Researcher Fighting to Cure Malaria Recognized for Exceptional Work
St. Louis, Mo. — April 23, 2012 – Children’s Discovery Institute researcher Audrey Odom, MD, PhD, recently was recognized for her breakthrough research on potential new cures for malaria by The Academy of Science‑St. Louis. Dr. Odom, an infectious disease specialist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics and molecular microbiology at Washington University School of Medicine, received the Innovation Award from the Academy at a ceremony held April 19 at The Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis.
The Academy of Science‑St. Louis recognizes St. Louis scientists through programs such as the Annual Outstanding St. Louis Scientist Awards. According to the Academy, each award winner represents both an extraordinary caliber of expertise and a dedication to fostering science literacy. The Innovation Award recognizes a scientist or engineer under age 40 who has demonstrated exceptional potential for future accomplishments in science, engineering or technology.
“Dr. Odom is a great example of the young investigators supported by the Children’s Discovery Institute who bring intellectual energy, fresh perspective and innovative ideas to drive progress toward cures,” says Mary Dinauer, MD, PhD, scientific director of the Children’s Discovery Institute and the Fred M. Saigh Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Research at Washington University. “We are so proud of Dr. Odom’s accomplishments and look forward to the many contributions she is destined to make.”
“This award is an incredible honor and recognition of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Dr. Odom says. “It speaks to the profile of research the Children’s Discovery Institute is funding. We couldn’t have made the progress we have without the Institute’s support.”
Dr. Odom is studying a pathway of malaria infection that might be interrupted by drug therapy. “We’re excited because this particular metabolic pathway in malaria is required for a parasite to grow, but it doesn’t exist in humans,” she says. “This same pathway is shared by the bacteria that cause tuberculosis. Our hope is to develop new drugs to target this pathway. These novel agents hold promise as a safe, new class of broad-spectrum antibacterial, anti-tuberculosis and anti-malarial agents.”
Malaria is an infectious disease spread by mosquitoes. Every year, the disease kills more than 1 million people, mostly young children. While some consider malaria more of a problem for distant continents such as Africa, malaria has very real potential to become a problem in the United States as well. Infected mosquitoes can be transported during an international flight from a malaria-endemic region. This is how West Nile virus was introduced into the U.S. in 1999.
Dr. Odom is passionate about her work to stop malaria in its tracks wherever necessary across the globe. “Malaria is especially a problem for pregnant women and young children,” she says. “It’s responsible for a high percentage of low birth weight and stillborn babies in the world.”
While the drug-development project is still in its early stages, Dr. Odom says the research steps toward this goal provide ripple effects. “No matter what happens with the drug development, we are advancing biological understanding to move science forward. This research at the Children’s Discovery Institute is allowing us to dig deep into this particular pathway, and that knowledge can benefit research in many other diseases.”