I am a physician-scientist who aims to apply cross-disciplinary approaches to take on critical challenges in medicine. My current area of research interest is at the intersection of the reproductive tract microbiome and women’s health. The microbiome is emerging as a new frontier in reproductive health, impacting diseases with important public health implications, like preterm birth and HIV acquisition. Yet despite this importance, there remains a gap between compositional studies of the reproductive tract microbiota and functional understanding of the contribution of these communities to human health. My work aims to move beyond cataloguing species names, toward identifying individual microbial traits, and emergent properties of microbial communities to better understand how these communities influence their hosts.
My academic background:
I obtained my Bachelor of Science in Biology at Houghton College, in Houghton, NY, graduating summa cum laude in 2006. I gained my first introduction to laboratory research as an undergrad working with Dr. Matthew Pelletier, who eventually became my Honors Thesis mentor. In Matt’s lab, I studied proanthocyanidin biosynthesis in the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, using positional cloning to identify the genetic locus responsible for a defect in seed coat pigmentation.
After Houghton College, I enrolled in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Vanderbilt University, where I completed my graduate research in the laboratory of Dr. Eric Skaar in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology. There I applied molecular microbiology approaches to address the critical threat of antibiotic resistance, spearheading an Acinetobacter baumannii research program in Eric’s lab. My work defined important microbe-environment interactions that drive antibiotic resistance and pathogenesis in A. baumannii. These include identifying environmental signals for intrinsic antibiotic resistance, and defining the role for nutrient metal acquisition in A. baumannii pathogenesis. I published four, first-author papers during graduate school, and was also awarded a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Student Research Fellowship, which funded my final year of doctoral studies.
I graduated from Vanderbilt with my MD and PhD in 2014, and completed Pediatrics Internship and Residency in the Boston Combined Residency Program based at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center. During residency, I had the unique privilege of working in the Young Parents Program for my continuity clinic. Although a primary care clinic at its core, the mission of this clinic was to empower these teen mothers with parenting skills, self-care strategies, and the confidence and support system to care for their children and themselves. Having considered a career in Obstetrics and Gynecology, I have had a longstanding interest in women’s health, and it was in part this clinical experience that galvanized my current research interest in sexual and reproductive health.
I am now a clinical fellow in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital, working in the laboratory of Dr. Seth Rakoff-Nahoum. For my postdoctoral research project, I am applying empirical methods to define microbe-microbe, microbe-environment and microbe-host interactions that shape the reproductive tract microbiota. This work has established empirical cultivation assays for more than 60 unique species of reproductive tract bacteria and has contributed new knowledge defining roles for host glycan utilization in reproductive tract microbial ecology. I am now developing innovative approaches for ex vivo, longitudinal investigation of co-resident microbiota communities, with a goal of integrating these systems with clinical data and clinical specimens, in order to mechanistically link microbial function with human health. For the last two years, I have been supported as a fellow in the Pediatric Scientist Development Program. My work is currently funded through an institutional career development award (with oversight through the Pediatric Scientist Development Program) and a Physician Scientist Fellowship from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.