JABSOM PhD students honored for work in tropical medicine

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The American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (ASTMH) presented its Young Investigator Award to two doctoral students at the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine (UH JABSOM). The award, which was presented at the ASTMH’s annual meeting in November, recognizes the work of outstanding young scientists and encourages them to pursue careers in various aspects of tropical disease research. A total of 1,665 posters were presented virtually at the international conference.

Kaitlin Driesse won first-tier mention for her work, “Characterization of serological response to dengue and Zika viruses in pregnant women during the Zika outbreak in Brazil”. Driesse, a PhD student and graduate research assistant at JABSOM, studies under her mentor Dr. Wei-Kung Wang. Recently, Driesse conducted research in Salvador, the epicenter of Zika virus outbreak in Brazil.

Driesse says the goal is to study the effects of DENV-ZIKV cross-reactive antibodies on disease outcomes in pregnant women and their infants.

“We analyzed serum samples from pregnant women in Northeastern Brazil and found a high proportion of cross reactive antibodies to dengue and Zika viruses. We hypothesize that this may contribute to the protective effects of previous DENV infection on ZIKV outcomes, as well as ZIKV on DENV during 2017-18 and enhancing effect during 2019-20 in human cohort studies,” Driesse said.

Brien Haun won honorable mention discussing, “LAG-3: A potential checkpoint of the humoral immune response to immunization.” Under the mentorship of Dr. Axel Lehrer, Haun presented his laboratory team’s work to further understand and improve upon potent antibody responses to immunization. Last year, Haun also won this award for “Pretreatment with Putative Novel Adjuvants Modulate Follicular Helper and B Cell Responses to ZIKV-E Antigen.”

About the ASTMH
The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, founded in 1923, is the largest international scientific organization of experts dedicated to reducing the worldwide burden of tropical infectious diseases and improving global health. Members of the society span across six continents.