South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases awards doctoral scholarships

scholarship recipients

Christopher Pierce and Tricia Van Laar

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(Sept. 30, 2010)--Cellular and molecular biology students Tricia Van Laar and Christopher Pierce are the recipients of the 2010 UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) doctoral scholarships. Both students will receive $21,500 to help complete their doctoral work.

Under the direction of Janakiram Seshu, UTSA associate professor of bacterial pathogenesis, Van Laar is researching Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease. Her research focuses on whether the symptoms of Lyme disease can be reduced by clinically approved medications that inhibit a key metabolic pathway of the pathogen. When Van Laar graduates, she plans to complete a post-doctoral fellowship and move on to a tenure-track position where she can continue her infectious disease research.

"Being selected to receive this scholarship is an incredible honor, and I am extremely grateful to have been chosen as one of the recipients this year," said Van Laar.

Pierce is the second recipient of the 2010 STCEID scholarship. Under the guidance of Jose Lopez-Ribot, UTSA professor of microbiology, Pierce is working on a project to identify and characterize small molecules that inhibit Candida albicans biofilm formation and filamentation. The fungus C. albicans causes a wide variety of infections from a common yeast infection to the life-threatening hospital-acquired infection called candidiasis.

Like Van Laar, Pierce hopes ultimately to obtain a tenure-track faculty position upon completing his doctoral degree.

"My desire to become a professor at a research institution is driven by my interest in understanding and studying complex biology and my aspiration to instill this knowledge and encourage curiosity in the minds of others," he said.

This is the second year the UTSA center has awarded the scholarships to promising doctoral students.

"The South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases is committed to recruiting and training talented students who are interested in infectious disease research," said Karl Klose, UTSA professor of microbiology and STCEID director. "We implemented our annual scholarship program as a way to help students through the costly and time-intensive process of obtaining a doctoral degree. We congratulate Ms. Van Laar and Mr. Pierce for their dedication in working toward their doctoral degrees."