Monday, January 14, 2019

URSP Student Sheryne Zeitoun Conducts Vector-borne Disease Surveillance, Control, and Pathogen Discovery

My name is Sheryne Zeitoun, I am a senior majoring in Community Health, and my long-term goal is to pursue a career in medicine. The journey into the enthralling, never-ending world of scientific research and medicine has been a passion and desire of mine for the majority of my life. My time as an undergraduate researcher has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my academic career, as it has allowed me to apply theoretical knowledge from the classroom to the real world. My URSP project is part of my mentor's (Dr. von Fricken) ongoing research on vector-borne disease surveillance, control, and pathogen discovery, spanning from Virginia, to Mongolia, to Kenya. 

Ticksare notorious vectors of human and animal pathogens. These arthropods play an important role in the spillover of emerging zoonotic diseases, which represent a growing global threat as humans increase contact with wildlife and the diseases they carry. Consistentfield research and surveillance on tick-borne diseases is particularly important to monitor changes in tick populations that may be caused by globalization, changing climates, and increased international/domestic travel. Our project looks to explore and tackle these problems. 

This past summer, we conducted tick-borne disease surveillance in Virginia, and this prepared me for active field surveillance of ticks in Kenya. After we collected the ticks by dragging and/or flagging a cotton cloth on a dowel, samples were separated by their respective species, sampling location, and tick life stage. Representative ticks were then preserved in ethanol. Once we finish conducting an analysis of tick data, the relative threat of different bacterial illnesses can be estimated based on prevalence of each tick species. We expect our results to show us what infectious agents the collected ticks carry, which geographical areas had the highest density of infected ticks, and which species were most likely to be infected with which bacteria. 

Throughout my time spent doing research with Dr. von Fricken, I have truly engaged with the intricacies of the research process. Having the opportunity to work both locally and directly in an international setting improved my cultural competency, expanded my research confidence, and reiterated the importance of understanding the drivers behind emerging diseases.