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September 28, 2012 - Dr. Mary Burtnick Receives Research Award

Principal Investigator Dr. Mary Burtnick, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, with Co-principal Investigator Dr. Paul Brett, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology.

Dr. Mary Burtnick, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was recently awarded funding by the Pacific Southwest Regional Center of Excellence for a research project in biodefense and emerging infectious diseases.

The amount awarded for the first year of funding is $148,328, while the second year of funding is contingent upon the progress of the project during the first year.

Research in Dr. Burtnick’s lab is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms used by bacterial pathogens to cause disease in both humans and animals. The recently funded project is aimed at determining the specific role of a Type VI secretion system (T6SS) expressed by pathogenic Burkholderia species during interactions with host cells.

According to Dr. Burtnick, pathogenic Burkholderia species cause significant morbidity and mortality in human populations, and infections caused by pathogenic Burkholderia are often difficult to diagnose.

In addition, Dr. Burtnick said treatment of the infections is complicated due to the high level of resistance of these organisms to a variety of antibiotics.

“Because we have previously shown that T6SS is important during the intracellular lifestyle of these bacteria, and is required for virulence of these organisms in animals, it represents a promising target for the development of novel vaccines and therapeutics,” Dr. Burtnick said. “By better understanding how this important virulence factor functions at a molecular level, we believe that we will be able to define a role for this system in the pathogenesis of the diseases caused by these organisms.”

Dr. Burtnick said the research will allow her lab to gain valuable insight into targeting the system to inhibit its function, or utilize components of this system for the development of vaccine candidates.

“There are currently no licensed Burkholderia vaccines available for use in either humans or animals,” she said. “We believe our studies will yield important clues toward the future design of therapeutics and vaccine candidates to treat and/or prevent the diseases caused by these organisms.”

The Pacific Southwest Regional Center of Excellence (PSWRCE) is one of 11 centers funded through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. For additional information on the PSWRCE, visit

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