Biology major earns fellowship to conduct malaria research in Malawi

After spending last summer in the SSRP Amgen Scholars program at Stanford University studying coral reef organisms, Biology major Dimitrios Camacho ’19 will spend this summer as the first Dominican student in the UC Berkeley Minority Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT) fellowship program to conduct malaria research in Malawi.

“My mentors at Stanford advised that I should broaden my interests” Dimitrios explains. “I’m really interested in learning about and applying universal molecular techniques which can be used across different organisms to tackle a wide variety of problems and concerns. It’s an exciting time to be a biologist because every week we find something new and exciting with these tools. If I was to maximize my impact on the world I would have to learn how to best use these techniques in other countries.”

Dimitrios appears in the lead photo in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education story about The Dominican Experience. He is from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, whose fishing and livelihood has been impacted by warming ocean temperatures resulting in widespread damage to corals since 2013. He gained exposure to newer tools of molecular biology during his summer experience at Stanford where he worked in Dr. John Pringle’s lab under the guidance of Dr. Phillip Cleves. Last November, he presented his research from Stanford in a poster titled “Assessing the Effect of Algal Type on the Thermal Tolerance of Aiptasia, a Model for Coral Symbiosis” at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Phoenix, Arizona.

In his first two years of research at Dominican, Dimitrios worked closely with Dr. Vania Coelho, Professor in the School of Health and Natural Sciences, studying how artificial shading mitigates the detrimental effects of thermal bleaching on corals.

Now Dimitrios is working closely with malaria expert Dr. Roland Cooper, Professor in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Dr. Cooper has established a long relationship with the UC Berkeley MHIRT fellowship program and has mentored many students at his malaria study site in Uganda. In May, Dimitrios will travel to Malawi, a small landlocked country in southeast Africa. It is one of the world’s least developed countries with a low life expectancy and high infant mortality rate. Malawi has a high risk for diseases, including malaria.

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This summer, Dimitrios will work with Dr. Karl Seydel from Michigan State University at the University of Malawi College of Medicine campus based in Blantyre, Malawi. He will study asymptomatic malaria infection and its role in maintaining a disease transmission reservoir. The project will focus specifically on host and/or parasite factors that lead to varied clinical outcomes after Plasmodium infection.

“I strongly believe there is great potential for the translation of new molecular techniques into the clinical setting and I want to be part of the effort to reduce global health disparities with these exciting tools.” Dimitrios says. “This experience will certainly refine my worldview, and at the same time, give me a chance to practice my love of biology in the most meaningful way that I can imagine.” 


March 12, 2018