Making a Difference, One Experiment at a Time

In a lab in the Health Sciences Building, a group of researchers is investigating a common yet understudied illness - Carrión’s disease, a bacterial infection transmitted by sand flies. Their work examines how the bacterium functions in the hopes that it will lead to a vaccine. Overseeing the team is Dr. Mike Minnick, an infectious disease expert and UM professor.

Hannah Fay and Dr. Mike Minnick

“In Peru this pathogen is more important than HIV,” says Minnick, “but nobody has worked on it besides me and a couple of other people over the years. It’s what we call a neglected tropical disease.”

For Hannah Fay, a sophomore majoring in cell and molecular biology and microbiology, working on this project is a chance to make a difference and gain valuable insight into the research process.

“I’ve learned so much that has and will be incredibly helpful in my classwork and in my career,” she says.

Student researchers also provide valuable support for faculty.

Says Minnick, “I don’t get into the lab as much as I used to. She’s been my hands.”

Their collaboration is possible thanks to private support. This spring, Fay and Minnick received a Davidson Honors College Student-Faculty Summer Research Fellowship that helped underwrite her work in the lab.

Minnick hopes his recent research will lead to bigger projects down the road; he’s applied for an NIH grant to fund a comprehensive study next year in Peru. The team grows ever closer to unlocking crucial evidence that may help develop a vaccine.

“That’s the part of our research that interests me the most,” says Fay. “I hope that we will still be able to have a part in that process.”

Watch our video featuring student - faculty partnerships at the University of Montana.