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Duke Researcher Awarded Hartwell Foundation Fellowship

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. – Duke researcher Terri N. Ellis, PhD, whose work is helping medical science understand how to stimulate the immune system against pediatric pneumonia and infections associated with cystic fibrosis, has been awarded a $100,000 postdoctoral fellowship at Duke from The Hartwell Foundation of Memphis, Tenn.

Ellis's research focuses on the antibiotic-resistant bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the prominent cause of the two conditions. Duke researchers recently discovered that the outer membranes of Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells secrete a complex lipid and protein entity that Ellis believes holds the key to stimulating the immune system.

"This is an honor and gives me the opportunity to explore my own scientific ideas and help to develop research to enable me to become an independent scientist," Ellis said."

Duke was chosen as a Top Ten Center of Biomedical Research by The Hartwell Foundation and met the stringent qualifying criteria to receive a Hartwell Fellowship. Ellis was chosen by a Duke committee because of her success at "yielding exciting and thought-provoking results that will lead to substantial contributions in her field," according to her nominator and Duke Department of Biochemistry lab mentor Meta Kuehn, PhD.

"Terri is an outstanding researcher," Kuehn said, "and is attracted to the excitement of establishing new concepts in the host-pathogen interaction."

The primary mission of The Hartwell Foundation is to grant awards for innovative and cutting-edge biomedical research that has the potential to benefit children. The goal of the fellowships is to inspire innovation and achievement by giving individual researchers in the early stages of their biomedical research careers the opportunity to pursue further specialized training as part of their career development.

"We believe that philanthropy is a serious responsibility and that wealth appropriately used is an essential mechanism for improving the state of mankind," says Frederick A. Dombrose, PhD, the president of the foundation.

Duke Chancellor for Health Affairs Victor J. Dzau, MD said The Hartwell Foundation gifts are important to medicine "because of their potential to speed the translation of basic science into new therapies for children as well as adults. They support science that is promising but not sufficiently developed to qualify for federal support. We are very grateful."

Ellis arrived at Duke in 2006 as a postdoctoral fellow. Prior to that she held fellowships at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences—a division of U.S. Health and Human Services—and at the University of California-Davis, where she received her PhD in microbiology in 2004. She is a 1996 graduate of Duke University, where she majored in cellular and molecular biology.

While at UC-Davis she published a paper that demonstrated for the first time that
the white blood cells known as neutrophils have the ability to activate and stimulate parts of the immune system by secreting interferons—a class of glycoproteins.

The Hartwell Foundation began in 1999, and its initial gift was to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis to establish the Hartwell Center, a unique biomedical resource for integrating high throughput biotechnology and bioinformatics with academic programs.

In selecting participating institutions like Duke University, The Hartwell Foundation considers shared values relating to children's health, the presence of a medical school, strength in biomedical engineering, and the quality and scope of ongoing research. The foundation also considers institutional commitment to providing technical support, as well as to translational approaches that promote rapid clinical application of research results to the patient.

Ellis is married to Ryan Feathers, a research lab technician at UNC-Chapel Hill and a Duke graduate who majored in biology. They live in Durham.

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