Megan T. Baldridge, assistant professor of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine, was named a Pew Biomedical Scholar on June 14. The award supports early career faculty members who have demonstrated “outstanding promise as contributors in science relevant to human health”. Each awardee will receive $300,000 over four years to help support their growing labs and advance their explorations of biological mechanisms underpinning human health and disease.
“These scientists have shown the boldness and creativity that drives great discoveries, and Pew’s unrestricted support will help them follow the facts wherever they lead,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “We’re proud to invest in this gifted group at a pivotal stage in their careers when funds to pursue new concepts and methods can be scarce.”
The selected scholars enter a vibrant community of researchers who have received awards from Pew since 1985. Current scholars meet annually to discuss their research, and exchange ideas with peers in fields outside of their own.
The Baldridge Lab will explore the conditions that influence the evolution of severe strains of norovirus, a culprit of gastrointestinal illness.
“Some individuals are able to rapidly clear norovirus infection, while others experience prolonged episodes of vomiting and diarrhea,” said Baldrige, “Limiting the duration of infection is not only beneficial for the individual, but can potentially curb the outbreak of epidemics. Sustained infection may allow the virus time to evolve into strains that can avoid immune detection.”
As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Baldridge discovered that the immune molecule, interferon-lambda, curtails norovirus infection in mice, while normal gut bacteria sustain it. “Now, using methods in virology, immunology, molecular biology, and genomics, our lab will manipulate the interferon-lambda signaling pathway and the composition of the microbiota in norovirus-infected mice and determine how these modifications affect the elimination of the virus, the evolution of viral variants, and the infectiousness of newly evolved viral strains. These findings could lead to novel probiotic treatments for eliminating viral infections and to interventions that can prevent the emergence of more dangerous viral variants, a problem not only for norovirus but for other epidemic viruses such as influenza.”
“The 2018 scholars bring fresh curiosity and insight to aspects of health and biology in critical need of investigation,” said Craig C. Mello, Ph.D., a 1995 Pew scholar, 2006 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine, and chair of the national advisory committee for the scholars program. “I’m excited to see their work invigorated by new resources and opportunities to collaborate with Pew’s community of nearly a thousand biomedical researchers.”
The Infectious Diseases Division congratulates Dr. Megan Baldridge as a 2018 Pew Biomedical Scholar.