[PG] How would you summarize your research?
[Dr. Brown] Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus), is a Gram-positive bacterium that accounts for approximately 40% of all cases of community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) and is the leading cause of infectious-related death among the elderly (>65 years). Individuals hospitalized for pneumococcal CAP are at an increased risk (~20% of individuals >65 years of age) for sudden death as a result of adverse cardiac events including arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, or myocardial infarction. Upon disease resolution, individuals hospitalized for CAP remain at high risk for sudden cardiac-related death for up to a year post-infection. Thus, our hypothesis has been that S. pneumoniae is directly damaging the myocardium leading to the cardiac complications observed in these patients.
Through my research, we discovered that S. pneumoniae was, in fact, mediating direct damage to the heart during invasive disease, and was associated with altered electrophysiology. We identified the mechanism of pneumococcal translocation into the heart tissue, and the pneumococcal toxins involved in cardiomyocyte cell death. Importantly, working in collaboration with researchers from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and The University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, we produced a vaccine that conferred significant protection against those pneumococcal virulence determinants involved in pneumococcal cardiac tissue invasion, and cardiomyocyte cell death.
[PG] What did you learn during your graduate student career?
[Dr. Brown] I learned to be patient, to never give up, to remain humble, and to always strive to be the best you can be. My thesis advisor would always say, “Always aim for the stars, because even if you don’t make it, you might land on the moon”. This statement never rang more true in my life till graduate school, and will certainly never be forgotten.
[PG] What’s next?
[Dr. Brown] I am heading to New York City to enter a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Disease at Columbia University Medical Center.
[PG] Any advice for your fellow graduate students?
[Dr. Brown] My best advice would be to stay positive daily, spend time fostering relationships with coworkers and networking at conferences. Importantly, take the time daily to do something OUTSIDE of science to get your mind off of things. For me, exercising, playing videogames, traveling, and hanging out with friends has been invaluable to my success.