University of Dundee

Researcher recognised as emerging star of science

05 Mar 2019

Dr Mattie Christine Pawlowic, a scientist based at the Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research (WCAIR) has been named as the inaugural winner of the British Society of Parasitology’s President’s Medal, a new award recognising the UK’s best young researchers in the field of parasitology. The medal will be awarded annually to an outstanding early career researcher who, as well as having already produced international-quality research, demonstrate the potential to become world leaders in parasitology.

The award recognises Dr Pawlowic’s research into Cryptosporidium. These parasites cause chronic diarrhoea, or cryptosporidiosis, which is estimated to kill 48,000 children under the age of five annually as well as leading to 4.2 million disability adjusted life-years. Dr Pawlowic’s research not only shed light on the fundamental biology of Cryptosporidium for the first time but also raised the possibility of one day developing new treatments for a devastating disease.

“Very few research societies recognise the contributions of early career researchers in such a visible way as the British Society for Parasitology’s new President’s Medal. This really is a positive step to support young researchers and to become the first recipient feels very special to me,” she said. “I have always been a parasitologist, even in undergraduate days, so to receive such a prestigious award is a huge honour. I started working on Cryptosporidium during my time as a postdoctoral researcher and since coming to Dundee I have continued to expand the set of tools available to help us study this parasite. Being at Dundee and working alongside world-class experts in drug discovery furthers the chance of turning this basic science into real world applications. I’m really excited to collaborate with local drug discovery scientists, and I think the awards panel also saw a lot of potential.”

Dr Pawlowic joined Dundee last year after her time as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Georgia in the United States. Prior to that she obtained her undergraduate degree and PhD at Texas Tech University where she studied another important parasite, Leishmania.

She will be awarded her medal during the annual meeting of the British Society of Parasitology in Manchester next month. Dr Pawlowic will also deliver the President’s Medal Lecture to an audience of some of the most esteemed figures in the field of parasitology at the meeting.

Cryptosporidium is a waterborne parasite, which makes transmission difficult to control. Typical water treatment methods, such as chlorination, do not kill Cryptosporidium and effective techniques are either expensive or too impractical to be used in large population centres. Cryptosporidiosis frequently leads to chronic diarrhoea that can prove fatal and commonly occurs in areas with poor sanitation. Waterborne outbreaks can also occur in developed countries when there is an issue with water treatment, or in recreational waters.  Children, older people and the immunocompromised are most likely to develop cryptosporidiosis. The only available treatment drug for this cannot be given to children or immunocompromised, meaning these groups are particularly at risk from the potentially devastating impact of the disease. Diarrhoeal disease is responsible for 10% of the deaths of children under five years old worldwide and cryptosporidiosis is the second leading cause of this.

Dr Pawlowic’s research focuses on how Cryptosporidium protects itself from destruction, particularly a protective outer shell that makes it resistant to low-cost water treatment. She was awarded a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship worth £1.5 million develop her research shortly after arriving in Dundee last year.

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