Drs. Paul Brett and Mary Burtnick, a husband and wife research duo in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, were recently awarded a federally funded research grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling $395,717. On this project, Dr. Brett will serve as the principal investigator and his wife, Dr. Burtnick, will serve as co-investigator.
Collaborating for close to a decade, they both contribute their successes to their overlapping interests, long-term collaboration and deep appreciation for each other’s work.
The couple met in graduate school at the University of Calgary, Alberta, and worked together for the National Institutes of Health at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont., before joining the USA faculty in 2008.
“The work experience is advantageous for both of us,” Dr. Burtnick said. “We can relate to each other. Because scientists work on very focused areas within the grand scheme of life, it’s nice to be with someone who can really appreciate why what we are exploring is so important.”
Drs. Brett and Burtnick, both assistant professors at USA, agree that working together strengthens their relationship, “When we are at work and we have several deadlines to meet, there are two of us that can work as a team to get things done,” Dr. Burtnick said. “At the same time, it can be a challenge to be around the same person 24/7. And I think that is true for every couple who works together.”
Research in Drs. Brett and Burtnick’s lab is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms used by bacterial pathogens to cause disease in both humans and animals. In particular, they areo interested in identifying cell surface components expressed by pathogenic Burkholderia species that enable these organisms to avoid detection by the immune system.
“Once identified, the long term goal of our research is to use these components to develop safe and effective vaccines to immunize against the diseases caused by the bacteria,” Dr. Brett said.
Drs. Brett and Burtnick said infections caused by pathogenic Burkholderia are often difficult to diagnose and treatment is complicated due to the organism’s high level of resistance to antibiotics. Presently, there are no licensed Burkholderia vaccines available for use in either humans or animals.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the nation’s medical research agency -- making important medical discoveries that improve health and save lives. NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world.