Maritza Quintero, a student in the Biomedical Mechanisms of Medicine (BMM) discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program has just received the Hibbs Prize. She is in the lab of Dr. Robert Davey.
The Hibbs prize was established by a generous endowment from Edwin B. Hibbs, Jr., M.D. Ph.D. and Elva A. Hibbs. It recognizes students in the Biochemical Mechanisms of Disease (BMM) discipline based on their research. It encourages the development of highly quantitative methods and rigorous testing in research.
“I am very grateful for the training I’ve received at UT Health San Antonio and especially for the support the biochemistry department has given me. The faculty are very involved in student development,” she said. “Our coursework is taught with a strong focus on practical application and critical interpretation is the major driver of our journal club discussions. I’m very proud to receive the Hibbs prize because it indicates the quality of my work meets the high standards the BMM discipline has set for us.”
Quintero’s research is focused on early steps in Ebola virus infection.
“Because viruses are intracellular parasites; they must get inside a cell to establish infection. Viruses hijack natural cellular processes to do this, so by investigating the molecular mechanisms involved, we can not only attempt to design drugs to block virus entry, but we also learn a lot about cell biology and biochemical pathways.”
She works at Texas Biomedical Research Institute to identify a host factor important to Ebola infection.
“Using various siRNA, mutants and small molecule inhibitors we validated our observation that this protein is required for Ebola virus infection. To examine this further, we made Ebola Virus-like Particles (VLPs) to examine this virus – host relationship more carefully.”
She uses biochemistry and quantitative microscopy to track Ebola VLPs as they enter and traffic inside cells.
“So far this looks like a very promising discovery with drug target potential.”
Quintero is excited by her project because she is fascinated by the efficient interactions between viral and cellular proteins.
“I’m trained as a medicinal chemist, so I tend to look for structure-function relationships in everything. It’s impossible not to be amazed by the precision with which viral proteins recognize and modify specific cellular processes. I’m particularly interested in virus entry because it has a lot to teach us about drug delivery and endocytosis. ”
In the future, she would like to apply what she’s learned about the Ebola virus to investigate Alzheimer’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s disease has affected two generations of my family, so I often worry if and when I’ll get it. Endocytosis of aggregated protein filaments seems important for several neurodegenerative diseases. Because of its size and shape, Ebola virus seems to use similar pathways to enter cells.”