career in industry, but he is open to staying in academia.

Trainee Spotlight: Catherine Smith

Catherine Smith is a Ph.D. trainee in Julie Moore’s laboratory. She is originally from Rochester, New York and received her B.S. from Haverford College in Pennsylvania before coming to the University of Georgia. Catherine is a second-year recipient of the Center’s NIH T32 Training Grant for Interdisciplinary Parasitology, Vector Biology, and Emerging Diseases.

Catherine’s research focus

Catherine is studying the role of syncytiotrophoblastic autophagy in the pathogenesis of placental malaria.

Placental malaria is a severe manifestation of Plasmodium falciparum infection that impacts pregnant women and causes poor birth outcomes, including pregnancy loss and low birth weight.

The placenta acts as the connection between a mother and her fetus. Within the placenta, a fetal tissue, the syncytiotrophoblast, acts as the interface between the maternal and fetal blood supplies. During maternal malaria infection, P. falciparum-infected red blood cells adhere to the syncytiotrophoblast.

“The response of the syncytiotrophoblast to maternal malaria infection is not completely understood,” said Catherine. “I hypothesize that the trophoblast performs autophagy, a self-eating mechanism that allows cells to recycle damaged proteins and organelles, to offset the stress caused by maternal malaria infection.”

While working to characterize the role of syncytiotrophoblastic autophagy in placental malaria pathogenesis, she observed that mice bred and reared in different facilities exhibited differences in susceptibility to malaria infection regardless of pregnancy status. This difference in susceptibility can be attributed to differences in the composition of the gut microbiota. The immunological mechanisms driving this difference in susceptibility have yet to be defined. The Moore Lab plans to explore the immunological mechanisms underlying this gut microbiota-dependent difference in susceptibility to malaria infection in pregnant and virgin mice.

Catherine chose to study placental malaria because she was interested in exploring host-pathogen interactions and the basic cellular biology of the placenta. In addition, she chose to join Dr. Moore’s laboratory because she was interested in contributing to a field of research with the potential to improve the lives of women and infants around the world.

Capstone Experience

Each T32 fellow is provided with the opportunity to complete a capstone experience. Catherine plans to travel to a collaborator’s laboratory in the United States where she will complete specialized experiments that cannot be performed at The University of Georgia.

T32 Fellowship helps trainee achieve goals

“The T32 fellowship has enhanced my training by allowing me to focus on my research,” said Catherine. “As part of my capstone experience, I plan to spend some time in a collaborator’s lab, which will allow me to form relationships with scientists at other institutions, learn new techniques, and perform experiments that will strengthen my research project.”

After completing her training, Catherine plans to pursue a career in parasitology research in either an academic or an industrial setting.