Research microbiologist Melanie Cushion, PhD, an expert on the pneumonia-causing fungus Pneumocystis carinii, has received the Veterans Affairs (VA) Research Career Scientist Award from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A professor in UC's infectious diseases division and project leader of the international Pneumocystis Genome Project, Dr. Cushion currently works at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center studying the role of Pneumocystis as a “silent” infection in other chronic diseases. The organism especially threatens patients with immune systems weakened by other infections or by chemical agents, such as cancer drugs, and its effect can be frequently lethal.
Pneumocystis has been a mysterious organism since it was first identified in 1912. It began to receive serious scientific attention at the end of World War II, when it caused the death of hundreds of malnourished children in European orphanages.
Understanding the life cycle, metabolism and basic biology of the organism, however, has been hindered by researchers’ inability to continuously grow the species outside the lung.
Work by Dr. Cushion’s team and other scientists in sequencing Pneumocystis carinii is now revealing unusual genomic structures and identifying numerous genes involved in encoding cell cycle proteins, information that will lead to a greater understanding and eventual defeat of the organism.
The Research Career Scientist Award provides nearly $400,000 in support over five years and is the highest level award in the career track for nonclinician scientists at the VA. Dr. Cushion is only the third Cincinnati VA Medical Center scientist to receive this honor in the last 20 years.
These funds will be used to continue Dr. Cushion’s research into Pneumocystis carinii.