Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology
Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology
John A. Burns School of Medicine
*V. R. Nerurkar, PhD (Interim Chair)—pathogenesis of infectious
diseases, delineating cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying microbe-host
Cooperating Graduate Faculty
J. M. Berestecky, PhD—enteric bacteria
Affiliate Graduate Faculty
F. Mercier, PhD—mechanisms controlling neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation in the adult brain
Degrees Offered: MS in biomedical sciences (tropical medicine), PhD in biomedical sciences (tropical medicine)
The Academic Program
Tropical medicine is the study of diseases that occur more commonly in the tropical regions of the world. However, in today’s era of globalization and modern transportation, diseases that were once confined to the tropics have spread geographically and played a significant role in the 20th century global resurgence of infectious diseases. As such, research in the area of tropical medicine and medical microbiology has greatly increased in importance in the past 20 years. Tropical medicine faculty conduct studies on infectious organisms and the diseases they cause, including dengue, West Nile, AIDS, hepatitis, viral and bacterial encephalitis, malaria, tuberculosis, and Kawasaki disease. The faculty employs a multidisciplinary approach, including immunology, pathogenesis, ecology, epidemiology, diagnosis, prevention, control, treatment, socio-ecological systems, human ecology, microbial and vector ecology, environmental change, and participatory action research to answer fundamental questions associated with the pathogenesis of these diseases. These studies can be laboratory-based, field-based, clinical-based, or include a combination of all three.
The field of tropical medicine requires knowledge of virology, bacteriology, parasitology, entomology, immunology, cell and molecular biology, epidemiology, ecology, behavioral science, and clinical medicine.
Pharmacology is a medical science concerned with the effects of drugs and chemicals on living organisms. The subject embraces knowledge of the chemistry, actions, absorption, fate, excretion, and uses of drugs. Traditionally, the greatest interests in drugs have been with the health professions. Today, however, knowledge of pharmacology and the allied field of toxicology are relevant to all segments of society.
Ecology and Health focuses on interdisciplinary research and practice with an ecological perspective on health. The role of ecosystems in human health is a critical area of scientific research and education worldwide. The Ecology and Health Group addresses the connections between ecosystem health and human well-being.
Faculty are engaged in research and action focused on the health of Hawai‘i’s unique local communities and tropical ecosystems. The active research program addresses the infrastructural factors that sustain community health, seeking to identify the best means for supporting the beneficial factors, and remedying those that are detrimental. Research activities involve participation in and support of informal and formal networks in multi-ethnic, low-income communities for the purpose of building capacity, and improving ecosystem health.
Educational activities are focused on the integration of ecology and health in the MD curriculum, including research opportunities for students to fulfill their 2-year research project requirement, and graduate assistantships for masters and doctoral students in a variety of disciplines. Medical and graduate students have the opportunity to enroll in courses and conduct research under the supervision of ecology and health faculty in conjunction with degree programs in other departments and schools.
The department offers courses for undergraduate, medical, and graduate students. Faculty participate in the MD program by providing tutorial and elective courses in medical microbiology, clinical immunology, molecular biology, pharmacology, and clinical aspects of tropical medicine, and pharmacology. Electives for medical students are team taught and coordinated with unit objectives throughout the problem-based learning curriculum. In addition, the department plays an important role in the Basic Science Foundation course, and participates in the Pathology Residency Program by offering rotations in selected aspects of medical virology, parasitology, and bacteriology.
Graduates with a master’s degree have gone on to careers in science education at the secondary and college level, technical and research positions in universities, government agencies, and biotechnology companies, or have continued on in PhD and MD training programs at other universities.
The MS degree requires 21 credits of course work, nine credits of thesis research, completion of a thesis, and a final oral examination. A general examination, oral or written, is required before a student is advanced to candidacy for the MS (Plan A) degree. Although not encouraged, in very unusual circumstances, a non-thesis MS (Plan B) may be allowed. This program requires 30 credits of course work, a written examination and participation in a research project.
Graduates with a PhD degree have pursued professional research, teaching, and administrative careers at various academic institutions, state and federal government agencies, international health agencies, and biotechnology companies.
The PhD program requires course work as determined necessary by the student’s advisory committee, a qualifying examination, comprehensive examination, drafting a written research proposal, dissertation, and final oral examination/defense of dissertation. Students are encouraged to take course work covering a broad array of the disciplines involved in the field of tropical medicine, including coursework offered by other academic departments as relevant to their area of concentration.
The department faculty conduct active research in the areas of dengue, West Nile and other flavivirus virology and epidemiology, hantavirus virology and epidemiology, lentiviruses and polyomaviruses, epidemiology and pathogenesis of hepatitis-associated viruses, HIV and other retroviruses, molecular epidemiology and evolution of viruses, ecology of infectious diseases, evaluation of Hepatitis B vaccination programs in Asia and Pacific countries, molecular biology, genetics of drug-resistant bacteria, autoimmunity in rheumatic diseases, characterization of Group A streptococcus, and M. tuberculosis in Pacific Islander and Asian populations. Collaboration with infectious disease clinicians and international research institutes further expand research opportunities in the areas of HIV, Kawasaki disease, dengue, arboviruses, and zoonotic viruses. The department also supports a regional arbovirus diagnostic laboratory that will provide reference services to laboratories in Asian and Pacific countries.
An important aspect of the department’s research effort is the development and evaluation of vaccines for the prevention of important tropical diseases. The department’s Human Malaria Research Group investigates immunological problems in malaria vaccine development and vaccine-induced and naturally-induced immunity to malaria infection. The group collaborates with other research teams in both academic institutions and in the biotechnology industry, as well as with field site scientists in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. In addition, the department is developing a field site in Vietnam that will provide the platform to evaluate dengue vaccines and drugs for tropical diseases, and to conduct detailed epidemiologic, ecologic, and pathogenetic-related studies.
Other research projects in the department include investigations into the relationship of infectious agents to autoimmune diseases, the genetic factors associated with immunological disease, characterization of Group A streptococcus, the study of immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Pacific Islander and Asian populations, genetics of drug-resistant bacteria, including M. tuberculosis in Hawaii, ecology of leptospirosis, and evaluation of hepatitis B vaccination programs in Asia and Pacific countries.
Research activities in ecology of infectious disease include investigation of the ecological context of water borne and vector borne pathogens. The emphasis is on the integration of molecular, organismal and ecological research methods to better understand the transmission dynamics and behavior of infectious disease. This also includes a research focus on Hawaii’s unique mountain-to-sea catchments as laboratories of infectious disease ecology, and study of the social, environmental, and development factors interacting within these social-ecological systems. The place-based components of this research often incorporate collaborative and participatory research approaches involving local communities, and integrating between the disciplines and sectors relevant to an ecological understanding of infectious disease.
Pharmacology research within the department focuses on drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. Research into developmental pharmacology in pregnancy and pediatric medicine is also a strong theme. The newly established human organ bank, in partnership with Organ Donor Center of Hawai‘i, is a central part of our translational research effort and provides tissues to researchers throughout the UH Mânoa and JABSOM campuses.
A major goal of the department is to provide Asian and Pacific countries the expertise needed to expand laboratory and epidemiologic capacity in tropical infectious diseases research. The department also has active research programs with several community hospitals and collaborates closely with the State of Hawai‘i Department of Health, providing instruction and expertise in bioterrorism preparedness and diagnosis of infectious diseases using the latest technology.
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