Ruth Emma Miller, Ph.D. – The First Female President of the Eastern PA Branch of ASM and Her Female Successors
The First Female President of the Eastern PA Branch of ASM and Her Female Successors – by James A. Poupard, Ph.D.
Ruth Emma Miller, Ph.D. was the first female President (1954-1955) of the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch of the ASM.It took 34 years for the Branch to elect a female president. One way to explain why it took so long was most likely due to the Branch leadership policy that a Ph.D. or MD was a necessary requirement for the position of Branch President, and there were no other females active in the Branch with the “proper” qualifications before Ruth Miller. Fortunately for the Philadelphia microbiology community, Dr. Miller was a highly active Branch member.
Ruth Miller was born on 17 October 1905 and grew up in the section of Philadelphia now known as Society Hill. Her father was a physician and pharmacist and was influential in her decision to attend the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (now the University of the Sciences) as a pharmacy major. After taking several classes, she realized her interest was in bacteriology and decided to switch her major. She took classes with Dr. Louis Gershenfeld and he was an important influence in her career. After obtaining her Bachelor of Science in 1928, she continued her course work at the College and in 1930 received her M.S. degree in Bacteriology.
At that time, she was accepted into the Doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania in the School of Public Health. She took courses with Dr. Wenrich, studied and published papers with Dr. Sevag, and worked with Dr. Stuart Mudd. Her thesis was “A Quantitative and Qualitative Study of the Bacterial Flora of the Sewage Passing through the Activated Sludge Sewage Treatment Plant at Collingswood N.J.” for which she traveled almost every day to New Jersey to obtain samples. She received her Ph.D. in Medical Science from the University of Pennsylvania School of Public Health in 1934 at the age of 29. After graduation she became an instructor in Bacteriology at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. She was paid $50/week and noted that “Being a woman I got paid less than the men, but none of us got paid well, and female professors predominated at WMC at that time.” In 1938 she became an Assistant Professor and Acting Head of the Department of Bacteriology. In 1942 she became full Professor and Chairperson of the Microbiology Department. She was an excellent teacher and immensely popular with the medical students.
In 1953, while still at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, she became part of the college consultant group to the Microbiology Department of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital of Philadelphia. She continued to be associated with the VA’s Microbiology Department until 1967.
Dr. Miller retired from Woman’s Medical College in 1968 and was made Emeritus Professor of Microbiology. When I interviewed her several years after her retirement, she had fond memories of her work in the early 1940’s. During that time, due to the war, laboratory supplies were scarce. They had to make their own beef infusion agar and broth; and blood agar plates using horse blood obtained from the city or vet school laboratory. She established a large culture collection for use in teaching and research, and supplied cultures, especially Leptospira species isolated from wild rats to other laboratories.
Over the years Dr. Miller was highly active in the Microbiology field. She was a member of numerous professional organizations and author of many publications on a variety of subjects, including the evaluation of disinfectants, as well as various bacterial inhibitors, and techniques focusing on agar diffusion. In addition to serving as Branch President, she was Branch Secretary-Treasurer (1951-53), and Councilor (1957-59). She was a Diplomat to the American Board of Microbiology and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Dr. Miller was active in the American Public Health Association, and the American Association of Immunologists. She was on the Board of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science and received the college’s Alumni Award in 1972. The Upper Darby Business Association named her its woman of the year in 1980. Dr. Ruth Miller died at the age of 97 on 7April 2002.
In my interviews with her she was always easy to talk to, had a very pleasant voice that came alive when discussing teaching or any topic relating to Microbiology or to Philadelphia – she was a true Philadelphian! She answered questions on feminism by stating that she was not a feminist despite all her experience working in a field dominated by men. She said, “It is just the way it was, and I focused on my work and students and never thought that way.” She had to be reminded that she was the first female Branch President. She said she just remembered how members like Spaulding at Temple, Goodner at Jefferson and Morton at Penn all made her Presidency a joy since everyone worked so well together. In summary she lived a long and active life and she certainly deserves to be honored as our First Female Branch President.
Ruth Miller References and Note:
1. Photo of Dr. Ruth Miller (standing) she was a very popular medical school Professor providing her individual attention to a MCP medical student in the 1950’s.
2. Poupard, J. A. and P. Gallimore, President Ruth E. Miller, Branch Newsletter Jan. 1980 p.3-4.
3. Poupard, J.A. and S. Farzanfar, Interview With Ruth E. Miller, October 5, 1984.
4. Poupard, J.A. and P. Gallimore, Ruth E. Miller Ph.D. Our 18th President Dies at 97, Branch Newsletter, June 2002 p.5.
5. Note: In 1954, when Dr. Miller became President, the name of the Branch prior to 1961 was- The Eastern PA Chapter of the Society of American Bacteriologists.
Female Presidents Who Followed Dr. Ruth E. Miller
1955 to 2021
It took 28 years after the Ruth Miller presidency for the election of our second female Branch President in 1983: Dr. Toby Eisenstein of Temple University School of Medicine. Ten years later in 1993, Dr. Linda A. Miller of Holy Redeemer Hospital became the third woman to be elected President of the Branch. Starting with the fourth female Branch President, Dr. Olarae Giger of Main Line Clinical Laboratories in 2003, the proportion of female Branch Presidents increased considerably. In 2021, of the last ten presidents, five have been women.
EIGHT FEMALE BRANCH PRESIDENTS -1954 to 2021
1954-1955 Dr. Ruth E. Miller- Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania
1983-1985 Dr. Toby K. Eisenstein- Temple University School of Medicine
1993-1995 Dr. Linda A. Miller- Holy Redeemer Hospital
2003-2005 Dr. Olarae Giger- Main Line Clinical Laboratories
2006-2009 Dr. Bettina Buttaro- Temple University School of Medicine
2009-2011 Dr. Laura Chandler- Philadelphia VA Medical Center
2017-2019 Dr. Çagla Tükel- Temple University School of Medicine
2021-2023 Dr. Michele Kutzler- Drexel University School of Medicine
EIGHT FEMALE BRANCH PRESIDENTS -1954 to 2021
In 2021 the seven Branch Presidents who followed Ruth Miller, as listed above, were asked to write a brief biographical sketch and comments to be included with this Ruth Miller biographical presentation. The following biographical sketches reveal the amazing variety and talent of our Branch Presidents and how they reflect the quality of Microbiology in the Philadelphia region.
BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES AND COMMENTS FROM THE SEVEN FEMALE BRANCH PRESIDENTS WHO FOLLOWED DR. RUTH MILLER – 1983 to 2021
Dr. Toby K. Eisenstein, Ph.D. – Branch President 1983 to 1985
Current Position: Professor of Microbiology and Immunology,Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Acting Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Temple Medical School, 1990-1992.
Educational Background: B.A. Wellesley College (Major zoology); PhD. Bryn Mawr College (Microbiology)
Biographical Summary and Comments: During my career, my laboratory has had two orientations. For the first half, I was involved in research using laboratory models of specific experimental infectious diseases and the host response to the infectious agents. Much of the work was aimed at understanding the protective host response to Salmonella with the objective of developing an improved vaccine for typhoid fever using mouse models of Salmonella infection. Later I received one of the first grants on Legionella pneumophila where we examined immune responses to potential vaccines in guinea pigs (Eisenstein,T.K., et al. 1984. Infect. Immun. 45:685‑691.) My laboratory also was involved in studies of development of vaccines for Group B streptococcal infection. We developed the first ELISA to measure isotype specific antibody responses of human volunteers to Group B strep (Eisenstein, T.K et al. 1983. J. Inf. Dis. 147:847‑856). Several decades ago, I entered into collaborations with several pharmacologists at Temple Medical School to investigate the effects of drugs of abuse on immune responses and susceptibility to infection. I have been Co-Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Research at Temple since it was founded in 1998. Since 2000, I have also been Co-Director of a NIDA P30 Center of Excellence and the Director of the Center’s Cell and Immunology Core. My publications on opioids examined adaptive as well as innate immune responses in mice treated with morphine and showed that the opioid was immunosuppressive. We also showed that chronic morphine sensitized to Salmonella infection (MacFarlane, A.S et al. 1999. Infect. Immun. 67:891-898) and induced sepsis in mice (Hilburger, M.E. et al. 1997. J. Inf. Dis, 176:183-188). Another project investigated the role of IL-17 in murine Acinetobacter baumannii infection, and morphine sensitization to this bacterium. During the last several years my laboratory has been investigating immunosuppressive effects of cannabinoids, with a particular interest in ligands that reduce immune responses through the cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) receptor found predominantly on leukocytes. We showed that CB2 selective agonists are immunosuppressive in a model of skin graft rejection by inducing the immunosuppressive cytokine, IL-10, and T regulatory cells. Recently completed work used four rodent models of pain and showed that combining a chemokine receptor antagonist with a sub-analgesic dose of morphine resulted in a leftward shift in the morphine dose-response curve that resulted in maximal analgesia with a reduced dose of morphine.
I have participated in the meetings of the E PA Branch since I was a graduate student at Bryn Mawr, and I continued attending meetings regularly when I became a faculty member at Temple Medical School. I found that I learned a lot from the guest lecturers at our meetings and also from my colleagues across the city. Through the Branch I became a member of Council at the National Level. I was also Chair of the Immunology Section that organized symposia at the yearly national ASM meeting. I was elected to the Council Policy Committee which under the old structure was essentially the policy making body of the National ASM. From 2003 to 2012, I was Chair of the Membership Board at National. This Board had a budget of over a million dollars and encompassed a paid staff of six. There were seven committees, of which Membership was only one. Archives, Careers in Microbiology, and Diversity were also committees under the Membership Board. The most important other committees were the Branch Organization Committee and the Student Chapter Committee. Servicing them was the Branch Lecturers Committee. As a fervent “Brancher” I had our Board devote massive amounts of energy to our grass roots structures involving Branches and Student Chapters, which were strengthened. The number of student chapters almost doubled and many dormant chapters were revived.
Thoughts on my experience as a President of the Branch:
It was a great honor to be elected to the Presidency of the EPA Branch. Our Branch has always been one of the most active in the country. We also have always had the distinction of being one of the few Branches which had members and programs that covered both clinical microbiology and basic science in microbiology. Most Branches are either purely clinical or purely basic science. Further, we have always had monthly dinner meetings. Most other Branches, because they span a much greater geographic area, only meet once a year as a small regional meeting. At the time I became President of our Branch, there was quite a competition between the clinical and basic sciences members for elective office and for program slots. A challenge was to keep the members working in both aspects of our discipline satisfied. I am happy that I was able to keep the peace and that our Branch has continued to evolve with representation from both fields. I was always very respectful of my clinical colleagues because I learned so much from them about what was actually being done in the diagnostic laboratory, information that I used in teaching the medical students. I have also deeply appreciated the friendship and camaraderie that we have had in our Branch. Everyone who has been an officer or a member of the Executive Committee has had the best interests of the Branch at heart, not personal aggrandizement or power. We are lucky to have such a long-lived organization of which I am proud and grateful to have been a part. May we continue to flourish for many more generations of microbiologists.
Dr. Linda A. Federici Miller, Ph.D. – Branch President 1993 to 1995
Current Position: Clinical Microbiologist and head of CMID (Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases) Pharma Consulting, LLC, Dresher, PA. (When President Dr. Miller was Microbiology Director, Holy Redeemer Hospital.)
Educational Background: B.S. degree in Medical Technology from Millersville University; Medical Technology internship Bryn Mawr Hospital, Bryn Mawr, PA.; Master’s degree in Clinical Microbiology from the Medical College of Pennsylvania; Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies including Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Pennsylvania.
Biographical Summary and Comments: Dr. Miller is a Clinical Microbiologist and head of CMID (Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases) Pharma Consulting, LLC, which provides advice to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies on the microbiology components of antibacterial drug development. CMID Pharma Consulting, LLC also provides consulting services for infectious diseases diagnostic companies.
Dr. Miller earned here BS degree in Medical Technology from Millersville University; her master’s degree in Clinical Microbiology from the Medical College of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies including Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Miller is a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Fellow and was formerly the Director of Diagnostics & Clinical Microbiology in the Infectious Diseases Therapeutic Area Unit at GSK
Thoughts on my experience as a President of the Branch:
The Branch has been a cornerstone of my career as a Clinical Microbiologist. As a medical technology student and then as a technologist, I attended monthly meetings, symposia, and workshops. I was encouraged by my mentor, Dr. James A. Poupard, to volunteer on Branch committees. As a young Medical Technologist, the Branch provided a vehicle to make connections with leading microbiologists (we now call this networking!). These early interactions with the friendly, generous senior scientists of the Branch were inspirational. Over the years, I served on the Publications, Publicity, Symposium and Education Committees. I was also the Secretary of the Branch from 1988 to 1991. In 1993, I was humbled and honored to become the President of the Branch. My message to young microbiologists in the Eastern PA region, is to join the Branch, actively participate in Branch activities, volunteer for committees – what you give in terms of time and effort you will gain back many times over in friendships, scientific knowledge, and career development.
Dr. Olarae Giger, Ph.D. Branch President 2003 to 2005
Current Position: Retired, Former Microbiologist, Main Line Clinical Laboratories, Wynnewood, PA
Educational Background: B.S. in Microbiology from Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, Ph.D. in Microbiology from University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, Postdoctoral fellowship at the Food Research Institute, Wisconsin University, Madison, WI, Postdoctoral fellowship in Clinical Microbiology & Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Biographical Summary & Comments: During graduate school, Dr. Giger studied the metabolic effects of endotoxins using a mouse hepatocyte model. Upon completing her Ph.D. degree, she did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin. In Charles Duncan’s laboratory at the FRI, she investigated the metabolic effects of Clostridium perfringens enterotoxins, again using the hepatocyte model. During orientation for graduate school, Dr. Giger’s interest in clinical microbiology developed during a rotation in the clinical microbiology laboratory at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center. After completing her postdoctoral fellowship at the FRI, she came to Philadelphia for training in the Clinical & Public Microbiology fellowship program at Temple University. Upon completion of her fellowship, she was the Director of Clinical Microbiology at Episcopal Hospital in Philadelphia. Although Episcopal Hospital was a community hospital, it served a poor population in North Philadelphia. Especially in the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the clinical laboratory saw a broad range of infectious diseases, especially mycobacteria. In 2000, Dr. Giger became the Microbiologist for Main Line Health Laboratories, a consolidated laboratory that served 3 acute-care Hospitals (Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital) and one rehab Hospital (Bryn Mawr Rehab). The clinical microbiology continued to be challenging with the development of new mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance, emergence of new infectious diseases & advances in diagnostics, especially molecular diagnostics. In 2000, Dr. Giger also became the Microbiology Instructor in the Medical Laboratory Sciences & Biotechnology program in the College of Health Professions at Thomas Jefferson University.
The Eastern PA Branch of the ASM has been a constant part of my career as a microbiologist. Over the years, I served as Branch Secretary and Treasurer and on the Workshop & Symposium committees. The monthly meetings provide an excellent opportunity to network with others in the city. Since my career was spent at non-academic institutions, the monthly meetings, workshops & symposia provide an opportunity to continue to learn about all areas of microbiology.
Dr. Bettina A. Buttaro, Ph.D – Branch President 2006 to 2009
Current Position: Associate Professor, Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Temple University.
Educational Background: B.S. dual degrees in Biology and Microbiology. Ph.D. University of Minnesota. Postdoctoral NIH Fellow at University of Minnesota and Alexander Von Humboldt Fellow at Universität Ulm, Germany.
Biographical Summary and Comments: Dr. Buttaro is a bacteriologist with a passion for discovery of basic principles underlying the ability of bacteria to thrive as friends in the microbiota and as foes as antibiotic resistant pathogens. She has broad expertise in Gram-positive biofilms, metabolism, and genetics. The project in her laboratory focuses on the pathobiont Enterococcus faecalis. E. faecalis strains range from ubiquitous members of the microbiota with small-conserved genomes to resistant pathogens that have acquired numerous mobile genetic elements encoding virulence factors and antibiotic resistance genes. Her current work uses an interdisciplinary approach combining biological experiments with computational mathematical modeling and machine learning. These approaches are combined to discover new underlying principles of how biofilm structural organization influences movement of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance plasmids through the gastrointestinal microbiota. In addition, together with infectious disease collaborators, she studies pheromone responsive plasmid evolution and the role of co-selection for the presence of a virulence plasmid in the commensal E. faecalis population increasing its ability to cause endocarditis and septicemia.
New techniques for analysis of biofilm properties using confocal microscopy are disseminated for the use by other investigators as open-source toolboxes. In addition to work in her own laboratory, Dr. Buttaro provides expertise in the design and performance of bacteriology experiments to collaborators in other fields. She cross-trains the medical, undergraduate, and graduate students as well as post-doctoral fellows to perform microbiologic experiments. Drug discovery projects include working with synthetic organic chemists to assess efficacy of anti-biofilm compounds, including the development of a novel in cellulo click chemistry assay for screening of ribosome-templated (click-chemistry) antibiotics, and nanoparticles. Work with clinical collaborators focuses on studies of biofilm formation on indwelling devices. She has even collaborated with mathematicians modeling the formation of biofilms on marble monuments.
Finally, Dr. Buttaro also has a passion for education. She is a core basic science educator helping to develop models for teaching activities throughout the medical school curriculum. Working closely with infectious disease colleagues, she recently established a horizontal medical school curriculum highlighting basic bacteriology concepts and their importance for human microbiome and bacterial pathogenesis across all organ systems. She also teaches basic bacteriology and Gram-positive pathogens to dental, podiatric, and graduate students. She publishes some of her active learning sessions and has been recognized with numerous teaching awards.
Thoughts on my experience as a President of the Branch:
One of my favorite things about the Eastern PA Branch is the diversity of participants. Members of the chapter include clinical, industrial and government microbiologists including parasitologists and bacteriologists engaged in basic science to translational research. My activities in the Branch have included advisor for the student-led Infection and Immunity Forum, Treasurer, and President. The most enjoyable part of being president was helping to facilitate a reorganization of the seminar series from generalists to bringing speakers that were the top of their respective specialties to encourage interdisciplinary exchanges. My advice to students, especially now in a time of increased multi-discipline research, is keep your mind open to a far-ranging variety of topics. There is something to be learned in almost everything.
Dr. Laura Chandler, Ph.D. Branch President 2009 to 2011
Current Position: Retired, (When she served as Branch President she was Director of the Clinical Microbiology and Molecular Diagnostics Laboratories of the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and Associate Professor (Adjunct) of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Educational Background: Dr. Chandler did her undergrad degree in in Biology at Iowa State University and her Ph.D. in Microbiology from Colorado State University.
Biographical Summary and Comments: Dr. Chandler received her Ph.D. in Microbiology from Colorado State University. She spent many years doing research on arboviruses, at CSU and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Overlapping interests in diagnostics (especially molecular diagnostics) led her to pursue further training through the ASM CPEP fellowship in Clinical and Public Health Microbiology. After completing her fellowship, Dr. Chandler moved to Philadelphia, where she worked as Director of Clinical Microbiology at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and served on the faculty at Drexel University College of Medicine as an Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. In 2007, she moved to the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, where she served as Director of the Clinical Microbiology and Molecular Diagnostics Laboratories, and as Associate Professor (Adjunct) of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dr. Chandler always loved teaching, especially teaching clinical microbiology to medical students and fellows. She retired from full-time employment in 2017. Dr. Chandler is a Diplomate of the American Board of Medical Microbiology.
My membership in the Eastern Pennsylvania Branch of the ASM was one of the highlights of my career. I especially love how diverse the Branch is, with members in so many different disciplines of microbiology – research, clinical work, pharmaceutical industries, etc. Philadelphia is a science-rich environment and as a member and President of the Branch, I learned so much from my colleagues and friends in the Branch.
Dr. Çagla Tükel, Ph.D.- Branch President 2017 to 2019
Current Position: Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Director of the Microbiome and Human Disease Initiative, Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA.
Educational Background: Ankara University, Ankara Turkey-B.S. in Food Engineering; M.SC and Ph,D. in Food Microbiology; Postdoctoral Fellow in Salmonella Pathogenesis at Texas A&M University, College Station, TX and UC Davis, Davis, CA.
Biographical Summary and Comments: I am a microbiologist with a long-standing interest in dissecting the interactions of pathogenic bacteria with their hosts. I completed my M.Sc. and Ph.D. at Ankara University, Turkey; my research focused on Lactococcus lactis genetics. Resources for science were limited in Turkey, so I decided to pursue training in the West. I applied for and received a fellowship from the Norwegian Research Council and worked in Norway for a year where I studied lactococcal and enterococcal antimicrobial peptides with Dr. Ingolf Nes at the Norwegian Agricultural University. This was a great experience for me as it opened my eyes to a new world. My research on Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium in Dr. Nes’ laboratory led me to develop an interest in bacteriaI pathogenesis. In 2004, I joined Dr. Andreas Baumler’s laboratory at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center where I started working on mechanisms by which S. typhimurium is recognized by the innate immune system. After one year, Dr. Baumler was offered a position at the University of California Davis and I was able to follow him. During my training, I became interested in curli fibrils, which are functional amyloid deposits produced by enteric bacteria such as S. typhimurium and E. coli. I discovered that curli fibrils are pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) recognized by Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2). Detailed analysis led me to discover that recognition of curli by TLR2 is not dependent on curli’s primary amino acid sequence, but instead on curli’s ability to form beta sheets, a quaternary structure common to all amyloids. Interestingly, amyloid accumulation in humans is associated with many diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, prion diseases and type-2 diabetes. Finally, I determined that amyloids of both host origin (beta-amyloid 1-42 from Alzheimer’s plaques) and microbial origin (curli fibrils) are recognized by TLR2, because they share a common quaternary structure. Functional similarities of curli with other amyloid peptides that are involved in neurodegenerative diseases suggest that bacterial amyloid peptides could be used as a model to study complex neurodegenerative diseases. Overall, these studies resulted with four first authorship papers in prestigious journals, including Cell Host and Microbe, Molecular Microbiology, Cellular Microbiology and Journal of Bacteriology. In 2007, I received the title of Assistant Project Scientist, a non-tenure track faculty appointment at UC Davis, which enabled me to write grant proposals. In 2008, I received support from the American Heart Association (Scientist Development Grant) for four years.In January 2010, I accepted a tenure-track faculty position at Temple University and started my independent research group. Since then, I have been investigating how amyloid fibers modulate immune responses in the gastrointestinal tract or when they cross the barrier and exposed to underlying sterile organs. Our team showed that curli/DNA complexes found in enteric bacterial biofilms induce the generation of autoantibodies and a type I interferon (IFN) response if introduced systemically. We believe our research established a new general paradigm that conceptually links bacterial infections with inflammation and autoimmunity with implications in amyloid associated diseases.
Dr. Michele Kutzler Branch President 2021 to 2023
Current Position: Associate Professor of Medicine and Microbiology and Immunology, Associate Dean for Faculty, Drexel University College of Medicine.
Educational Background: B.S., Biology, with distinction in biology; Minor in Education, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA., PhD, Microbiology and Immunology, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. Postgraduate Training: Postdoctoral Fellow, Gene Therapy and Vaccines, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA., Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program. Certificate in Responsible Conduct of Research Graduate training, Office of Research Integrity, Department of Health and Human Services.
Biographical summary and comments:
During my PhD training, I studied the effects of morphine administration on T cell immunity to HIV-1 infection in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas Rogers as a trainee in the Center for Substance Abuse Research at Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine (funded by NIH/NIDA F31 National Research Service Award entitled, “Opioid modulation of chemokines in HIV-1 replication” F31DA05894). I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of David Weiner, PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, who is the PI of the lab that is considered the founder of the area of DNA vaccines (funded by NIH/NIAID F32 National Research Service Award entitled, “TNT: targeting and triggering mucosal adjuvants for HIV-1 vaccines” F32AI054152). My laboratory works to develop effective prophylactic vaccines that target a wide range of pathogenic organisms including Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Influenza virus, Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), SARS-CoV2, and the bacterium Clostridioides difficile. A new and exciting area of research for my lab is to develop a DNA-based vaccine encoding the toxins produced by the enteric pathogen, Clostridioides difficile. The vaccine would prevent serious disease caused by C. difficile, a hospital nosocomial pathogen, and have an impact on a major source of morbidity and mortality, with an estimated 14,000 CDI-related deaths in the United States each year, and cost to the healthcare system approximately $1.1 billion/year due to medication costs or surgery leading to prolonged hospital stays. Our vaccine was patented and subsequently licensed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals for future clinical testing. Since the efficacy of the DNA toxin based vaccine should be determined in a model that closely represents the cohort most susceptible to C. difficile infection, my laboratory is working to define the role of CD4 T cell help and mucosal immune mechanisms by which neutralizing antibody based protective immunity against severe disease caused by C. difficile infection is acquired in aging models and through a case controlled prospective clinical study at the former Hahnemann University Hospital. These data will inform development of a clinical prediction tool for acquisition of CDI, severity and recurrence and help in the design of future C. difficile vaccine trials. In 2017, our work to implement an intervention and quality improvement study entitled, “Infection vs. Colonization: C the Diff” for an improved Clostridioides difficile testing algorithm at the former Hahnemann University Hospital resulting in decreased testing and unnecessary medical treatment was recognized by the Hospital Health System Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) and awarded a Safe Hands Award.
In summary, my laboratory’s research focus aims to further understand the mechanisms by which long-lasting protective immunity against pathogenic organisms is acquired, to concepts in the development of modified vaccine antigenic design, innovative delivery methods and use of adjuvants to boost vaccine durability and efficacy. I have a great passion for mentoring the next generation of scientists, and create a rich training environment for high school, undergraduate, PhD and MD trainees in my lab. Students interact with multiple levels of learners and play key roles in translational research partnerships across a diverse network of collaborations. I am extremely proud of the solid foundation and scholarly accolades that my students have received leading to prestigious research positions and competitive fellowships. I am dedicated to creating a pathway of research opportunity, leadership development and career sponsorship for all students, and have contributed to the scientific and professional development of several underrepresented minority scholars and remain committed to this important national initiative to create a STEM pipeline of next generation scientists and physicians. Being a member of Eastern PA Branch of ASM allows me to participate in a collegial branch setting with outstanding programming and networking opportunities for students and faculty. I recently finished my service as faculty advisor to the Branch Student Chapter since 2016, and that experience has been one of the highlights of my career.
Thoughts on my experience as a President of the Branch:
I feel very fortunate to have been surrounded by supportive and productive women faculty mentors during my PhD training at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, which included 2 past Eastern PA Branch presidents, Drs. Bettina Buttaro and Toby Eisenstein. Looking back, I now realize how important it was for my future career, as a women in science and in early in my training, to observe successful female faculty mentors lead productive research laboratories in academia, be highly respected in their fields, hold leadership positions in our Department of Microbiology and Immunology and also serve in visible leadership roles in our professional society, the E PA ASM branch. How fortunate our Branch is to have had so many influential women leaders enrich the Branch in their role as President in so many key ways including: expanding membership and programming in both clinical microbiology as well as basic and translational science in microbiology, reorganizing the monthly seminar series to host nationally recognized speakers in diverse disciplines across microbiology and immunology to include virology, parasitology and bacteriology, and enhancing networking opportunities with interdisciplinary exchanges. I am humbled to serve in the role of President, and I wish to continue and build on the rich traditions and collegiality set forth by my predecessors to ensure continued Branch growth and engagement of its current and future members.