Photo credit: Provided by Dr. McCall

The answer is something that infectious disease experts are working on. As COVID-19 has shown, the same pathogen can have very different consequences for different people.

Laura-Isobel McCall, Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Oklahoma, has been selected as one of the 2021 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease. This highly competitive award provides $ 500,000 over five years to enable multidisciplinary approaches to human infectious disease research.

“The OU is proud that its faculty has received prestigious research awards such as the Dr. McCall was awarded by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, ”said Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, Vice President for Research and Partnerships at the OU. “Your basic research pushes the boundaries of its field and helps improve our understanding of some of the most volatile issues in infectious diseases. Even at this early stage in her career, Dr. McCall has a very important influence in a very important field. “

McCall’s lab uses liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, 3-D metabolomics, and data science tools to better understand why pathogens affect different parts of the body differently, and why those differences also vary from person to person.

The PATH award is particularly exciting, said McCall, because it represents a more holistic approach to infectious disease research. Rather than focusing more specifically on the source of an infection, this award allows researchers to focus on the broader experience.

“One of the most important rules that determine how bad a disease can be is which part of the body is affected,” said McCall. “Our goal is to uncover the basic rules that determine the location of the disease. The unique way we do this is that instead of looking at the pathogen side of things, we pay attention to how every single organ in your body reacts chemically to infection. ”

“I think it’s a new idea to focus on how the body reacts to a pathogen instead of focusing more directly on a pathogen itself,” she added. “That doesn’t mean that the pathogen doesn’t play a role. It is really important which pathogen is causing the infection, but then we have to bring all the parts together. “

McCall said this approach looks at the root cause of the problem – which parasite – then the body’s immune response and how that contributes to damage in one (or another) part of the body, then drug treatment and recovery, and whether some parts of the body are naturally better affected address the infection – when they return to normal while others remain damaged after treatment. In short, this research enables a broader picture of infectious diseases, making way for the many variables that could affect the outcomes and spatial recovery of organs.

“For example, is the whole heart going back to normal? Does the apex of the heart remain disturbed? The space and focus on small chemicals instead of proteins is new and exciting, ”she said.

The PATH award is “groundbreaking,” said McCall. “You need the resources from this award to have a big impact. This is something I firmly believe in, so even without the resources I would have tried for 15 or 20 years in small pieces that might have come together to form a whole. This award enables us to do everything as it should to give us a comprehensive overview. “

“It’s a monumental honor,” she added. “It’s a testament to the hard work the entire lab put into us to develop the idea and preliminary data that helped design this larger project.”

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McCall, who also holds a position in the Department of Biology and Microbiology at OU, also at the College of Arts and Sciences, says her expertise combines chemistry / biochemistry and biology / microbiology while also having experience in drug development, metabolomics and analytical chemistry brings in. Likewise, the members of their laboratory cross multiple disciplines, including biochemistry, analytical chemistry, microbiology, anthropology, and data science.

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