PhD student will head to Brazil to study Dengue, Zika through Kagan Endowed Fellowship

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Pictured: Kaitlin Driesse at a JABSOM (laboratory) bench. Photo courtesy of Driesse.

University of Hawaiʻi (UH) PhD Candidate Kaitlin Driesse received the 2019 Kagan Endowed Fellowship. Driesse is a PhD student in the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).

UH Med: Tell us a little about yourself.
Kaitlin: I earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Albany, New York. Then I moved to Hawaiʻi and have been affiliated a PhD student and graduate research assistant at JABSOM since August 2018.

UH Med: Tell us about your research.
Kaitlin: My research focuses on studying the prevalence of both Zika and Dengue, two closely related viruses transmitted by mosquitoes, in Northern Brazil. My current research project aims to understand the relationship between pre-existing immunity to dengue virus and the pregnancy outcomes of Zika virus infection in Salvador, the epicenter of Zika outbreak in Brazil.

UH Med: Congrats on your award! How will it be used?
Kaitlin: I received the Abraham Kagan, MD Endowed Fellowship which will be used to fund my international research in Salvador, Brazil. While there, I will work with our collaborators to test blood samples (collected during the Zika Outbreak in 2015-2016) from a cohort of pregnant women as well as samples from infants who suffer from Congenital Zika Syndrome (CZS). I will also train our colleagues on the laboratory methods we use here at JABSOM to test these samples for Zika and Dengue viruses.

UH Med: Mahalo for chatting with us! What do you look forward to most about your upcoming trip?
Kaitlin: I am excited to spend time with our international collaborators and exchange ideas and methods that will strengthen my experience in global health research. I’m also looking forward to eating Brazilian food!

About the Abraham Kagan, MD Endowed Fellowship:
Established by Marion G. Kagan in memory of her husband, cardiologist Dr. Abraham Kagan, this award provides graduate fellowships to select MD residents and graduate students who have expressed an interest in working in the field of international health upon completion of their studies/training. From 1965 until his retirement in 1989, Dr. Kagan led the Honolulu Heart Program, a research project which studied thousands of men of Japanese ancestry to see how differences in lifestyle affected rates of heart disease and stroke. The study involved 8,000 men in Hawaiʻi , many of who are still being monitored today. A number of the findings in the study have been used to guide physicians in treating heart disease.