April 23rd, 2015

BUSM Prof receives Hartwell Award

Rachel Fearns will research treatments for RSV

Rachel Fearns, PhD, associate professor of microbiology at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) is the recipient of a 2014 Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award. Fearns was one of 12 researchers to receive this three-year $300,000 award for her work towards developing treatment for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection.

Each year The Hartwell Foundation invites a limited number of institutions in the U.S. to nominate faculty candidates involved in early-stage, innovative, and cutting-edge biomedical research that has not yet qualified for significant funding from outside sources. In 2014, 15 institutions participated and the Foundation selected the top researchers to receive a Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award.

“The 2014 competition was very strong,” said Fred Dombrose, president of The Hartwell Foundation. “Nominees embraced the opportunity by leveraging internal support and guidance from their participating institution, as well as the experience of previous Hartwell Investigators.” He added, “While significant early-stage funding benefits the individual researcher, participating institutions also receive recognition in the form of Hartwell Fellowships that they designate to qualified postdoctoral researchers.”

Fearns’ research focuses on transcription and genome replication of RSV—a highly prevalent virus that is the major cause of respiratory tract disease in infants and young children. Its genome structure is closely related to a number of other significant human pathogens, such as measles, mumps, and parainfluenza viruses, as well as emerging highly pathogenic viruses, such as Nipah and Ebola viruses.

Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying transcription and genome replication of RSV might help develop antiviral drugs and vaccines to treat and prevent RSV disease, and give insight into how related viruses could also be controlled. “Funding from The Hartwell Foundation will allow my group to explore at a molecular level how the RSV polymerase performs its activities and identify a possible Achilles’ Heel that could be targeted with antiviral drugs,” said Fearns. “We are grateful for their support and generosity.”

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