Reeta Rao's Faculty ProfileReeta Rao, associate professor of biology and biotechnology, has received a three-year, $49,450 grant from Bowdoin College and the National Institutes of Health for a project titled, “Role of Genome Plasticity on Candida albicans Host-Pathogen Interactions.”

The goal of the research is to learn more about C. albicans, the most common fungal pathogen and an organism commonly found in the human gut. Rao will investigate why Candida tends to remain in a benign state in healthy people, but can turn virulent and even cause deadly infections in people with compromised immune systems.

Rao will partner with colleagues at Bowdoin College on the research, but will conduct the primary experimental work WPI, where her research group will characterize the organism’s phenotype by exposing it to macrophages, which are cells in the body that ingest harmful microorganisms.

C. albicans is an opportunistic pathogen that causes spectrum of diseases ranging from mild superficial infections, like oral thrush, to wide-spread infections that can be and life threatening to people suffering from HIV/AIDS, as well as to patients undergoing chemotherapy or receiving organ or bone marrow transplants, and patients in intensive care. It is capable of causing systemic infections with mortality rates of up to 50 percent.

A doctoral student will be working with Rao on the research project.

Award Date: July 27, 2018