Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Meet The Researcher | Infection, Inflammation & Immunity (Triple-I) | Infection, Inflammation, and Immunity | February 25, 2015
Sabrina Martinez had been working on another project for three and a half
years before she realized she had to start over.
“I was scooped by
another group and I had nothing to go forward with on the other project. I
couldn’t publish it and I had to start over. It’s bizarre, but there was never
more than a fleeting moment when I thought of giving up. Part of it is
stubbornness but I also like the challenge. I like how in science, everything
is uncharted territory,” she explained.
Martinez was just awarded a predoctoral individual National Research Service Award, also known as a F31 fellowship, which will provide her with supervised research training leading towards a doctoral degree. Recently, UT Health Science Center was ranked in the top four for number of awards given by the National Institutes of Health for this highly competitive fellowship.
She explained that she has always been in love with research.
“I always wanted to know why things were happening. Research gives you the opportunity to do that and allows you to learn what’s outside of the textbook. It’s exciting to me,” explained Martinez, who is a fifth year graduate student at the UT Health Science Center.
Her mentor, Dr. David Kadosh, explained that her project is
very unique for a graduate student.
“The project that ended up getting funded by the F31 is
something that she thought of entirely on her own. That doesn’t always happen
and it’s something I like to encourage,” Dr. Kadosh said.
Her research is on Candida infections which are the fourth main cause of hospital-acquired bloodstream
infections in the United States.
“It’s pretty significant, especially if you get a
bloodstream infection, since the people it affects are immunocompromised and the mortality rate
is very high” explained Martinez.
Candida can cause
mucosal infections on surfaces like your mouth or vaginal cavity or systemic
infections which occur through the bloodstream and can affect every tissue and
organ in your body.
“A lot of pathogens only infect certain organs but Candida species can go pretty much
everywhere and represent a major health problem” Dr. Kadosh said.
Martinez has been researching two types of Candida species. The first is Candida albicans, which is a highly
studied pathogen that accounts for about 50 percent of infections and the
second is a lesser-studied pathogen, Candida
“As I was growing the species together, I realized that when
Candida albicans is grown with Candida glabrata, it can’t form
filaments,” Martinez said. “The ability to form filaments is important for virulence
in Candida albicans infections and there are certain growth conditions that
affect filament formation. However, this is the first time that another Candida species had been found to
prevent Candida albicans from filamenting.”
Martinez’s discovery is important because it could be useful
in finding a new therapeutic for Candida
“It’s a really big problem and affects a wide patient
population. Currently about 1 billion dollars per year is spent on treatment for infections, but despite all of this, there are only 3 major classes of
antifungals. In contrast, there are around 30 major classes of antibiotics so
there is a huge demand to develop novel and more effective antifungal
therapies,” Dr. Kadosh said. “It’s not a magic bullet but it could assist in
treatment, especially if combined with other therapies.”
Martinez is now working to identify what exactly is being
made by Candida glabrata that is
preventing Candida albicans filamentation.
“I know it’s something that’s important for people,
especially those who are immunocompromised and that population continues to
grow. Another thing that motivates me is that my dad had kidney failure and
ended up succumbing to a Candida infection, so in addition to knowing I am helping other people I can also do it
for my dad.”
This article is part of the "Meet The Researcher" series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.
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