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New Faculty Member to Focus on Zoonotic Disease Research

April 12, 2012

Heather Fritz, DVM, PhD, has joined the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology faculty as an assistant researcher in molecular microbiology. Her appointment became effective March 1, 2012.

Fritz received her BS degrees in both Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Veterinary Science from the University of Arizona. As an undergraduate, she became interested in mucosal immunity to Cryptosporidium parvum and conducted studies on the prevalence of protozoal infections in AIDS patients in Puebla, Mexico.

As a veterinary student at UC Davis she received a Center for Comparative Medicine NIH-T35 Research Fellowship in the Students Training in Advanced Research program to characterize the molecular makeup of Giardia intestinalis in human, wildlife and domestic animal species.

After earning her DVM in 2005, Fritz practiced as an associate veterinarian in a small animal daytime, surgical and emergency clinic for one year and then returned to UC Davis to pursue her passion for biomedical research in infectious disease as a doctoral fellow in the Veterinary Graduate Assistance Program (VGAP) and NIH Comparative Medicine (T32) Program.

Fritz's dissertation on the molecular characterization of the environmentally excreted and resistant oocyst stage of Toxoplasma gondii was completed in December 2011. This research provided the first transcriptomic and proteomic description of T. gondii oocysts. In January 2012 Fritz was awarded a 5-year NIH KO1 Career Development grant with mentors Patricia Conrad of the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology and John Boothroyd at Stanford University. 

Fritz's research interest focuses on zoonotic diseases (infectious diseases transmissible from animals to humans), particularly  illnesses associated with protozoal parasites. In addition to her NIH-funded research to identify the molecular components of Toxoplasma oocysts that confer environmental resistance, Fritz is a co-principal investigator on a grant through the Ocean Protection Council to develop methods to improve the detection of T. gondii oocysts in the coastal environment.

Fritz is also keenly interested in global One Health, particularly the impact of infectious diseases on human and animal health. She aspires to become board certified by the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists and develop her career as an academic veterinary research microbiologist.