Carnegie Mellon University
August 13, 2021

Karina Mueller Brown Wins De Vries Fellowship

By Ben Panko

Biological Sciences Ph.D. student Karina Mueller Brown has received the Glen de Vries Fellowship. The fellowship, made possible by the generosity of MCS alumnus, Carnegie Mellon trustee and founder of Medidata Solutions, Glen de Vries, recognizes outstanding research achievement and potential among Ph.D. students in biological sciences. 

"My research broadly concentrates on understanding how bacteria can cause disease by studying what happens at the time and space where the bacteria and human host interact with each other," said Mueller Brown, who works in the lab of Eberly Family Career Development Associate Professor of Biological Sciences N. Luisa Hiller. 

The bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, commonly called pneumococcus, causes severe diseases in humans such as pneumonia, Mueller Brown said, but can oddly also colonize the human body asymptomatically. 

"So, pneumococcus will only sometimes cause disease and I want to understand why," she explained. 

The central focus of Mueller Brown's work is on the molecules that pneumococcus uses to communicate within its population, especially related to host-derived food acquisition. 

"In fact, where pneumococcus gets its energy during infection is central to my work: I am finding that the bacteria select what they eat. How they then process it may determine how they cause disease," Mueller Brown said. She is also expanding her work to look at scenarios where pneumococcus is a secondary infection, and how alterations due to the initial infection to food sources might lead to these secondary infections.  

"Pneumococcal infection is one of the major causes of pneumonia-related deaths worldwide and poses a global threat to human health," Mueller Brown said. "In general, understanding in greater detail how pneumococcus causes disease and adapts allows us to find and/or develop new therapeutics to prevent infections." 

"I have established the groundwork for my research over the past four years," Mueller Brown added. "With the resources provided by the fellowship, I can now get into researching these aspects in much more detail." She also looks forward to attending in-person conferences again post-pandemic, and the fellowship will allow her to do that. 

Outside of her research, Mueller Brown enjoys hiking and being outside with her new family after becoming a mother in May. "I also really enjoy baking and cooking," she added. "I guess it comes naturally since it is mostly following a protocol, just like lab work."