Graduate Student Excellence-in-Research Award 2011
Denita Williams, a recent postdoctoral graduate in toxicology, researched the problem of spontaneous abortion in women who unknowingly consume food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. She developed an animal model, the guinea pig, to simulate human listeriosis during pregnancy, and then used that model to predict the risk of stillbirths in humans. Her work showed that the pregnant guinea pig, like human women, is susceptible to L. monocytogenes, which can and often does lead to stillbirths. Her research focused on using this animal model for three purposes: to develop a dose response curve, to conduct a risk assessment for L. monocytogenes, and to investigate the mechanisms by which L. monocytogenes exposure results in stillbirths. She also investigated the immunological effects of infection on the fetus and also the invasive capabilities of L. monocytogenes. Her work will likely result in a revision of the federal L. monocytogenes risk assessment — and recommendations of the Food and Drug Administration for pregnant women.