My Secret Bullicorn was Katie Shives. Katie is a graduate student pursuing her PhD in Microbiology. She currently studies the West Nile virus in hopes of finding cellular targets for new therapeutic drugs. Her area of interest is emerging and neglected human pathogens. As someone not working in a science related field emerging and neglected human pathogens piqued my interest. One of my first questions to Katie was “What is a neglected pathogen exactly?” She explained neglected pathogens are diseases that are a burden on the human population, but are not getting the research funding and coverage needed for a true therapeutic breakthrough to occur- such as West Nile virus.
The biggest topic Katie and I discussed was vaccines. She made a very excellent point I had yet to consider regarding the decision to vaccinate vs. not vaccinate in relation to developing and developed countries. In developing countries people can see the direct benefit and just how important vaccines are, yet here in the US we’ve worked so hard (and have done a great job) of removing these diseases from our society that individuals tend to think these diseases aren’t around anymore. It becomes a matter of privilege instead of health and well-being. It would never occur to me to not vaccinate, so I didn’t know there were groups of people against them (claims that they cause autism brought this issue to my attention) prior to the past few years.
I asked Katie for recommendations for us “armchair microbiologists” who are interested in her field, but just remember a few words from our Junior year of high school microbiology. She suggested the movie Contagion, because it represents issues well, and the books The Coming Plague and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I’m looking forward to checking out all three!
– Natalie Brown
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