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  • Pfizer Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development

    Current Award Winner

      Leigh M. Howard, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is this year's recipient of the Pfizer Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development. The award provides funding for research in vaccine development, either through clinical or laboratory investigation, to a candidate who demonstrates a commitment to a career in vaccinology.

    Dr. Howard received her MD in 2006 from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She completed her residency in pediatrics and her fellowship in infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where she worked with Dr. Kathryn M. Edwards in the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program throughout her infectious diseases fellowship in which she led a Phase I clinical trial of an adjuvanted avian influenza vaccine applying a systems vaccinology approach, during her Fogarty International Clinical Research Fellowship as she studied norovirus epidemiology in Zambian children, and now in her early faculty years as she studies viral and bacterial etiologies of respiratory illnesses in young Peruvian Andean children.

    Dr. Howard’s research program is focused on defining the epidemiology and dynamics of nasopharyngeal Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) colonization in young children and the impact of these dynamics on the development of pneumonia and other invasive pneumococcal diseases. S. pneumoniae is of the most important causes of pneumonia, a leading cause of global under-five mortality, in infants and young children worldwide, and despite substantial reductions in colonization and disease caused by pneumococcal serotypes that are included in conjugate vaccines, breakthrough infections caused by vaccine serotypes continue to occur, and the incidence of disease caused by serotypes not included in the vaccine continues to rise. From a comprehensive cohort of young Peruvian children followed, Dr. Howard has previously described patterns of respiratory viral detection during both symptomatic and asymptomatic periods, the molecular epidemiology of human rhinovirus isolates in this population, the clinical features and molecular epidemiology of influenza C infections in these children, and more recently, the impact of respiratory viral detection on the density of nasopharyngeal pneumococcal colonization in these children. Supported by the Pfizer Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development, Dr. Howard is expanding these evaluations to study the dynamics of colonization with more than one pneumococcal serotype, the persistence of vaccine serotypes following vaccination with pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, and the impact of nasopharyngeal interactions between pneumococci and viral and bacterial organisms on the development or respiratory disease following widespread implementation of childhood pneumococcal conjugate vaccination in the region. Additionally, after identifying unexpectedly high levels of antibiotic resistance among colonizing pneumococci in these children, Dr. Howard is studying the environmental contributors to these antibiotic resistance patterns and the transmission of pneumococci and associated antibiotic resistance genes within households. 

    The goal of Dr. Howard’s research is to clarify the impact of pneumococcal conjugate vaccination in young children and to define the dynamics of interactions between colonizing pneumococci and with other respiratory organisms and the impact of these interactions on pneumococcal disease. These data are needed to clarify the impact of existing pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, to guide optimization of highly efficacious vaccine schedules, and to inform new strategies to prevent and treat childhood pneumococcal diseases. 

    Past Pfizer Young Investigator Award Winners

    2016 Helen Y. Chu, MD
    2015 Thomas D. Norton, MD
    2014 Scott A. Smith, MD, PhD
    2013     Adam S. Lauring, MD, PhD 
    2011 David K. Hong, MD
    2010 Wendy W. Yeh, MD
    2009 Mark Daniel Hicar, MD, PhD 
    2008 Elizabeth Miller, MD
    2007 James P. McGettigan, PhD 

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