A postdoctoral researcher in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry is one of only 10 scientists named to the 2016 class of Pew Latin American Fellows in the Biomedical Sciences, a program of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
A native of Argentina, Daiana A. Capdevila will receive support from the program to spend two years in the lab of Lilly Chemistry Alumni Professor David Giedroc, whose group conducts basic research into the fight against drug-resistant bacterial infection.
“My work at IU involves performing experiments with bacteria to explore the biological aspects of protein regulation,” Capdevila said. “This includes studying how sensor proteins from bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus cause molecular changes that allow them to bind to DNA and control the creation of proteins, evading the immune response.”
The research puts her in the middle of the “arms race” between the immune system and bacteria. The sensor proteins studied in Capdevila’s work are used by bacteria to trigger the activation of genes that allow these microbes to counteract the immune system’s efforts to either withhold or poison them with metal ions, a strategy evolved by the immune system to defeat bacterial infection.
Insights from the work could contribute to the development of a novel class of antibiotics able to fight bacteria such as multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The primary bacterial strain in deadly hospital-acquired infections, MRSA was estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have infected over 72,000 people in the United States in 2014 alone.
The Pew fellowship officially begins Aug. 1, but Capdevila has been a part of Giedroc’s lab since April 2015. She said she was first drawn to studying in the United States — and Giedroc’s lab at IU specifically — for the opportunity to gain expertise in biomolecular nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, an advanced technology not yet widely available in Argentina.
“Daiana’s receipt of this award really strengths our ties with a number of labs in South America that are very well regarded internationally,” said Giedroc, who praised the quality of the lab where Capdevila previously earned her doctorate.
Ultimately, Capdevila said she said she wants to use the skill she gains at IU to establish her own research lab in Argentina. In fact, nearly 70 percent of past fellows in the Pew Latin American Fellows program return to their home countries to build much-needed infrastructure for scientific exploration. Other Pew fellows from this year’s class hail from Brazil, Chile and Mexico.
“The individuals selected [for this fellowship] are just embarking on exciting careers that will expand frontiers in biomedical science, and joining a network of scientists whose work has the potential to improve human health and well-being around the world,” said Rebecca W. Rimel, Pew’s president and CEO. The program was originally established in 1990 to encourage knowledge exchange and collaboration across borders.
Hailing from the bustling capital city of Buenos Aires, with a population of nearly 3 million, Capdevila said life in Bloomington took some time to get used to. But she welcomes her sojourn as a Hoosier.
“Living here for the past year, I’ve definitely enjoyed the landscape and the surroundings of the town and the woods on campus,” she said. “Bloomington made me realize that I really like biking to the lab, buying local groceries and living in a college town.”
The Latin American fellows program is part of Pew’s strategy to invest in young scientists who are exploring questions fundamental to advancing human health. Other members of this year’s class are studying at the National Institutes of Health, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Yale University, Columbia University, Tufts University, Rockefeller University and the University of Virginia.