Mengxi JiangDr. Mengxi Jiang joined the microbiology department in January 2014.Growing up in Shanghai, China, Mengxi Jiang attended Fudan University where she received her undergraduate degree in 2001. Later that year, she moved to the United States and began research in bacteriology at the University of Michigan. When she received her Ph.D., she took a different direction and accepted a postdoctoral position at University of Michigan in the area of virology. “While working toward my Ph.D., I became more interested in the interplay of the host and pathogen. This led me into the field of virology,” says Jiang.

In 2012, Jiang became a research investigator at the University of Michigan, where she worked two years on the host-pathogen interactions of a human DNA tumor virus, BK polyomavirus (BKPyV). Now, as assistant professor in the microbiology department at UAB, she continues to search for a better understanding of the BKPyV life cycle to aid in the design of novel, more efficient anti-viral strategies.

“BKPyV infection is ubiquitous in the human population and occurs during early childhood,” says Jiang. “Primary infection with BKPyV is followed by dissemination to the kidney and urinary tract, in particular to kidney tubule epithelial cells and urinary tract epithelial cells, where the virus establishes a lifelong persistent infection. This infection remains asymptomatic in immunocompetent individuals, but under conditions of immunosuppression, BKPyV can undergo reactivation resulting in viral shedding in the urine and may eventually lead to severe diseases such as polyomavirus-associated nephropathy (PVAN) in renal transplant patients and hemorrhagic cystitis in bone marrow transplant recipients.”

Jiang says that no specific antiviral drugs for BKPyV infection are currently available, although the incidence of BKPyVrelated disease has greatly increased in the last few years. The immune components that are involved in controlling BKV persistence and reactivation are not well defined. As a new assistant professor, Jiang is looking to fill several positions in her lab. She enjoys sharing her excitement for research with students just entering the field. “It is important for students to learn how to do science, to think critically, and to establish their independence,” says Jiang.

201312993280 head shot s06On February 7, 2014, the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees appointed John F. Kearney, Ph.D., distinguished professor in the UAB School of Medicine Department of Microbiology. This is one of the University’s highest honors bestowed on faculty by the Board.

Kearney’s work has brought worldwide recognition to UAB. He is an internationally recognized expert in monoclonal antibodies and their source: immune cells known as B cells that produce the antibodies necessary to fight off infections and other immune threats.

Kearney came to UAB as a postdoctoral fellow in 1974 and joined the microbiology faculty in 1977. In addition to his primary faculty appointment in the microbiology department, Kearney holds several other appointments at UAB including senior scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and UAB Center for Disease Preparedness, as well as a professor in the Division of Developmental and Clinical Immunology.

Six microbiology department postdoctoral scholars received awards on February 17, 2014, at the annual Postdoctoral Research Day. “I don’t believe that we have had this many winners from one department previously,” says Sharon Johnston, program manager in the UAB Office of Postdoctoral Education.

Postdoctoral Research Day, hosted by the UAB Postdoctoral Association (PDA) and the Office of Postdoctoral Education (OPE), allows trainees an opportunity to practice their presentation skills, compete for monetary awards, and network with faculty and other postdocs. Trainees present their work in a situation similar to a conference, and receive constructive feedback to help them improve their presentation technique.

                                           The 2014 microbiology winners are:
                                       Davide Botta (Lund lab), 2nd Place, Session One  
                                       Valeria Lulla (Frolov lab), 3rd Place, Session Five  
                                       Colin Reily (Novak lab), 1st Place, Session Five  
                                       Alexander Speer (Niederweis lab), 2nd Place, Session Two  
                                       Jim Sun (Niederweis lab), 1st Place, Session Two  
                                       Venkata Yeramilli (Kearney lab), 2nd Place, Session Five  

These outstanding trainees were among 53 entrants from UAB and SRI (Southern Research Institute). Each submitted a 300-word abstract and presented a 12-minute talk about their research project. Research Day was divided into six sessions with 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards for each session. Presentations were judged by UAB faculty and SRI scientists.

Yother Diversity AwardDavid Briles, Ph.D.; Janet Yother, Ph.D.; Jocelyn Hauser; Kanupriya Gupta, Ph.D.Janet Yother, Ph.D., has a special knack for encouraging minorities who have chosen to pursue a career in science and mentoring them to become successful scientists. Her work to promote diversity in science education and training was recognized on February 13, 2014, when she received the UAB President’s Diversity Award for Mentoring.

"The mentoring award is a new category of diversity award,” explains UAB Microbiology Department professor David Briles, Ph.D. “It is for faculty who through their mentoring have had a significant impact on the diversity of UAB students and graduates. Janet mentored the first under-represented minority student to receive a Ph.D. while training in the UAB Microbiology Department. This success made it clear that our department could provide a nurturing environment for students of all stripes and has led to the training of many minority graduate students in the labs of microbiology faculty members.”

UAB President’s Diversity Awards are presented annually to recognize the significant achievements of faculty, staff and students who have worked to develop a more culturally diverse, competent and inclusive university community. Awards are given in five categories for projects or activities that best reflect the implementation of unit and/or campus diversity goals.

A study by the UAB School of Medicine reveals a potential new drug pathway target for battling Mycobacterium tuberculosis, or Mtb, the pathogen that causes tuberculosis. Read more about this research at “Disrupting iron transport leads to cell death in tuberculosis bacterium.”
Nearly 100 researchers attended the 5th Southeastern Mycobacteria Meeting, held at UAB January 24-26, 2014. This regional meeting provided a platform to catalyze communication and collaboration between mycobacteria researchers and clinicians in the Southeast. Attendees included primary investigators, postdoctoral scholars, medical professionals, graduate and undergraduate students interested in basic biology, epidemiology or clinical aspects of mycobacteria and mycobacterial diseases. Speakers included: Lalita Ramakrishnan, University of Washington; Hardy Kornfeld, University of Massachusetts; Adrie Steyn, K-RITH; Alastair Leslie, K-RITH; Karen LaCourciere, NIH; Ed Khan, UAB; Gail Cassell, IDRI.

The 5th Southeastern Mycobacteria Meeting was supported by UAB Center for AIDS Research, UAB Microbiology Department, and Infectious Disease, Global Health and Vaccines Strategic Planning Initiative.

To read more about this meeting, go to “Mycobacteria meeting focuses on TB.”

For more about Mycobacterium tuberculosis, go to “UAB Reaches to Africa to Study TB;” “Drug-resistant TB underestimated, Cassell says;” and “Disrupting iron transport leads to cell death in tuberculosis bacterium.”