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Faculty Under the Microscope: A Closer Look at USciences Faculty Research

By Colby Gallagher

Published on October 17, 2019

USciences faculty researchers are passionate about their areas of interest. In these interviews, faculty members discuss how they got involved in their research and what keeps them interested.

Madeline King PharmDMADELINE KING, PharmD, assistant professor of clinical pharmacy, began her career in retail pharmacy as a pharmacy technician before internships and rotations led her to an interest in infectious diseases and public health. Dr. King recently coauthored a study on flesh-eating bacteria becoming more common in the Delaware Bay and the impact climate change may have on these bacteria.

Q: What made you start looking into your recent study on climate change and its effect on bacterial infections?

Dr. Madeline King and studentsA: [My colleagues and I at Cooper Hospital] noticed over a few months that there were several cases of Vibrio vulnificus infections, which was really unexpected and uncommon for our region of the country. We postulated that since V. vulnificus typically lives in the Gulf of Mexico, and occasionally has been found in the Chesapeake Bay area, it was possible that there were warmer sea temperatures in our region. We looked at all of the cases we encountered, as well as data on sea surface temperatures, and hypothesized that there was a correlation.

Q: At what point in your life did you know what field you wanted to get into and why?

A: I have always had a very strong interest in public health and found that I really enjoyed infectious diseases in pharmacy school. I had an opportunity to complete some internships and rotations with the Indian Health Service as well as in inpatient and outpatient infectious diseases clinical settings. I thought that specializing in infectious diseases would allow me to do work in both infectious diseases and public health—and it has!

Patrick Davitt PhD, CSCS, FACSMPATRICK DAVITT, PhD, CSCS, FACSM, director of the health sciences program and assistant professor of kinesiology, began working at USciences in 2018. Dr. Davitt specializes in energy metabolism research and the impact of different exercises on changes in carbohydrate vs. fat and various blood markers. He is also studying ultra-endurance athletes, most recently traveling to Colorado to collect data on a runner completing the Leadville Trail 100, a 100-mile race that climbs and descends over 15,000 feet.

Q: What made you want to study exercise physiology and research energy metabolism?

Dr. Patrick Davitt and friendsA: My study of exercise physiology started with my father instilling a passion for how the human body works at an early age. I eventually pursued nutrition and, within my graduate studies, I fell in love with the basic science of energy metabolism and how the body switches between carbohydrate or fat for energy at rest and with different exercise intensities. It is remarkable that many of the modern chronic diseases are related to metabolic and biochemical imbalances and even more astonishing is how potent exercise can be (both cardio and weight training) at preventing and treating these chronic diseases.

Q: Sometimes people are intimidated by the word “athlete” and think they aren’t capable of exercise or fitness—what’s your favorite part of educating people about exercise?

A: It is all about starting somewhere, even if that means walking around the block or lifting a bare barbell 10 times. If you worked with a trained exercise professional, who can help design a proper exercise prescription, that small dose of exercise can begin to grow until you are completing athletic endeavors that you never thought possible. It seems crazy, but give yourself the patience and time, with the right training and progression, and you will be going farther and doing more than you could have ever imagined.

Margaret Pearce PhDMARGARET PEARCE, PhD, assistant professor of biology and neuroscience, runs a lab that studies the effect of neurodegenerative diseases on the brain using fruit flies. Dr. Pearce first researched Huntingdon’s disease before receiving a $285,000 National Institutes of Health grant to continue the work using an Alzheimer’s disease model.


Q: What first made you interested in researching neurodegenerative diseases and why?

A: My PhD research focused on how cells deal with proteins that aren’t folded properly or change their folding in a way that makes them appear damaged. Our cells have evolved multiple ways to deal with and eliminate these misfolded proteins, if everything is working properly. But there are many disease states—collectively known as proteopathies—in which genetic or environmental factors prevent these misfolded proteins from being cleared, causing their accumulation into toxic protein aggregates. I was especially interested in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders because they are the most common proteopathies and we still don’t really understand what causes them despite many decades of research.

Q: We all know someone who has been affected by one of the diseases you’re studying. How does it feel to be working toward a solution or cure for Alzheimer’s?

A: I feel really honored to have received funding to study Alzheimer’s and related diseases and to be a part of the worldwide effort to understand how neurodegeneration develops at a deeper level. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the field to identify what molecular mechanisms are at the core of these diseases so that more targeted therapies can be developed.

Dr. Maggie Pearce and a studentQ: When you first started out, did you think you would be working so closely with fruit flies, and how important is it to be adaptable or flexible as a scientist?

A: No! While I knew that there was a lot of valuable research being done in fruit flies, I would have never guessed I’d end up running a fly lab! During my postdoc, I struck up a collaboration with another group that had developed a lot of genetic tools in flies that I could use to study how protein aggregates spread between different populations of neurons in the brain. This ended up leading to some really exciting findings about how different cell types in the brain communicate in the disease state, and here I am a decade later as a bona fide fly geneticist! 

Categories: News, Misher College of Arts and Sciences, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Samson College of Health Sciences, Faculty, Department of Kinesiology, Health Science, Department of Pharmacy Practice and Administration Pharmacy, Department of Biological Sciences, Biology, Neuroscience, Research