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September 29, 2011

Med school prof gets MacArthur “genius” award

Elodie Ghedin

Elodie Ghedin

School of Medicine faculty member Elodie Ghedin, a parasitologist and virologist, has won a 2011 MacArthur fellowship, commonly known as a “genius grant.” She was one of only 22 recipients selected nationwide this year.

The fellowships, given annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, are awarded for exceptional creativity and the promise for future accomplishments that will benefit human society. The honor carries an award of $500,000 in unrestricted support.

Ghedin is an assistant professor in the medical school’s Department of Computational and Systems Biology. She also is a member of the University’s Center for Vaccine Research.

A biomedical researcher, Ghedin is harnessing the power of genetic sequencing techniques into insights about human pathogens. She is a leader of international projects that coordinate the efforts of scores of scientists to decode the function of some of the most virulent human pathogens. A major focus of her work has been parasites that cause diseases endemic to tropical climates, such as leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, elephantiasis and river blindness. Through her direct research and mobilization of global scientific collaborations, Ghedin’s work illuminates the similarities and differences in the molecular physiology of the various parasites, with important implications for targets for drug development.

“I’m stunned and excited,” Ghedin said. “With this award, I will expand on my parasitology work, specifically the organism that causes elephantiasis. I also hope to explore new avenues in the evolution of RNA viruses other than influenza.”

Ghedin and colleagues also are applying similar approaches to understanding viruses that infect humans. In a high-resolution study of complete genome sequences of influenza A from more than 200 isolates collected in the New York area, Ghedin and colleagues showed that the virus evolves with surprising rapidity even in a circumscribed geographic region. Through her contributions to parasitology and virology, Ghedin has demonstrated that molecular genetics not only is essential for exploring the basic biology of pathogens but also represents a powerful tool in the hands of scientists working in coordination to improve public health across the globe.

The MacArthur Fellows program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual and professional inclinations. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in new work, change fields or alter the direction of their careers.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 3

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