Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology
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Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology


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Learn all about the services we offer
30 Pages


graduate of this Department (M.S., 1990), who was my first postdoctoral fellow. Many of us knew Peter as a ...



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                    NEWSLETTER   2009J nuary a     Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology  Graduate School of Public Health University of Pittsburgh      
Sten Vermund, MD, PhD, Philip Parr, Charles R. Rinaldo, Jr., PhD, Donald S. Burke, MD
Cover Storyp. 1   Report from the Chairmanp. 5  Alumni Newsp. 6  News Spotlightp. 9  Recent IDM Graduatesp. 15  News Studentp. 17  Student Cornerp. 18  News Bigp. 19  Baby Newsp. 21  Staff Cornerp. 22  & International Oral & Poster National Presentationsp. 23  Recently Published Articles from IDM p. 25
 Pitt Men's Study marks 25th year Article from the November 6, 2008 edition of the University Times -By Kimberly K. Barlow  When the Pitt Men’s Study began 25 years ago, researchers “had a strong vision for the need to respond to the approaching storm,” in spite of the fact that men in Pittsburgh were not dying in significant numbers from AIDS, recalls Philip Parr, who at the time directed the Pittsburgh Free Clinic.  “I did not realize at the time I was witnessing a very remarkable and powerful occurrence that would last to this day: The building of a public health research initiative that would place the collecting and analyzing of data on equal footing with the dignity of the research subjects and their needs for education, support and services,” said Parr, who also is a former president of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force.  As the Pitt Men’s Study marks its 25th year, it continues to provide new data on the progression and transmission of HIV infections and AIDS. In a symposium commemorating the anniversary, public health researchers and advocates reflected last week on the study’s impact on science as well as on the local gay community.  When Pitt researcher Charles R. Rinaldo Jr. began recruiting local gay men for a pilot study in 1982, reports were circulating about a mysterious “gay plague,” before the term AIDS came into use and before HIV was identified as the cause.  In response to a National Institutes of Health request for proposals, in 1983 Rinaldo submitted a plan for a study that sought to recruit 7,000-10,000 men ages 18-55 for a “prospective study of AIDS in homosexual men in Pittsburgh.”  Based on Alfred Kinsey’s research on human sexual behavior, Rinaldo estimated a population of 35,000 gay men in the tri-state area, “and we were going to recruit 10,000 of them,” he noted wryly at the Nov. 3 event.  By using the offer of free testing for hepatitis, syphilis and gonorrhea as well as “shoeleather epidemiology” that included recruiting in gay bars, the discreetly named “Pitt Men’s Study” initially recruited a cohort of approximately 1,200 men.  The Pitt Men’s Study became one of four locations in the NIH-funded Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS), along with sites in Chicago, Los Angeles and Baltimore. Rinaldo, professor and chair of Pitt’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, continues as the principal investigator for the Pittsburgh site.  Science Magazine in July recognized MACS, with an annual budget of $14.4 million, as among NIH’s most cost-effective research investments. The project involves some 150 investigators following about 3,000 men in a long-term study on the transmission and progression of AIDS. Of the subjects, approximately 1,600 are infected with HIV; of those, 90 percent take antiviral drugs.  Some 1,000 HIV/AIDS research papers have sprung from MACS data to which the Pitt Men’s Study has contributed. Early data showed AIDS is not spread by casual contact. Later research found that certain genetic mutations impact the development of AIDS infections and associated high levels of HIV in the blood with increased risk of developing AIDS.  Researchers were able to use samples stored from the early days of the Pitt Men’s Study more than a decade later to determine how much HIV they contained. Along with information gained by tracking participants — some of whom developed AIDS in the ensuing decade — Rinaldo said researchers found they could predict who would develop AIDS based on the amount of the virus in the blood during the first year of infection. “It was a profound finding at the time,” Rinaldo said.  Hundreds of papers addressing virology, neuropsychology and therapeutics have been published in the interim. The MACS study also continues to gather information on “elite controllers”— HIV-positive men who are receiving no treatment, yet do not progress to AIDS.  Vanderbilt University epidemiologist Sten Vermund, a former NIH project officer responsible for MACS from 1988 to 1994, noted, “Maybe we can derive some insights from Mother Nature on how certain people control their HIV infection that can be terribly helpful in vaccine development.”  
 Today, as Pitt Men’s Study participants age, researchers can study how the virus affects such conditions as heart or liver disease, cancer and other conditions associated with aging. The data also enable researchers to assess the long-term toxicity of treatments for HIV — a logical progression of the research, “taking advantage of the fact that you have a total knowledge base for 25 years of medical history for your participants. Some of these people are in their 50s and 60s; a couple of them will be 70,” Vermund said. “They have the naturalproblems of aging, but there are also the side effects of the antiretroviral drugs and the primary effects of HIV. Who’s going to tease that out better than MACS?”  He added, “There’s been a volume of work that has not escaped a single aspect in what’s important about HIV that’s come out of MACS,” adding that Pitt researchers were ahead of the curve in studying the disease. It didnt take them having a hundred or a thousand reported cases to CDC for them to recognize how important this was,” he said.  “It may be the Pitt Men’s Study helped reduce the magnitude of the epidemic in Pittsburgh with its educational efforts, with its outreach with its frank talk about AIDS at a time when it wasn’t deemed proper to talk about AIDS, when it wasn’t even deemed proper to do research about AIDS,” he said.  Rinaldo noted that he insisted on building prevention education into the Pitt Men’s Study even though it wasn’t a required component. Parr commended Pitt’s researchers for their concern for the gay community and their emphasis on prevention education as well as their vision for enlisting community involvement in the study through the formation of a community advisory board.  In addition to prevention education, the study began conducting HIV screening as soon as it was available. That forced the researchers to deliver the grim news that some 400 of the men had tested positive, Rinaldo recalled.  Researchers also organized group sessions and therapy, with a “tremendous impact on the men who volunteered for the study,” Parr said. The community responded with cooperation.  “Pittsburgh was one of the first cities to mobilize as quickly and as strongly as it did. Bar owners put signs up, bartenders went to trainings. … The community rallied to put out as much info as possible and to support the study,” Parr said.  “It gives me great pleasure to document in some small measure the extraordinary initial, prescient and dogged ongoing work in Pittsburgh of the key people who established the collaborative scaffolding for the ongoing success of the Pitt Men’s Study. Together, these compassionate people launched research, service and support initiatives that have saved lives and have helped people live more healthy lives in vast numbers that cannot be completely known,” he concluded.  In spite of the contributions of the Pitt Men’s Study to the better understanding of HIV and AIDS, Rinaldo is not without his regrets regarding early approaches to the epidemic.  He said his research team walked a fine line between wanting to grab people by the shoulders and shake them to alert them to the danger, and the desire not to intimidate, insult or disrespect their choices in life. “Maybe if we had been more fear-inducing … maybe we would have saved more from infections, more lives.”  Likewise, Parr said much was done to get the message out through peers, but he wished the community earlier had “really honed in on that strategy much more powerfully — to actually have gay men go out and talk to men who have sex with men — friends, friends of friends. It’s a very powerful way to get the messages out because it’s coming directly from someone in the community.”  Parr said he also regrets that the initial work focused mainly on the community of white men who have sex with men. Although infection rates have remained stable in the U.S. for the past two decades, with about 35,000-55,000 new HIV cases each year, the demographics of the disease are changing.  Hidden within those numbers, Vermund said, is a rise in the number of women and a substantial rise in the numbers of black homosexual men infected.  Advances in antiretroviral treatments have contributed to a decline in mortality for people infected with HIV, but the rate of decline has been slower for blacks and Hispanics than for whites, Vermund said.  The AIDS crisis, particularly in the gay community, is not over, Vermund said. “Gay men still represent a majority of cases,” he said citing CDC statistics that show 53 percent of the transmission of HIV is from male-male sexual contact.  
(Above Photo L-R)Drs. Don Burke, Phalguni Gu ta, and Charles Rinaldo
(Right Photo L-R)Dr. Yue Chen, Dr. Giovanna Rappocciolo, Emilee Knowlton, Lauren Le ne, Dr. Nada Melhem, and Mariel Jais
(Above Photo L-R)Dr. Pilar Vargas-Vermund, Mr. Phili Parr and Dr. Sten Vermund
(Right Photo L-R)Ayan Chakrabarti, Dr. Zheng Fan, Dr. Xiaoli Huan and Kim Sto ka
(Left Photo L-R)Drs. John Armstrong, Sharon Riddler, Deborah McMahon, and Simon Barratt-Boyes
(Below Photo L-R)Philip Parr, Drs. Charles Rinaldo and Sten Vermund
   Dear IDM Alumni and Friends:   This Fall marked the 25thyear anniversary of the Pitt Men’s Study. As is detailed in this Newsletter, we held a scientific session in early November highlighted by presentations by guest speakers Dr. Sten Vermund, Mr. Phil Paar and Dean Donald Burke and myself. The second portion of our commemoration will be a booklet detailing many of the significant aspects of the Pitt Men’s Study. The third event will be on April 4, 2009 at the Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh when we will honor the men who have volunteered for the study.  This study has had a major impact on the viability, direction and success of Department. Indeed, it is highly likely that the Department would have been eliminated many years ago if we had not been successful in acquiring and maintaining the Pitt Men’s Study. Most important is that the study has provided a strong foundation for other AIDS-related research at Pitt, and as a leader in prevention and management of HIV 1 -infections in the Pittsburgh community. It fulfills our mission of public health in its truest sense.   We were very shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Peter Cai several weeks ago. Peter is the son of Dr. Ming Ding, a Research Specialist in Dr. Phalguni Gupta’s research group since 1988, and Dr. Quan Cai, a graduate of this Department (M.S., 1990), who was my first postdoctoral fellow. Many of us knew Peter as a young child with shy eyes belied by an intense, searching mind. He was truly a special human being. One cannot express words to lessen the burden of this loss on the family.  The IDM community urges donations to the Peter Cai Memorial Scholarship Fund that will go for support of emergency medical training at Harvard that Peter was deeply involved in. Specifics are detailed elsewhere in this newsletter.   Finally, as always, I especially look forward to hearing from our alumni and former staff and faculty members.  Please keep in touch.  With kind regards,
  Congratulations to IDM alumnaeKrisztina Janosko (Baglyas)andAshley Conley (Fielding)who are now certified public health (CPH) professionals, as they passed the charter class CPH exam in August. Krisztina and Ashley are both 2007 graduates of the Master of Science program. Krisztina stated it best in an e-mail to the department recently to update us on her accomplishment. “I felt it was prudent for me to prove to myself and to potential employers that graduating from a school of public health with an MS allowed me to obtain a mastery of both basic science as well as public health.”  Ashley and Krisztina prior to the GSPH Convocation ceremony April, 2008.      Registration for the 2009 CPH exam has begun. All students who have completed the graduation requirements for their respective degrees who are enrolled in a CEPH accredited public health school are eligible to complete the exam. Further details are available     
  Paul Thompson(MS, 2006), recently had a paper published in the October 2008 volume of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, “Validation of real-time PCR for laboratory diagnosis of Acanthamoeba keratitis”. This work was a result of research completed for his M.S.. Other authors on the article are Regis P. Kowalski, Robert M. Q. Shanks, and Y. Jerold Gordon. The abstract is available free on PubMed at   After graduation, Paul was promoted as a Specialist in Microbiology in the UPMC Charles T Campbell Ophthalmic Microbiology Laboratory. He and his wife reside in Pittsburgh and had their first child, Harriet Therese, in November of last year.    In October, IDM alumnus (MS, 1980)Captain Robbin S. Weyant, PhD presented a lecture, “Regulation of Select Agents in the U.S.,” in our IDM Seminar. Capt. Weyant is currently the Director of the Division of Select Agents and Toxins, Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a master’s student, Capt. Weyant’s faculty advisor was Dr. Pasculle. They are pictured here prior to the presentation given by Capt. Weyant.    
Dr. Rob Weyant was born and raised in Johnstown, PA. He holds a BS and MS from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Ph.D. from Emory University. Dr. Weyant first joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a guest researcher in 1985 while finishing his PhD studies. In 1989, he accepted a commission in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS), and served in the National Center for Research Resources, NIH, until returning to CDC in 1991 to work in the National Center for Infectious Diseases’ (NCID) Special Bacteriology Reference Laboratory (SBRL). Dr. Weyant was named SBRL laboratory chief in 1996 and served in that capacity until February 2002, when he joined the CDC Office of Health and Safety (OHS) as the chief of the Laboratory Safety Branch. During his tenure at the SBRL, Dr. Weyant implemented 16S rRNA sequence analysis for the identification of unusual bacterial pathogens, developedB. anthracisandBrucellasp. identification protocols for the US Laboratory Response Network, participated in the CDC response to the anthrax attacks of October 2001, and published multiple scientific papers on the identification of unusual bacterial pathogens, including the 2ndedition of the CDCIdentification of Unusual Pathogenic Gram-Negative Aerobic and Facultatively Anaerobic Bacteriamanual. While at the OHS, Dr. Weyant participated in the development of CDC laboratory safety guidelines for SARS and monkeypox virus, served as the Alternate Responsible Official for Select Agent laboratories at the CDC Roybal Campus, represented OHS on the NCID Institutional Biosafety Committee, coordinated successful WHO biosafety inspections of the CDC smallpox research program, and represented CDC on the Steering Committee of the 5thedition of theCDC/NIH Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratoriesmanual. Dr. Weyant joined the CDC Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT) as the Acting Director in October of 2006, and was named permanent DSAT Director in April 2007. Dr. Weyant has authored or coauthored over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers, CDC publications, books or book chapters, and scientific meeting abstracts. Dr. Weyant has received multiple CDC and USPHS awards, including two James Nakano citations for his work on anthrax and Brazilian purpuric fever.      Missing Alumni  We have contact with most of the over 200 graduates from our Department, but still lose track of a few. Do you know where we can find these alumni? If so, please forward their contacting information to us   Ismat Ahmed Maria Dolor Fu-Mei Chen Huang Nancy Jaeger Kapp Penney Koeppen Ling Lu Stephanie Paula Schugar Yung Oh Shin Jinks Einstein Walter Randy Wolford  
Cynthia Jalandoni Asuncion Mary Sue Bartolomea Robert Charbonneau Rong Dong Sumita Ganguly Claude Junior Henry Chempithra Varughese Jacob Peter Roy Jacobson Edward Henry Jones Mary Kate Kitay Sumathi Krishnamurthy Teresa Lester Gory Love Ajay Mirani Carolyn Nash Elizabeth Newman Victor Bruno Schultz John Schwartz Terri Semon Janet Marie Simon Monica Mary Stefanides Ernest Tanner Leah Wang Yazhang Wang Jane Williams    
  Peter Cai Memorial Scholarship Fund  
 Peter Cai, a 20 year old junior at Harvard University, collapsed and died of cardiac arrest the morning of October 25th while running a foot race along the Charles River in Boston.  Peter is the son of Drs. Ming Ding and Quan Cai of Pittsburgh. Dr. Ding has been a Research Specialist in Dr. Phalguni Gupta's laboratory in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology (IDM) since 1988. Dr. Cai was the first Research Associate in Dr. Charles Rinaldo's laboratory in 1984, and received his M.S. in IDM in 1990.  Peter was an outstanding individual with limitless promise. He studied molecular and cellular biology, and was an aspiring physician active in campus science and pre-medical groups. In addition to his academic pursuits, he was an accomplished violinist who played for the Mozart Society Orchestra and an English-language tutor for the Phillips Brooks House Association's Chinatown tutoring program.  Peter participated in many volunteer activities at Harvard University. For example, Peter served in the Harvard Emergency Medical Services (HEMA) program, including as the director of HEMA.  Many IDM faculty members, staff and students knew Peter as the bright, inquisitive boy visiting his mother in the laboratory. Clearly the many achievements in his short life stand as an extraordinary example for all to emulate.  A Scholarship Fund in Peter's name is being established at the Phillips Brooks House Association at Harvard College to cover the costs of students or community persons wanting to participate in the Emergency Medical Training course provided by the HEMA program who are unable to afford the $1,000 cost.  If you would like to contribute, you may enclose cash or check in an envelope to:  Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) North Harvard Yard Cambridge, MA 02138 (Please include a note that the donation is in Peter's honor.)  Alternatively, you may donate online atanod/gro.ahbp.wwwteand designate "Peter Cai Fund" under the specific needs section of the web page.
  Spotlight News…  IDM Professor Receives Gates Foundation Grant  Dr. Yue Chen, Assistant Professor of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology received a Grand Challenge Exploration grant of $100,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop an oral vaccine against HIV usingClostridium perfringensbacteria as a delivery vehicle. The proposed vaccine strategy holds great promise to develop a practical vaccine against HIV due to safety, low production cost and easy administration. Dr. Chen is an IDM alumnus completing her PhD in under the direction of Dr. Phalguni Gupta. Her faculty profile is available on theIDM Web site.
Pitt Researchers Find Stronger Evidence That Virus Causes Deadly Skin Cancer Dr. Patrick Moore holds a secondary appointment in IDM Article from the September 29, 2008 edition of the University Chronicle -By Anita Srikameswaran University of Pittsburgh scientists are uncovering more evidence that a virus they recently discovered is the cause of Merkel cell carcinoma, an aggressive and deadly form of skin cancer. The findings, published in an online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, put to rest the possibility that Merkel cell polyomavirus, or MCV, infects tumors that already have formed. If that were the case, the virus would be a passenger rather than the driver of the disease. Experiments in human tumors reveal that the cancer develops in two steps: During infection, MCV integrates into host cell DNA and produces viral proteins that promote cancer formation. Tumors occur when a mutation removes part of a viral protein needed for the virus to reproduce and infect other healthy cells, explained senior investigator Patrick Moore, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics in Pitt’s School of Medicine and director of the Molecular Virology Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. The virus then can spread only as the cancer cells themselves multiply.  
Clearly, “MCV infects normal cells before they turn into cancer cells,” Moore said. “The virus could not have infected a tumor afterwards, because it can no longer replicate. It looks very much like MCV is the culprit that causes the disease.”
The researchers propose two possible reasons why these mutations develop: If viral replication continues, the immune system could recognize the intruder to eliminate diseased cells, or the viral replication itself will lead to the death of the cancer cells. Both of these possibilities provide promising leads to find better ways to kill Merkel cell cancer cells without harming healthy tissues.
Also, “this research shows evolution within tumors on a molecular level,” Moore said. “You can see the specific molecular steps.” The team’s current work could account for such known risk factors for Merkel cell carcinoma as UV exposure and ionizing radiation, which damage DNA and can lead to the viral mutations.
Merkel cell cancers are rare, occurring in about 1,500 Americans annually. Half of patients who have advanced disease die within nine months of diagnosis, and two-thirds of them die within two years. The elderly and people with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of developing the cancer, which arises in skin nerve cells that respond to touch or pressure.
In a paper published in Science in January, Moore and his wife, Yuan Chang, who codirects their lab, reported their identification of the virus and that it could be found in 80 percent of Merkel cell tumors. They cautioned that although up to 16 percent of the population carries MCV, very few will develop cancer.
There is no treatment for MCV infection right now, but identifying the agent and understanding how it triggers disease could lead to targeted interventions, Moore said.
Coauthors of the study are Masahiro Shuda, Huichen Feng, Hyun Jin Kwun, Ole Gjoerup, and Yuan Chang, all of the Molecular Virology Program at the University of Pittsburgh; and Steven T. Rosen of Northwestern University. Funding for this research was provided by a grant from the University of Pittsburgh EXPLORER fund.
Research in Pitt Men's Study is Awarded by NIDA Announcement written by Dr. Jessica Burke 
Dr. Jessica Burke’s grant “Patterns of substance use among aging HIV positive and negative MSM” was recently funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The award is $203,000 for 2 years. Drs. Ron Stall (GSPH-BCHS), Anthony Silvestre (GSPH-IDM), Steve Albert (GSPH-BCHS) and Michael Marshal (WPIC) are study co-investigators. Howie Lim, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology and a LGBT Health & Wellness certificate program student, is the study’s Project Director.
The overarching goal of this R03 research study is to examine the patterns of substance use over time among an aging cohort of HIV positive and negative men who have sex with men (MSM) participating in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS). The Pitt Men's Study (PMS) is one of the four MACS sites.
This exploratory research focuses on the extent to which middle-aged MSM carry substance use habits from earlier into later life. It is a mixed method study that includes 1) an innovative approach to secondary
 quantitative data analysis of existing MACS data and 2) qualitative in-depth interviews with selected MACS participants. The analysis will be limited to MACS participants currently over the age of 50 years and will compare trajectories of declining substance use with increasing or consistently high levels of use. These pattern comparisons will allow for the identification of resiliency characteristics associated with decreased substance use and related health and social problems. Results will be used to develop a model intervention to prevent substance abuse and related health and social problems among both older HIV positive and negative MSM. The analysis will also specifically seek to develop hypotheses from the qualitative and quantitative data that can be tested with other aging populations of substance users.     Pitt Scientists Receive $3.6 Million to Test Vaccine Against Deadliest Strain of Avian Flu Dr. Ted Ross holds a secondary appointment in IDM UPMC Media Relations Press Release PITTSBURGH, Aug. 25 – Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research have been awarded $3.6 million from the National Institutes of Health to conduct animal studies of vaccines designed to protect against the most common and deadliest strain of avian flu, H5N1. Recent outbreaks of H5N1 have prompted health officials to warn of its continued threat to global health and potential to trigger an avian flu pandemic.  “Worldwide avian flu control efforts have been mostly successful, but like seasonal influenza, avian flu changes year to year, creating new subtypes and strains that could easily and quickly spread among humans,” said Ted M. Ross, Ph.D., principle investigator of the grant and assistant professor, Center for Vaccine Research, University of Pittsburgh.  Unlike other avian flu vaccines, which are partially developed from live viruses, the vaccines Dr. Ross and colleagues will test in non-human primates are based on a virus-like particle, or VLP, that is recognized by the immune system as a real virus but lacks genetic information to reproduce, making it a potentially safer alternative for a human vaccine. Given the evolving nature of H5N1, the vaccines have been engineered to encode genes for many influenza viral proteins to offer enhanced protection against possible new strains of the virus.  “VLPs may be advantageous over other vaccine strategies because they are easy to develop, produce and manufacture,” said Dr. Ross. “Using recombinant technologies, within ten weeks, we could generate a vaccine most effective towards the current circulating strain of virus, making it a cost-effective counter-measure to the threat of an avian influenza pandemic.”  Co-investigators at the University of Pittsburgh include Simon M. Barratt-Boyes, Ph.D., Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology; Gerard J. Nau, M.D., Ph.D. and Jodi K. Craigo, Ph.D., Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics; Elodie Ghedin, Ph.D., Department of Medicine; and Clayton A. Wiley, M.D., Department of Pathology.