Becker receives G.E.R.M. grant

Greta Becker, a second-year medical student, received a Grants for Emerging Researcher/Clinical Mentorship (G.E.R.M.) from the Infectious Diseases Society of America Foundation (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association. Under the supervision of Robert Blount, MD, assistant professor in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine, Becker will use the funds from this grant to examine the ways in which air pollution modifies the immune system’s response against tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the deadliest communicable diseases in the world. The Blount Lab explores the impact of air pollution on TB risk in Vietnam, where individuals are exposed to high levels of pollution from industry emissions, coal power plants, transportation, and indoor cooking. (Related: Blount’s recent Grand Rounds presentation)

The goal of Becker’s G.E.R.M. project is to determine whether air pollution particles collected in Hanoi, Vietnam, impair airway surface liquid killing of bacille Calmette-Guerin, a weakened strain of TB bacteria. Airway surface liquid is produced by airway epithelial cells and contains antimicrobial proteins and peptides that kill respiratory pathogens as part of the innate immune response.

“Air pollution can be in a gaseous or particulate form. We focus on fine particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter. These small particles are particularly dangerous because they can penetrate deep into the lungs — or even reach the bloodstream,” Becker said.

The project will involve bench work here at Iowa in the Lung Biology and Cystic Fibrosis Research Center and field work with a research team in Hanoi to work on the air pollution particle collection process.

Before coming to Iowa, Becker graduated with a degree in biochemistry from Loras College. She is interested in pulmonology and hopes to build on previous microbiology lab experiences through the G.E.R.M. program.

The IDSA’s G.E.R.M. program provides grants to medical students to support longitudinal mentored clinical learning and/or research projects for up to a year. The program was developed to encourage and facilitate the pursuit of a career in the field of Infectious Diseases.

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