Scientist Selected for Prestigious Fellowship

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Photo: JR Hernandez/UTEP Communications

Igor C. Almeida, D.Sc., professor of biological sciences, is part of an elite global group of researchers elected in 2017 as Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (Academy).

The Academy is the honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the world’s oldest and largest life science organization. The mission of the Academy is to recognize scientists for outstanding contributions to microbiology and provide microbiological expertise in the service of science and the public.

“It’s a great distinction and I feel very honored and at the same time humbled,” said Almeida. “You never know everything in science, you have to be humble and just keep learning every day,” he said.

Fellows are elected annually. Last month, Almeida was one of 73 fellows elected through a highly selective, peer-review process, based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology. The election is initiated with a member nomination and various letters of support.

Almeida has been researching Chagas disease for nearly three decades and joined UTEP in 2004. Chagas is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to animals and people by insect vectors known as kissing bugs. Almeida’s work has focused around diagnostic and prognostic methods and tools for treatment, including vaccine. He says there are six to eight million people chronically infected, mostly in Latin America, but the disease is rapidly spreading through the U.S. and Europeand other nonendemic regions. Yet, there is no vaccine.

Almeida’s research, in close collaboration with colleagues from UTEP (Rosa Maldonado Ph.D. and Katja Michael Ph.D.) and other research institutions, has led to the discovery of biomarkers for Chagas disease diagnosis and chemotherapy, and two vaccine candidates. The latter have been recently tested at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio on nonhuman primates in collaboration with John VandeBerg Ph.D. Results are promising and may soon lead to clinical trials. The vaccine studies have been funded by the Kleberg Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

He says, while this fellowship recognizes him, he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish so much without the assistance and support from mentors, students, postdocs, colleagues, and UTEP.

“I couldn’t do it alone. I am part of a community,” reiterated Almeida.

In total, there are more than 2,400 Fellows in the Academy representing all subspecialties of the microbial sciences and involved in basic and applied research, teaching, public health, industry, and government service.

The “Class of 2017” includes Fellows from the U.S., Germany, Australia, Canada, India, China, and the United Kingdom. Almeida is the first American Academy of Microbiology Fellow in the college of science and department of biological sciences at UTEP.

“There is genuine excitement in the department of biological sciences for this prestigious recognition for Igor Almeida, Ph.D.,” said Robert Kirken, Ph.D. dean of the college of science. “He has made significant contributions to the advancement of combatting Chagas disease. UTEP is on the cusp of finding a vaccine that could potentially help millions of people. Those efforts have been led by Igor and enhanced by other colleagues and students in the department,” he said.

Fellows will be recognized in June during the ASM annual conference in New Orleans.