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VCU Student Named Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholar for 2009-2010

Alison Kuchta, a M.D./Ph.D student at Virginia Commonwealth University, will take part in a yearlong fellowship as a Fogarty International Clinical Scholar. Image by Tom Kojcsich/VCU Creative Services.
Alison Kuchta, a M.D./Ph.D student at Virginia Commonwealth University, will take part in a yearlong fellowship as a Fogarty International Clinical Scholar. Image by Tom Kojcsich/VCU Creative Services.

Alison Kuchta, an M.D./Ph.D. student at Virginia Commonwealth University, has been named a Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholar for 2009-2010, joining nearly 100 top graduate students and post-doctoral trainees from the United States and 19 other countries to train in global health research in low- and middle-income countries.

Kuchta, who is the first VCU student to receive a Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholar award, will take part in a yearlong fellowship studying factors contributing to cholera in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She will gain valuable hands-on experience through work in the clinic and the lab with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research in Bangladesh.

At VCU, Kuchta spent the Ph.D. phase of her training in the lab of Michael McVoy, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and microbiology and immunology in the VCU School of Medicine, studying the biology of cytomegalovirus – a member of the herpes virus family that causes birth defects. Kuchta’s work focused on a protein that potentially could serve as an important target for new drugs to treat cytomegalovirus infection.

“Alison is one of the most adventurous people I have met. For her Ph.D. research she wanted something with translational potential, so rather than tap into one of several projects that were ongoing in the lab, she set out on her own to develop a new field of research that was not only novel to my lab but also to the cytomegalovirus research community. That took courage,” McVoy said.

“But making the project a success also required the manifold qualities of an outstanding scientist – knowledge and intellect, creativity and adaptability and unwavering determination,” he said. “It is no surprise that Alison is now off on another adventure that will challenge her in very different ways. She will thrive on the experience. And when she returns Alison will no doubt be ready and eager to take on the next challenge.”

During her year abroad, Kuchta will partner with Taufiqur Rahman Bhuyian, an M.Sc./Ph.D. candidate from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and they will be mentored by Stephen Calderwood, M.D., with the Harvard Medical School, and Firdausi Qadri, Ph.D., with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research.

The team’s lab work will focus on understanding the body’s immune cell response - findings that could one day help researchers develop a vaccine against cholera. Kuchta hopes to become a physician-scientist in the field of global medicine.

Under the Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars program, U.S. graduate students – mostly third-year medical, public health, dental and veterinary students – are paired with foreign counterparts in order to conduct clinical research abroad under the tutelage of National Institutes of Health-funded universities or other research institutions working on infectious or chronic diseases. Similarly, Fogarty International Clinical Research Scholars and Fellow’s program post-doctoral trainees are expected to develop and implement their own research projects.

Among the fields of study are: AIDS and related opportunistic infections; malaria; sexually transmitted infections; substance abuse; mental health; oncology; diseases of the heart, lung, and blood; neurology; ophthalmology; and dietary issues.

The program, supported by the Fogarty International Center, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and 15 other components of the National Institutes of Health, is administered by Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Global Health and the Association of American Medical Colleges.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.