UTHealth student earns fellowships to research major source of bacterial infections

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UTHealth student Jennifer Juarez has received two research fellowships. Juarez is pictured with her mentor, William Margolin, Ph.D.

UTHealth student Jennifer Juarez has received two research fellowships. Juarez is pictured with her mentor, William Margolin, Ph.D.

HOUSTON - (Sept. 19, 2011) - A doctoral student at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has been awarded two research fellowships to study the spread of E. coli, a hard-to-treat bacterium that can lead to food poisoning.

Jennifer Juarez received fellowships from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The ASM fellowship supports professional development and the NIH fellowship provides a two-year stipend of up to $56,232.

Juarez is a doctoral student in microbiology and molecular genetics at The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston, which trains research scientists and scientist-educators. The school is overseen by UTHealth and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

While most strains of E. coli are harmless, some have been linked to diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Undercooked meat is not the only source of harmful E. coli. It is sometimes found in contaminated water and it can be spread by people with poor hygiene.  Disease associated with E. coli can be fatal.

Juarez’s research on how the bacterium reproduces is being conducted in the laboratory of William Margolin, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the UTHealth Medical School. He also is on the faculty of the UT Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

“Jennifer is studying how bacterial cells divide, a process required for bacterial propagation in any environmental niche including in the human body during infection,” Margolin said. “Despite much research on bacteria, the molecular mechanisms for cell fission are not well understood.”

Margolin added, “Understanding the mechanisms bacteria use to divide and proliferate will pave the way for the development of novel antibacterial treatments. This is especially critical now as bacteria are become increasingly resistant to currently available antibiotics.”

Juarez received the ASM’s Robert D. Watkins Graduate Research Fellowship, which seeks to increase the number of graduate students from underrepresented groups completing doctoral degrees in the microbiological sciences. This year, 44 applications were received and seven were awarded.

Juarez received the NIH’s Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Individual Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health Related Research.  This award will be funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the NIH.

She graduated in 2003 from Runnels High School and in 2007 from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology; both are in Baton Rouge, La.

Rob Cahill
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