Morgan Goheen is halfway through the MD/PhD program at UNC Chapel Hill, currently pursuing her PhD in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology with Drs. Steven Meshnick and Carla Cerami. Her PhD research involves investigating the relationship between host iron status and erythrocyte susceptibility to malaria infection. She graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Molecular Biology in 2007. All 4 years at Princeton she worked in Dr. Lynn Enquist’s alpha herpesvirus lab. She also spent 4 summers working in Dr. Harlan Caldwell’s chlamydia pathogenesis lab at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, an intramural NIAID/NIH research site in Montana.
Following college, Morgan returned to work on trachoma for 2 years as a postbaccalaureate fellow under Dr. Caldwell. She was then awarded a Princeton in Africa fellowship and worked one year at the international NGO mothers2mothers based in Cape Town, South Africa to help prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV. Morgan then started medical school at UNC in 2010. Her current PhD research will take her to The Gambia where she will help implement malaria susceptibility assays at a rural field site as part of a large scale iron supplementation clinical trial being run by researchers from the UK’s MRC. With over 10 years of laboratory research experience, Morgan has solidified her desire to research tropical infectious diseases affecting populations in the developing world and plan to specialize in infectious disease medicine and continue with a global health oriented career.
Project: "Iron Deficiency Anemia and the Pathogenesis of Falciparum Malaria"
July 1, 2014 - September 30, 2014
Keneba, The Gambia
What does the Kean Fellowship mean to you?
I was incredibly honored and excited to receive the Kean Fellowship award. It means a great deal to me to be recognized by the tropical disease clinical and research community as a student with potential to successfully continue down a career path related to tropical infectious disease medicine, which has long been my passion. I am extremely passionate about my PhD research looking into the relationship between iron deficiency and malaria protection and how to safely conduct iron supplementation in malaria endemic areas. This travel fellowship will help give me the chance to translate our research into the field and conduct our malaria growth and invasion assays in blood from the relevant target populations of pregnant women and children undergoing iron supplementation in malaria endemic areas. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to address my PhD research topic in such a real world setting, as it helps my project become even more translational – an especially beneficial component to my MD/PhD training.
Beyond the research, with my plans to now undertake implementation of our lab’s US-based malaria tissue culture and growth and invasion assays at a rural field station in The Gambia, I believe this fellowship will also help me acquire in depth training and mentorship in the simple, yet often overlooked, practicalities of conducting laboratory field research. This will undoubtedly help with my long-term career development. In the future, I hope to become a successful physician-scientist capable of independently conducting meaningful research and spearheading collaborative investigations in an international context. My long-term interests revolve around infectious disease research in a global health context; I plan to study diseases disproportionately affecting populations in developing nations. This travel fellowship provides an invaluable career training opportunity for me.
What do you anticipate learning?
I anticipate this fellowship will help me develop an in-depth understanding of infectious disease field research in an international and resource-limited setting. Although my project will primarily encompass laboratory-based malaria research, with an on-site clinic I also expect to have the opportunity to shadow physicians and see many patients with malaria and/or iron deficiency. With this experience, I will gain an understanding of how my research findings can be translated into real world practice settings. A translational outlook is especially relevant given my career aspirations of conducting infectious disease research and communicating findings so that global health topics are addressed in a manner practical to implementation in the developing world. Exposure to the challenges of field research and clinical practices in a global health setting will be invaluable to my training. Learning the natural history and clinical challenges of malaria infection first-hand will be an essential part of my training, allowing me to independently develop research questions and hypotheses regarding malaria for my future career.
My long-term goal is a career in academic medicine as an independently funded physician-scientist focused on researching infectious diseases in resource-limited settings. I plan to conduct basic science research to assist treatment, prevention, and elimination of neglected tropical diseases and hope to be involved in field research throughout my career. While my focus will be on molecular level research, I plan to maintain a connection to understanding social dynamics of disease spread and treatment implementation hurdles in the developing world. Thus, acquiring basic science, clinical, and field work experience through my MD/PhD training, especially with the assistance of this ASTMH Benjamin Kean Travel Fellowship, I hope to be uniquely positioned at the confluence of molecular research, clinical care, and public health implementation of evidence-based findings.
What interests you about tropical medicine and what problems are you interested in solving?
My first infectious disease research exposure came at age 17 as a summer intern at NIAID and it has been my passion ever since. While I have long been fascinated by the molecular underpinnings of infectious agents, it was not until I lived in areas with devastating endemic diseases that I became driven to address humanitarian aspects of infection control. Studying abroad in South Africa, I learned about disease management policy and the social impact of disease spread among underprivileged populations. Later visiting The Gambia as a NIAID postbac and working in Monitoring and Evaluation at a public health NGO in Africa, I again witnessed a significant need to connect bench science with research relating to practical medical interventions on the ground. Although there are microbiologists, clinicians, and public health specialists with diverse skills to address eliminating tropical infectious diseases, there are few individuals who have experience in all of these areas. With my background and future training I hope to stay engaged in tropical medicine on all of those levels throughout my career. I am particularly interested in parasitology, vaccine and drug development, and emerging tropical infectious diseases.
We live in a day and age when the world is becoming more and more interconnected, and in conjunction with climate change, we will only continue to see increased potential of spread of many tropical infectious diseases as well as emergence of novel pathogens. I see a great need for researchers devoted to combating tropical diseases, not only providing a duty to help improve the quality of life for people who have not had the same privileges as many of us have, but also to be ready to take on the next big potential outbreak, zoonotic spread. I find tropical medicine to be intellectually engaging in terms of the clinical and molecular problems posed by such complex pathogens, and I additionally appreciate how tropical medicine brings forth many social justice issues related to health care access and public health risk management. Providing me continuous motivation, I highly value the combination of academic and social passion I have developed surrounding research of infectious diseases afflicting the developing world, and I look forward to a career in the tropical medicine community.