Carnegie Mellon University
January 24, 2017

Katie Lagree and Surya Aggarwal Receive Stupakoff Scientific Achievement Award

Katie Lagree and Surya Aggarwal

Katie Lagree and Surya Aggarwal have been chosen as the recipients of the 2017 Stupakoff Scientific Achievement Award, an honor presented to CMU Biological Sciences Ph.D. students annually. The awardees are selected based upon their record of research accomplishment and the projected research impact of their use of the $5,000 award funds.

Katie Lagree, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Mitchell lab, studies biofilm formation of the fungal pathogen Candida albicans. Her recent findings indicate that the fungus needs to acquire iron from human hemoglobin in order to create a biofilm on an implanted medical device. Lagree will use the Stupakoff Award funds to test this iron acquisition pathway's role in an entirely different kind of biofilm, one that grows on the surface of the tongue. The tongue biofilm, often called thrush, is one of the infections common among people suffering from AIDS, diabetes mellitus, and many other conditions. Lagree will visit the lab of Sarah Gaffen at the University of Pittsburgh to carry out these studies in immunocompromised animal models. Her work there will help introduce her to the field of anitfungal immunology, and area she is considering for postdoctoral research. In addition, iron is a critical nutrient for virtually all microbial pathogens, so the understanding that comes from Katie's work may inform new broad-spectrum anti-infection strategies.

Surya Aggarwal, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Hiller lab, focuses on determinants of infection ability in the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae. This opportunistic pathogen can cause a wide range of illnesses, including infections of middle-ear, sinuses, lungs, meninges, heart and blood stream, with young children being especially vulnerable. Aggarwal has discovered a new regulatory network that controls integrity of a major bacterial drug target, the cell wall. Aggarwal will use Stupakoff Award funds for two purposes. First, he will measure the network signaling molecule by mass spectrometry. Second, he will visit the laboratory of a collaborator to determine how variation in network activity affects interactions with neutrophils, the major antibacterial defensive cell in mammals. Aggarwal's work in the collaborator's lab will allow him develop expertise to import neutrophil assays to CMU, and will reveal the relationship between cell wall integrity and evasion of the host immune system.

The Stupakoff Scientific Achievement Award is made possible through the contributions of the late Semon Stupakoff (E’20), who studied metallurgy at Carnegie Tech and received the alumni achievement award from Carnegie Mellon in 1979.

The Department of Biological Sciences thanks the colleagues who took time to review Stupakoff applications, including Ph.D. Student Awards Chair Tina Lee and Stupakoff Committee members Brooke McCartney and Joel McManus.