UT Arlington undergraduate student recognized for research on infection

03/10/2014 3:36 PM

03/10/2014 3:37 PM

UT Arlington student Emmanuel Fordjour is on the fast track through his groundbreaking research on one of the most urgent drug-resistant health threats.

Fordjour, a biology and microbiology double major graduating in 2015, is researching a hospital-acquired disease called Clostridium difficile infection, or C diff.

Clostridium difficile was named one of the three most urgent drug-resistant health threats by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is responsible for more than 15,000 deaths a year, UT Arlington assistant professor of biology Julian Hurdle said. It is a hospital-acquired intestinal bacterium that mostly affects the elderly and causes severe diarrhea and can cause patients to continuously relapse.

Fordjour reached out to Hurdle with the intention of studying a way to prevent the likelihood of the disease resisting rifaximin, a currently used antibiotic for the disease.

“Emmanuel was very insistent about what he wanted to do,” Hurdle said. “He’s very enthusiastic and had already started perusing literature on the topic on his own. He had his own thoughts and vision on his career after getting his bachelor’s degree, and I could tell this was his passion.”

Fordjour said he became interested in the disease after seeing examples of it while volunteering at Baylor Medical Center at Irving.

“Most times when you think of sick people, unless it’s terminal, you assume they’ll get better,” he said. “But most of the cases I saw with CDI, it’s a very formidable pathogen, so patients get treated and leave the hospital but end up coming back again with the same infection. Just seeing that causing that much distress in others really affected me.”

Hurdle said that he, Fordjour and another research student, Kieu Doan, are looking at combining antibiotics to find the best fit. The three have found evidence that combining rifaximin and another antibiotic still in clinical trials, fusidic acid, was effective against various strains of the disease in lab tests. From there, they are working on publishing their results.

Fordjour was also recently named a winner in the Council on Undergraduate Research’s 2014 Posters on the Hill competition. He is one of 60 undergraduates in the nation selected for the competition. Next month, Fordjour will present the research to members of Congress and other government officials.

Fordjour said he looks forward to meeting U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, who is an avid supporter of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

Ashley Purgason, assistant dean for undergraduate research in the UTA College of Science, said the opportunity was made possible by increased university efforts to improve undergraduate research.

“This opportunity is about forming this relationship with congressmen to keep in mind the importance of research and education,” Purgason said. “The discussions had there are equally as important as the follow-up. Really it’s about the experience and the impact students can have.”

UT Arlington was ranked as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013 by The Chronicle of Higher Education, according to a university press release. Purgason attributes the growth in undergraduate research to improved infrastructure helping students showcase their efforts, as well as the help of faculty and staff.

“Dr. Hurdle has really trained Emmanuel well and given him attention as a mentor and faculty member,” she said. “It’s that kind of expertise, guidance and patience that really help our students grow in their research abilities.”

In the future, Fordjour said he envisions himself pursuing his doctorate in microbiology and continuing to study infectious diseases. Some of his goals include joining a university faculty, mentoring other graduates and medical students, and applying his research to patients in an academic health center.

“I am where I am today because of people who have helped me,” Fordjour said. “I am very grateful for people like Dr. Hurdle and Dr. Purgason helping me achieve the things I have.”

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