May 4, 2010
Sarah Wheeler, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis, who researches West Nile virus in birds, won the Hollandsworth Prize in the national student research competition sponsored recently by the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA).
Wheeler, who studies with major professor and research entomologist William Reisen, director of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases in the School of Veterinary Medicine, received the award following her presentation at the AMCA conference.
Her paper, “Persistent West Nile Virus Infections in Avian Hosts: A Possible Overwintering Mechanism for WNV?”described her work with House sparrows, House finches and Western scrub-jays. She found antibodies in their spleen and kidney tissues after holding the birds for six to eight months over the winter and after experimental infection.
“This ‘perhaps indicates’ the long term low-level release of viral antigen,” said Reisen, an adjunct professor in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at the School of Veterinary Medicine and a faculty affiliate with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
“Although infectious virus could not be isolated from RNA positive tissues,” he said, “these birds maintained elevated neutralizing antibody titers, perhaps indicating the long term low-level release of viral antigen.”
Wheeler obtained comparable results from field-collected birds found to be WNV antibody positive. Her dissertation research also includes a time-course study using House sparrows and will utilize cell culture methods in attempt to detect infectious virus, in addition she will investigate whether immunomodulation of persistently infected birds will trigger a West Nile relapse, and subsequently be infections to mosquito.
Wheeler, who is studying for her doctorate in comparative pathology with a designated emphasis in vectorborne diseases, plans to obtain the degree in June 2011. She received her bachelor of science degree in ecology and systematic biology from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
Her work is supported by Reisen’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.
Kathy Keatley Garvey, Communications Specialist
Department of Entomology