Carrie Cowardin was earning her doctorate in microbiology and immunology at UVA when she uncovered the true power of the dangerous pathogen C. difficile. Until recently, scientists did not understand what made this particular strain of bacteria so deadly; it kills up to 15 percent of infected patients.
While researching in the lab of Dr. Bill Petri, chief of UVA’s Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health, Cowardin found that C. difficile produces a toxin that kills protective cells, called eosinophils, in the gut. This erodes the natural barrier there and allows the bacteria to spread inflammation throughout the body. In discovering how C. difficile operates and spreads, Cowardin also opened the door to new treatment options for combatting the toxic bacteria.
Watch a video from the lab today:
Her findings were published in the scientific journal Nature Microbiology and she’s now working as a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University in St. Louis.
“As a proud ‘Double Hoo,’ I can say that my undergraduate degree prepared me exceptionally well for graduate school and served as the foundation of my interest in science. In turn, my doctoral research in the department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology taught me to think critically and ask meaningful questions about human and microbial biology, and helped me turn my interests into achievable research goals,” Cowardin said. “I’m honored to be included in this year’s list and grateful to all of my professors, colleagues and friends at UVA who have taught me so much.”