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Wisconsin scientists land major infectious disease awards

December 19, 2006 By Terry Devitt

The holidays have arrived early for two young University of Wisconsin–Madison faculty members.

Cancer researcher Robert Kalejta and chemist Helen Blackwell have learned that they are each the recipients of prestigious Investigators in Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Awards from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The awards come with $400,000 over five years to support their research.

Blackwell, who earlier this year won a major award from pharmaceutical and health care product manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, studies, among other things, biofilms, bacterial “mobs” common in nature and that are found everywhere from our teeth to hospital settings where they have become an increasingly intractable problem of infection.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be chosen for this award,” says Blackwell. “The low number of restrictions on the award means we can initiate some high risk projects.”

Kalejta studies how human cytomegalovirus alters the growth properties of the cells it infects, and recently has begun to examine how immune defenses inhibit infection by this virus.

“This award allows us to continue to expand our studies from just identifying how viruses take over cells, further into how cells fight back against the virus,” Kalejta explains.

Blackwell and Kalejta were among 14 awardees from a pool of 123 applicants. Their selection was based on “scientific excellence and innovation” and the research strengths of the university.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is a private independent non-profit foundation located in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Its mission is to advance the medical sciences by supporting research and other educational activities.