20 Years of the ASTMH Centennial Travel Award

Posted 14 November 2023

The Centennial Travel Award was established in 2003 to commemorate ASTMH’s 100th anniversary. The award provides physicians and scientists the opportunity for field experience in combination with laboratory studies of parasitic, bacterial or viral infectious diseases in endemic developing countries. 

Two of its past recipients discussed how the award assisted their research:

Stephen Popper, ScD
UC Berkeley School of Public Health
ASTMH Associate Scientific Program Chair, 2021-23

In 2006 I was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, exploring how we could use the human transcriptome to better understand the human response to acute infections.  

The Centennial Award gave me the chance to go to Laos to establish a new project on the host response to systemic infections. It was an invaluable opportunity to meet with and listen to local collaborators, and establish protocols for collection of data and samples that were critical for our project. Our early results became the basis for new grants and collaborations over the following decade, as well as presentations at the ASTMH annual meeting, and finally resulted in development of a new diagnostic tool for distinguishing bacterial and viral infections that incorporated data collected from multiple studies and over a decade of work (Rao et al, Cell Medicine Reports 2022).  It also provided a basis for continuing  with Paul Newton, who I consider a friend and admired colleague in global health, and helped us identify topics that are relevant for the work I’m doing as a senior technical advisor for Pivot, working to improve healthcare in Madagasar.

Right: Photo of Dr. Popper, Shannon Bennett and Rado Rakotonanahary (all ASTMH members)  at a Pivot-sponsored bioinformatics workshop they ran with Panpim Thongsripong in Madagascar this summer.

Usheer Kanjee, PhD
Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Currently, I am a Research Scientist in the Duraisingh lab at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health where I study the host/parasite interactions between malaria parasites and host red blood cells.

In 2017, I was a Postdoctoral Fellow. My research focused on understanding the host/parasite interactions between malaria parasites and host red blood cells, with the overall goal of identifying high priority candidates for an eventual blood stage vaccine. The second most prevalent cause of malaria is the parasite Plasmodium vivax, which is understudied due to the lack of a continuous in vitro culture system. Through the ASTMH Centennial Travel Award, I was able to work at an NIH-funded International Centers for Excellence in Malaria Research field site at the Goa Medical College in Goa, India with live and cryopreserved P. vivax clinical isolates in order to help develop both short-term ex vivo culture methods and invasion assays for P. vivax. These experiments have helped me to better understand the function of several of the known invasion ligand/host receptor interactions, and the Centennial Travel Award was pivotal to this project.