College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
AGNR Research

Pioneer Health Research from Veterinary Medicine Professor Attracts Over $2.3 Million in New Funding

Cryptococcus stain; Dr. Meiqing Shi
Photo Credit: 
Yale Rosen; Edwin Remsberg

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has a strong commitment to health, and Associate Professor Dr. Meiqing Shi in the Department of Veterinary Medicine is bolstering that commitment through unmatched research in his field. With Dr. Shi’s expertise in fungal infections and his extensive training in a very rare and unique type of analysis known as intravital microscopy, he was the first person in the world to look at fungal progression in the brain in actual live samples. Today, the college announces two large grants from the National Institutes of Health totaling over $2.3 million to fund Dr. Shi’s important and innovative research.

Infections can come in many different forms and from many different places. Some are bacterial, some are viral, and some are fungal. Many people don’t think about the distinction, but different types of infections work in distinct ways throughout the body, and have distinct treatment methods. For example, meningitis can be caused by a fungus called Cryptococcus. One million people per year are infected, and more alarmingly 60% of those infected will die from the disease (600,000 per year). Cryptococcosis is an opportunistic infection that occurs in people with weakened immune systems, including HIV/AIDS patients, organ transplant recipients, cancer patients, and many others. It is actually the top killer for patients with HIV.

The problem with studying this deadly fungal infection is that it gets into the brain so quickly, by the time you examine a tissue sample, you learn little to nothing about the actual infection process. The fungus has no problem getting into the brain, but our medications do. In order to develop appropriate treatment strategies and medications, we need to understand this process.

This case invites the intravital microscopy process. Using this innovative and unique technique, you can see the immune cells, fungal cells, and progression of the infection all with distinct color markers and in real time in a living sample. This data is much more useful and valuable for the study of infection and disease progression.

Dr. Shi is not only showcasing our college’s commitment to human health and well-being, but he is also making our college and The University of Maryland a standout institution. He is one of a relatively small group around the world extensively trained in this technique, and he is the pioneer researcher applying this technique to fungal infections like Cryptococcosis. His research will focus on both how the immune cells interact with the fungus, and how the fungus passes into the brain. With this research, scientists can work towards a treatment to combat this deadly fungal infection.

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