Malaria abroad inspires local contribution to the cure

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“Health is one of the major components in the vicious cycle of poverty,” said Emily Lupton, a research assistant at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health who recently authored her first publication in Parasitology International.

Originally from North Carolina, Lupton earned her Master of Public Health in epidemiology and global communicable diseases from USF in 2014 and has been working as a full-time research assistant to help the fight against malaria ever since.

Emily Lupton visits a temple by the waterside in Bali, Indonesia 2014

Emily Lupton visits a temple by the waterside in Bali, Indonesia, in 2014.

Lupton’s interest in public health stemmed from her volunteer experience during the summers of 2011 and 2012 at a health clinic in Uganda, where she learned that many of the health problems the community faced could be addressed at the population level.

During her stay in Uganda, Lupton witnessed terrible conditions and saw the disease change the lives of 90 percent of the patients at the clinic.  One patient in particular, a 3-year-old girl named Joanna, developed a severe case of malaria and died soon after Lupton returned to the United States to start her MPH program at USF.  The death of the little girl ignited Lupton’s passion against malaria, and she began looking for a way to contribute to the fight in Tampa.

Joanna, a 3-year-old Ugandan girl who passed away from severe Malaria in 2012 (Photo credit: Katie Rodriguez USF MCOM MS3)

Joanna, a 3-year-old Ugandan girl who passed away from severe Malaria in 2012 (Photo credit: Katie Rodriguez USF MCOM MS3)

Emily Lupton and Joanna in Uganda 2012

Lupton and Joanna in Uganda, 2012

“I had no idea I would find someone at USF doing malaria research,” Lupton said on finding a malaria research page on the USF web site.

Lupton compensated for her lack of laboratory experience with her passion and promise to learn quickly and work hard, and Dr. John Adams, her mentor, agreed to take her on as a volunteer in his research.  This volunteer position quickly turned into a part-time job and then a graduate assistantship.

Emily Lupton dissecting malaria parasites from mosquito salivary glands in Mae Sot, Thailand 2014

Lupton dissecting malaria parasites from mosquito salivary glands in Mae Sot, Thailand, 2014

When she graduated in 2014, Lupton was hired full-time as a research assistant studying how to cryopreserve and enhance the longevity of parasites and how to isolate the malaria parasite from the mosquito salivary glands, among other things.

Lupton said her time at COPH was “filled with interesting classes, personal growth and new experiences,” and it shows in the strides she’s made as a researcher since graduation.

Throughout her time in the lab, Lupton has had the opportunity to work with international collaborators in Thailand on four separate trips, the most recent of which was completed in May.  She has presented her research for program officers from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene annual conference, and most recently, she authored her first publication in Parasitology International on enhancing the longevity of certain parasites after dissection from mosquito salivary glands.

Emily Lupton presenting at the ASTMH Conference, November 2014

Lupton presenting at the ASTMH Conference, November 2014

“I’ve had a passion to work in underserved communities ever since I first traveled abroad,” Lupton said, and this passion is evident in the progress she’s made with her research.

When she’s not busy researching a cure for malaria, you can find her traveling or enjoying Ultimate Frisbee.

 

The view from a temple in Bangkok, Thailand 2013

The view from a temple in Bangkok, Thailand, 2013

Lupton in Thailand, 2014

Lupton in Thailand, 2014

Story by Annamarie Koehler-Shepley, College of Public Health.