JABSOM PhD candidate driven towards a career in infectious disease

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Pictured: Joanna Kettlewell in the lab.

Stretching 26 miles and plunging to a depth of 2,300 feet (701 meters), the Kaʻiwi Channel between the islands of Molokaʻi and Oʻahu has a reputation as one of the world’s most treacherous bodies of water. Crossing it was a challenge that University of Hawaiʻi (UH) scientist Joanna Kettlewell boldly took head on.

“I joined a canoe club a couple years ago and crossed the Kaʻiwi channel for the very first time in the Na Wahine O Ke Kai,” said Kettlewell. “I love being a part of a team of strong, amazing women. Also, being on the open ocean is so refreshing!”

The goal-oriented Kettlewell has always been inclined towards a career where she could see the direct, positive outcomes of her work, which inspires her work as a doctoral candidate in the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology, and Pharmacology at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). She relishes in the fact that by choosing a career in infectious disease, she can be part of a team working to prevent illness. Her most recent publication in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology brought together a physician (Principal Investigator and Pediatrician/Scientist Dr. Bruce Shiramizu), scientists, a nurse and a biostatistician to research novel ways to prevent HIV and HIV central nervous system infection.

Kettlewell studies HIV neuropathogenesis, specifically researching novel interventions for the treatment and prevention of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders. HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders negatively impact up to half of persons living with HIV and interfere with the ability to complete ordinary, daily tasks. There is currently no specific treatment for HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders, so she believes it is a subject of utmost importance to research.

“Throughout my tenure as a doctoral candidate, I’ve gained a diverse skill set that has prepared me for a career as a scientist. Most importantly, however, is the enormous growth in my critical and analytical thinking skills and my abilities to communicate my work to a broad audience,” said Kettlewell.

She was one of two recipients that were recently awarded the Windsor and Mary Cutting Award for Most Outstanding Doctoral Student in Biomedical Sciences (Pharmacology) from the UH Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology.

When she is not in the laboratory, you can find her at Duke’s on a Sunday or enjoying the state’s scenic outdoors.

“I love all of Hawaiʻi but Haleakalā National Park holds a special place in my heart. My first-time experiencing Haleakalā, I was on a service trip in the crater pulling invasive species of plants. I fell in love with the beauty and history. A year later, my now-fiance proposed at Waimoku Falls,” Kettlewell said.

About the Windsor and Mary Cutting Award:
The award, given in honor of Windsor and Mary Cutting perpetuates their lifelong memory and dedication for biomedical sciences research, specifically pharmacology, conducted at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). Dr. Windsor Cutting was an internationally renowned academician, medical scientist and clinician. Dr. Cutting was also the founding dean of JABSOM and chairman of pharmacology. Mary Cutting was a supporter of the medical school as well as founder and president of the Friends of the Medical School organization.