ASTMH Blog

Member Q&A: Christine Petersen, DVM, PhD, Director, Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases

February 16, 2015 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

This month, we spoke with Christine Petersen, DVM, PhD, Director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and an Associate Professor at University of Iowa, College of Public Health. An active member of the American Committee of Molecular, Cellular and Immunoparasitology (ACMCIP), Petersen teaches joint veterinary and graduate coursework and conducts outreach related to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of zoonotic diseases within companion animal and human populations.

1. We thank you for being a member of the Society for more than 10 years. What are some of the benefits that make you want to renew your membership each year?

Being a member of ASTMH connects me to both the remarkable history of Tropical Medicine efforts pioneered by past and present members. These efforts provide a lofty vision of what we could accomplish in the next 50 years. Being a member and attending the annual conference provides a context and setting for international collaborations and partnerships, as well as allowing me to see many longtime scientific friends.

2. As director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at Iowa, you oversee "One Health." What do you see as the emerging challenges and what role should ASTMH play in addressing them?

I am fairly certain given the bredth of the "One Health" concept, no one person can "oversee" its efforts. That said, I do serve as an active proponent in building and strenghtening bridges across tropical public health, medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental/ecological efforts. There are always challenges to these interdisciplinary efforts, as keeping collaborations going across groups who by nature of their training see the world in very different ways requires effort and energy- things that in our funding strapped lives are often rather stretched. One of the benefits of ASTMH is the "big tent," so I am often "preaching to the choir" to bring together folks from many different scientific backgrounds to grapple with our complex global health problems.

ASTMH's annual conference has in the past had sessions that highlight "One Health"- but they are often shunted to a back corner of the conference. With blessing from the One Health Commission, I believe that many of the other sessions that feature zoonotic diseases, vector ecology, animal models of human diseases, and the many other ways that "One Health " can be defined, could also be highlighted in a grouping much like ACMCIP or other groups.

3. Your work focuses on the prevention of leishmaniasis. For policymakers and others who might not have an extensive scientific background, what is important for them to know about this research since they will likely never encounter the disease?

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that is transmitted between rodent and canine reservoirs to people through a sand fly, or through contact with infected blood. It is the cause of an approximate 40,000 human deaths a year, more than rabies virus, but it much less recognized.

Leishmaniasis is present within the borders of the U.S.; thousands of dogs imported from endemic countries (Italy, France, Brazil, Spain, Iran, Afghanistan, etc) live with and die from this disease. These dogs can pass the disease on through blood-sharing between moms and puppies. Leishmaniasis is a textbook example of why the United States needs some sort of regulatory health group that protects the health of companion animals not guarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Centers for Disease Control. Each year there are millions of animals brought into this country for the pet trade with very little regulation and no health screening- and these become the pets that our children cuddle in their beds and we share our homes and lives with. This "regulatory gap" leads to thousands of infections with diseases including Salmonella, monkey pox, novel helminths or worms and at risk of diseases like leptospirosis, leishmaniasis, toxoplasmosis and others which can be fatal.

4. The Society is a "big tent" where people with a wide range of skills and training come together and share knowledge. How can ASTMH nurture of expand interests like yours?

Veterinarians by training have many more hours of didactic training on infectious diseases, including tropical diseases, than most MDs. In the U.S. and many other countries, veterinarians serve as the front line to recognize emergence of novel foreign diseases within national borders.

Despite this, traditional stakeholders often overlook inclusion of veterinarians in their decision-making groups. Some foundations, including Burroughs Welcome Fund, have gone out of their way to interact with budding veterinary scientists, which is very well received within the veterinary community. This inclusion has not particularly spilled over to inclusion of veterinary trainees within ASTMH membership or inclusion within infectious disease training programs- which are still very targeted to MD ID docs.

I think olive branches that include recognition of the need to understand infection within and spillover from (veterinary) reservoir hosts and bringing veterinarians not only into the "big tent" but inviting them to be displayed in the center ring would go a long way to having participation within the society.

5. Thinking back to when you were early in your academic training, what do you wish you would have known or done differently as it relates to your professional trajectory?

During my PhD training, I was very concerned that a decision to remain within academe would mandate a rather staid, molecularly focused career focus. I am very glad that despite those fears, I accepted a tenure-track academic position, but have found myself still actively participating in sample collection and field work all over the U.S. and the world. I am very lucky to have active collaborative projects that require I travel to wonderful places like Barcelona, Brazil and the lovely backwoods of Missouri to learn firsthand the challenges of Leishmania infection and control. Through these interactions, I am part of the decision-making body (Leishvet) that puts forth control and prevention recommendations for canine leishmaniasis.

Finding an institution that supports a broad definition of "scholarship", and wonderful colleagues who are wiling to listen to my crazy ideas, has made the career I feared I could not have in academia possible.

6. Last question, so it’s a fun one. You get the opportunity to go back in time. You can either have a conversation with any scientist who has ever lived OR observe a moment of scientific history. What would you choose and why?

I would like to hear the discussions by Edward Jenner and his colleagues with the milk-maids and vaccine trial participants when the first small pox vaccination and challenge studies were performed. Their ability to appreciate that cross-protection between these two viral infections which occur in different species could bring relief to small pox suffering required open-mindedness to a point that some would have claimed as insanity, yet they inoculated several dozen people, then importantly performed small pox infection challenge to show that protection was acquired. Brave exciting vaccinology, immunology and One Health work that provided the eventual global elimination of smallpox.

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ASTMH members are the best and the brightest in their field. Our member interviews highlight our diverse and growing membership. To read other member profiles, click here.

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Member Q&A: Duane J. Gubler, MS, ScD, Professor and Founding Director, Signature Research Program on Emerging Infectious Diseases

January 13, 2015 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

For our first member interview of 2015, we chat with Duane J. Gubler, MS, ScD, Professor and Founding Director, Signature Research Program on Emerging Infectious Diseases, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore. Gubler served as the ASTMH President 15 years ago and has contributed to the Society in a number of ways over the year.

An active member of ACME, Gubler’s speciality area of work is vector-borne infectious diseases; he has worked on dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever for 43 years. He has more than 350 publications on every aspect of dengue and other vector-borne diseases and has just published the second edition of the leading resource book on dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever. Professor Gubler was instrumental in developing the Paediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative, and served as the founding Chair of the Board of Councillors of that organisation from its inception in 2002 to 2009. In addition, he is the founder of the CDC Dengue Branch laboratory in Puerto Rico.

1. You served as President of the Society in 2000. What are some of the most significant ways that ASTMH has changed over the last 15 years?

There have been many positive changes. Some of the more important changes include making ASTMH a much more global society, attracting members from countries where tropical diseases are truly important public health problems; expanding opportunities for diverse disciplines of science to have a home in ASTMH, thus expanding the professional expertise and importance of the society; increasing training opportunities for students and young scientists, thus encouraging them to become members; Improving the Annual Meeting and scientific program, providing a forum for nearly every aspect of public health and tropical medicine; stayed abreast of new technology, ensuring the incorporation of cutting edge science in the annual program.

These and many other changes have made ASTMH the leading tropical medicine society in the world. As an active member of ASTMH for nearly 50 years, I am proud to have been a part of this growth and these changes .

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2014 Annual Meeting Travel Awards

October 15, 2014 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

The Society, with generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, offers these awards to qualified students, early career investigators and scientists who otherwise might not be able to attend the meeting.

Selected recipients enhance the overall scientific quality and learning potential and present abstracts at the meeting. ASTMH began these “Travel Awards” in 1991 and over time with the addition of Gates Foundation funding, 500+ promising early career investigators have attended and participated in the Annual Meeting.

The Society is grateful to Travel Award Committee Chair Nirbhay Kumar, PhD, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and the rest of the committee for their outstanding work this year.

The following individuals were selected this year:

Susan Adakun, Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Uganda
Abstract 1860

Ben Andagalu, KEMRI Walter Reed Project, Kenya
Abstract 306

Elhadji Ba, Institut de Recherche Pour le Developpment, Senegal
Abstract 1906

Alvaro Baeza Garcia, Yale University School of Medicine, United States
Abstract 387

Elissa Butler, University of Minnesota Medical School, United States
Abstract 78

Suwanna Chaorattanakawee, Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences, Thailand
Abstract 299

Herbert de Matos Guedes, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Abstract 1205

Kebede Deribe, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Brighton, UK, Ethiopia
Abstract 1690

Bismarck Dinko, University of Health and Allied Sciences, Ghana
Abstract 1865

Alex Eapen, National Institute of Malaria Research (ICMR), India
Abstract 367

Kimberly Fornace, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom
Abstract 1109

Fernanda Fortes de Araujo, Centro de Pesquisas Rene
Rachou - FIOCRUZ, Brazil
Abstract 1090

Michael Hawkes, University of Alberta, Canada
Abstract 1859

Danika Hill, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia
Abstract 385

Taweewun Hunsawong, Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences, Thailand
Abstract 168

Rubona Joshua, RTI International, Tanzania
Abstract 1321

Elijah Juma, Vestergaard Frandsen (EA) Ltd, Kenya
Abstract 116

Jean Paul Katsuva, Medecins d’Afrique, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Abstract 355

Stella Kepha, Makerere University/KEMRI, Kenya
Abstract 508

Suresh Maddur Ganesan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States
Abstract 1831

Placide Mbala, Institut National de Recherche Biomedicale, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Abstract 464

Evaristus Mbanefo, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Nagasaki University, Japan
Abstract 33

Seleshi Mekonnen, Armauer Hansen Research Institute, Ethiopia
Abstract 316

Dominic Mosha, Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania
Abstract 1921

Randy Mungwira, Blantyre Malaria Project, Malawi
Abstract 717

Sophie Namasopo, Jinja Regional Referral Hospital Ministry of Health, Uganda
Abstract 49

Jeremiah Ngondi, RTI International, Tanzania
Abstract 368

Augusto Nhabomba, CISM, Mozambique
Abstract 383

Rasaq Olaosebikan, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Nigeria
Abstract 238

Frankline Onchiri, Kenya Medical Research Institute and University of Washington, United States
Abstract 1848

Lynette Oyier, KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kenya
Abstract 989

Repon Paul, International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh
Abstract 425

Patricia Pavlinac, University of Washington, United States
Abstract 1880

Chandary Rang, Malaria Consortium, Cambodia
Abstract 337

Stephen Rulisa, Central University Hospital of Kigali, Rwanda
Abstract 358

Raul Saraiva, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, United States
Abstract 1886

Mwiche Siame, Macha Research Trust, Zambia
Abstract 313

Maggy Sikulu, Ifakara Health Institute, United Republic of Tanzania
Abstract 121

Toolika Singh, Banaras Hindu University, India
Abstract 691

Holger Unger, University of Melbourne, Australia
Abstract 53

Rajesh Valanparambil, McGill University, Canada
Abstract 512

Braulio Valencia, Institute of Tropical Medicine Alexander von Humboldt, Peru
Abstract 1095

Tom Wingfield, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Peru
Abstract 1278

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Ebola Hearing Video and Transcripts.

September 22, 2014 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

There were two hearings on Capitol Hill last week to address the challenges posed by Ebola in West Africa. Here we provide links to direct you to the videos of those hearings along with submitted remarks from witnesses.

The Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations' held a hearing titled, "Global Efforts to Fight Ebola."

The Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations jointly heald a hearing titled, "Ebola in West Africa: A Global Challenge and Public Health Threat." ASTMH did its own summary here.

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Senate Hearing Explores How to Stop Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

September 18, 2014 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

The following report was written by Sumana Vardhan, ASTMH Communications Intern.

In a hearing on Tuesday, a panel of expert witnesses drew attention to the pressing need for a central authority to coordinate United States’ widespread efforts to thwart Ebola in West Africa.

At a joint hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, specialists also testified that it would be beneficial for the U.S. to eventually create a version of the CDC in countries abroad so that proximate, trained professionals can respond immediately in case of future epidemics. The 3-hour long hearing broadly addressed the challenges of controlling the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

ASTMH Member Dr. Beth Bell, Director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the NIH, and Robin Robinson, Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) testified about obstacles health workers are facing. The challenges run the gamut from isolation to cultural norms to how the outbreak is overburdening already fragile African health care systems.

Rising economic instability and the possible spread of the outbreak beyond West Africa led the hearing to explore the U.S. government’s response, which includes $100 million already pledged, an additional $75 million from USAID, and CDC’s proposal to Congress for another $88 million. Witnesses emphasized the essential need for funding not only in the midst of an emergency. Budget uncertainty and sequestration have affected research by creating disincentives for scientists to become involved, and may have hindered progress towards an Ebola vaccine, witnesses also noted.

A second pair of witnesses, Dr. Kent Brantly, former Medical Director of the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola Care Center in Monrovia and Ebola survivor, and Ishmeal Charles, Program Manager of Healey International Relief Foundation in Sierra Leone, gave genuine testimonies of living and serving in areas where fear of Ebola affects every facet of life. Both emphasized the need for greater response from all over the globe, both for funding and trained personnel. Quoting Dr. Joanne Liu of Medecins Sans Frontieres, Brantley said, “Comparing Ebola to a fire, this is not the time to run away. This is the time to put on our protective gear and run into the burning building."

A video of the hearing and written testimonies are available here.

Photo: Dr. Kent Brantly (L) testifies with Healey International Relief Foundation Sierra Leone Program Manager Ishmael Alfred Charles (R) during the hearing. (JIM WATSON AFP/Getty Images)

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Q&A: Timothy Brewer, MD, MPH, Chair of CUGH

August 17, 2014 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

This month, the Society had the opportunity to check in with Timothy Brewer, MD, MPH, chair of the board at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH). Brewer is the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary and Cross-Campus Affairs at UCLA. CUGH is a valued partner of ASTMH. Our organizations share several members and leaders, including Michele Barry, MD, FASTMH, CUGH board member and past ASTMH president.

1) CUGH is a relatively young organization. For those who might not be familiar with the goals and mission, how would you describe it?

A university is a community of scholars, and since the founding of the University of Bologna in 1088 individuals have been coming together in communities to share and to advance knowledge. The Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH), founded in 2008, is a community of universities. Our mission is to bring together faculty, students and administrators from diverse institutional settings so they may share and advance knowledge in global health training and practice. Capacity building, both within and between universities as well as with the greater community, is at the core of CUGH’s mission.

We achieve our mission through such activities as identifying and promulgating best practices for global health training, advocating for global health funding and standards, and establishing networking opportunities for persons and institutions interested in global health to come together and learn from each other.

2) One of the common threads between the Society and CUGH is the focus on training the future global health workforce. Students are eager to get international experience and program coordinators are keen to ensure project sites get the maximum benefit from young volunteers. What guidelines does CUGH recommend to ensure international experiences are valuable for both trainees and hosts?

In establishing international experiences, one needs to consider the needs and goals of everyone involved, including the sending institution, the student and the host (which may be an individual, an institution, an organization or a community).

While often framed as service programs, most international electives involving health science students are at their core probably educational experiences. Understanding this primary purpose, having the necessary infrastructure in place at all sites, and making sure that potential risks are reasonable given the likely educational benefits are key steps in establishing suitable international student electives.

Another contributor to successful international programs is having well-defined sender, student and host responsibilities, for example determining educational objectives, activities and appropriate supervision in advance of a student’s arrival. Proper pre-departure training is valuable for faculty and students interested in participating in international experiences, particularly those persons going overseas for the first time. Setting realistic expectations all around also is important. Though anecdotal, electives based on institutional relationships with long-term commitments to each other seem to be preferable to those based on individual relationships, but the central component for fruitful experiences is likely the presence of dedicated faculty at the sending and receiving organizations each of whom benefits from the relationship. Common sense also helps. An elective appropriate for a student who has previously been a Peace Corps volunteer in the country, speaks the language and knows the cultural norms may or may not be appropriate for another student who has never traveled internationally.

3) ASTMH and CUGH share other similarities, including a focus on education and research. What are some of the ways that our organizations can collaborate more in the future?

Around for just over 110 years, the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene has tremendous organizational experience facilitating international health research and educational partnerships. In particular, ASTMH members have long been at the forefront of health sciences research in low-resource settings, both basic and applied. This know-how is a terrific foundation on which to think about the emerging field of global health.

Though much younger, CUGH has strong roots in global health educational design and development, even more so since the merger between CUGH and the Global Health Educational Consortium (GHEC) in 2011. In addition, by focusing on universities, CUGH draws in non-health disciplines that are increasingly recognized as essential for addressing health inequity issues globally. The two sets of organizational assets are very complementary. Across the spectrum of activities both organizations currently are involved in, opportunities for collaboration abound. Our members have a mutual stake in ensuring adequate federal funding for global health research and programs.

There are likely ways we could advocate more effectively together. Assisting in the development and promotion of educational guidelines and materials, establishing programmatic and ethical recommendations for international student elective partnerships and facilitating networking opportunities across the Societies also would be of substantial benefits to all our members. There are no doubt many other examples as well.

4) In global health, there is sometimes a gap between researchers and those involved with the delivery of clinical care. How can we integrate better?

Linking research to practice is a complex challenge, touching on such diverse issues as research question formation and study design, the setting of funding agency priorities, general public awareness of and comfort with science, knowledge translation and cultural change. Like most complex problems, breaking this issue into component pieces capable of being addressed with testable hypotheses should be helpful. Successfully solving this challenge will require social scientists, policy experts, humanists, political scientists, advocacy experts and others besides the more traditional health science researchers. In addition, we need to be communicating with each other, our colleagues in other fields, the general public and decision-makers better than has sometimes occurred previously. Scientists should be engaging clinicians and communities; educators need to be more creative about improving general science literacy.

While much work remains, there has been significant progress in the almost 30 years I have been involved in research and clinical care here and abroad.

5) Some readers might wonder if their universities are members of CUGH or if they should join. What unique value does CUGH provide for universities?

Interested individuals may check the CUGH web site to see if their university is a member. Regarding value, in the short span of 5 years, CUGH has gone from an informal gathering of 24 program directors to over 120 institutional members. CUGH membership offers almost unparalleled networking opportunities; the annual conference alone now attracts more than 1,400 participants from almost 60 countries.

We also continue to scale-up programs. One new offering is our mentorship program, where directors at the early stages of global health program development are partnered with more experienced program director mentors. Assistance may range from informal phone calls to site visits depending on the mentee’s needs.

Another unique area for CUGH is supporting university administrative capacity to undertake international global health activities. Through regional workshops created by our Enabling Systems Working Group, administrators learn best practices regarding the logistical aspects of undertaking internationally-based programs such as risk management, hiring personnel and contracting office space, and meeting government reporting requirements. The Educational Committee is harmonizing global health core competencies across the health sciences disciplines with the aim of expanding their work to non-health science disciplines as well. A trainee advisory group was recently created, and we look forward to working with trainees to establish programs particularly suited for their needs.

CUGH is a dynamic, growing organization; I would strongly encourage any university-based global health program with questions about membership benefits to call the CUGH Secretariat and discuss how membership might help their individual program.

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ACGH Inaugural Global Health Careers Webchat

July 10, 2014 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

The following was submitted by Alexis Boyd, a active member of ACGH who helped coordinate this student-led webinar.  Boyd has a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from The George Washington University and has spent the past 7 years researching filarial parasites. She is currently exploring a new career opportunity as a fellow at the Food and Drug Administration.

ASTMH’s Committee on Global Health (ACGH) is focusing on creating opportunities for students and professionals at any career stage interested in global health to network and explore the various career opportunities in the field. To accomplish this goal, the committee is sponsoring a series of live webchats with global health experts and leaders where individuals can ask career-related questions and seek advice. The first webchat took place in June and featured former ASTMH President Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

For this inaugural webchat, there were 17 participants and lively chat ensued with Dr. Hotez fielding questions on how he became interested in global health, what he considers his greatest accomplishment and how he balances the many demands on his time. Career related questions ranged from knowing what skills are important for global health advocacy to identifying potential roles that engineers can play in solving important global health problems. Dr. Hotez also provided keen insight on the importance of continued mentorship throughout a career and how to identify good mentors. Dr. Hotez encouraged the audience to stay true to their passions and find the strength to weather the crises of confidence that afflict even the most successful individuals. The webchat with Dr. Hotez was not only informative, but also motivational, and was met with highly positive reviews from the participants. The Committee on Global Health is planning on having webchats quarterly with different global health experts.

For more information on these chats or to nominate a speaker, please e-mail me at boyda02@gmail.com. You can also find additional answers from Dr. Hotez at the Sabin Vaccine Institute blog.

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Welcome New Members - May 2014

June 16, 2014 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

The following individuals joined the Society this May:

Mary Adam
Kijabe Hospital

Adedayo Adedeji

Abayomi Ademola
Amazing Grace Hospital, Ijebu Ode Ogun State

Ritesh Agarwal
Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research

Jason Bailey
University of Maryland Baltimore

Saroj Bapna
Haffkine Institute for training Research and Testing

Amanda Beaudoin
University of Minnesota

Roger Bedimo
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Brianna Beechler
Oregon State University

Roxanne Burrus
Nepmu Five

Elissa Butler
University of Minnesota Medical School

Kelly Callahan
The Carter Center, Trachoma Control Program

Rebecca Chancey
Duke University

Sarah Cusick
University of Minnesota

Roshni Daver
University of Texas Medical School at Houston and MD

Christina DeMatteo

Mike Dunbar
Iowa State University

Luis Escobar
SUNY Upstate Medical University

Dr. Michael Everson
Eisai Inc.

Sarjeet Gill
University of California Riverside

Scott Gordon

Tonya Gray
Mercy Family Clinic Forest Park

Joseph Indiano
Ball Memorial Hospital

Muna Jama
University of Minnesota

Shahid Karim
The University of Southern Mississippi

Leah Kern
UCSD Pediatrics Associates

Steven Kern
University of Utah

Jintao Li
Tropical Medecine Institute, Third Military Medical University

Donna Lopez
LSHTM

Francisco Luquero
Epicentre

Sophia Mangala M.
Protestant University of Congo

Theresa Nguyen
UPMC East

Chinedu Nkole

David Philpott

 

Silvia Portugal
NIAID, NIH

David Pruschki
University of Washington

Scott Royal
University of North Carolina

Marcus Salmen
Hennepin County Medical Center

Ashley Scott
University of Notre Dame

Natalie Spillman

Joselyne Olga Talledo Rodríguez
Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia

Paul Trowbridge

Silvia Vilar Portugal
NIH-NIAID

Karolyn Wanat
University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics

Gabriella Wuyke
Lynn University

Ya Zhou
University of Maryland School of Medicine

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Member Q&A: Lark Coffey, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis

June 16, 2014 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

ASTMH members are the best and the brightest in their field. Our member interviews highlight our diverse and growing membership. To read other member profiles, click here.

This month we speak with Lark Coffey, PhD, Assistant Professor, Center for Vectorborne Diseases, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis. Coffey has been a member of ASTMH for 12 years and is actively involved with the American Committee on Arthropod-Borne Viruses (ACAV.)

1) You’re an active member of the Society, including the subgroup ACAV. With a busy life full of demands, why is this something you make time for?

I believe in the collaborative environment and emphasis on education and training promoted by ASTMH. The Annual Meeting and ACAV activities are a wonderful place to visit with colleagues and to hear about current research. The meeting provides a regular setting to maintain contact with and follow the evolving science of fellow scientists. The symposium talks by ACAV members are a regular source of inspiration. The Annual Meeting fuels my excitement for studying arboviruses.

2) Some of your work concerns host specialization in arboviruses. To that end, what is one of that most interests you in that area of study right now?

Arboviruses that cycle between vertebrate and invertebrate hosts are subjected to unique evolutionary constraints by having to infect two disparate types of hosts. Historically, arbovirus genetics has only focused on understanding the phenotypic role of the consensus (average) viral genome in a mixed population. This approach vastly underrepresents the actual population diversity of RNA viruses, which exist as a swarm of closely related genomes that may express different host-specific phenotypes.

I am interested in better understanding the nature and function of viral genetic diversity in the swarm as it relates to arbovirus host specialization, dual-host cycling, and cross-species transmission. Recent technological advances now enable population sequencing at great depth to allow us to better study virus populations.

3) Also, on the topic of virus evolution, is there a mentor or person who has most influenced your thinking?

My Ph.D. mentor, Dr. Scott Weaver, played a fundamental role teaching me about arbovirus evolution propelling me into a career in the field. He also introduced me to the ASTMH and encouraged my annual attendance at meetings. Through his support, I was able to gain broad experience doing arbovirus ecology and genetics at tropical field sites and in laboratory settings.

4) A question for the non-science audience: why is the work you and your colleagues do important on a national and global scale?

Arboviruses are a scourge on human and veterinary health and we lack tools to prevent infection or treat illnesses most arboviruses cause. Epidemics caused by West Nile virus and the recent expansion of chikungunya virus in the Western Hemisphere highlight the need to better understand their ecologies, transmission cycles, and emergence. Uncovering the evolutionary dynamics of these pathogens, will allow us to develop novel mechanism to prevent and mitigate infections.

5) Congratulations on your tenure-track position. What guidance or advice helped you get to this point that up-and-coming researchers might find useful?

First, find a niche in a topic that really interests you and focus on generating good science. Second, let fellow scientists know what you are up to – the ASTMH Annual Meeting is an excellent avenue for networking, promoting your research, and finding job opportunities. Third, once you find a job posting, maximize your success by showing the search committee you are a “good fit” in the department and institution. This can be accomplished by identifying institutional partners as future collaborators.

In my own experience, I think the search committee at UC Davis appreciated my willingness to maintain and promote the continued development of the great body of excellent arbovirus research in California conducted previously by Bill Reisen, Aaron Brault, and others.

6) Now for the fun question. You get the opportunity to go back in time. You can either have a conversation with any scientist who has ever lived OR observe a moment of scientific history. What would you choose and why?

I would love to have been present to witness Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek using handcrafted magnifying glasses as microscopes in the 1600s to study biological fluids. van Leeuwenhoek was not the first to make microscopes, but he used them to discovered bacteria, free-living and parasitic microscopic protists, sperm and blood cells, microscopic nematodes and rotifers. It must have been amazing to realize for the first time that there was minute life-termed “animalcules” by van Leeuwenhoek-inside humans and animals.

 

 

 

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Career Development Opportunities at the Annual Meeting

June 14, 2014 · By Jaclyn Schiff · No Comments

Victoria McGovern, PhD, FASTMH, ASTMH Councilor and Associate Program Chair for Media Relations and Special Initiatives, provides the following update:

This year, the Annual Meeting is trying something new: adding more career content and opportunities to talk with senior members about how to build a life in tropical medicine, global health, or research. Though ASTMH has been around since 1903, many of the things we—the individual members— want remain the same as they were back then: we want to improve health; we want to understand the principles underlying threats to health; and because our concerns cross science, medicine, public health, and health delivery, we want to know one another across disciplines. Coming together face to face is still the best way to do this, so the Annual Meeting is one important way that our Society serves us. But the world is just bigger now than it was 101 years ago. Back then, a newcomer quickly came to know everyone, and could hope to hear about opportunities for opening up new work and advancing. One hundred and one years later, it’s gotten harder to get introduced and to learn (beyond working hard and well on problems that matter) how to succeed.

This year, we’re building new things-- just a step beyond what we’ve done in the past-- into the meeting to try to change that:

  • The Young Investigators Awards, competitive awards for work presented just before the start of the annual meeting, recognize one’s early work. This year, as part of the competition day, participants will have lunch with senior members explicitly to talk about where the Young Investigators want their careers to take them.
  • The Trop Stop has been a lounge for trainees. This year, it will host featuring topics like how to build your CV, how to apply for postdoctoral fellowships, and more.
  • The Subgroups provide a good way to get closer to people working in your area of interest. Last year, the Global Health subgroup tried “Speed Dating” to introduce many people to one another in a quality way in a short time. This was a very popular session, so they’re doing it again in 2014! The other subgroups will be trying other approaches, so stay tuned!
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