Wanjalla honored by Doris Duke FoundationAug. 12, 2021, 11:00 AM
by Paul Govern
Celestine Wanjalla, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, is among 17 recipients of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation 2021 Clinical Scientist Development Award.
Wanjalla will receive $450,000 over three years to advance her research into the contribution of virus-specific immune responses to cardiovascular disease (CVD).
“Celly is an emerging star who we expect will lead a consequential career as a physician scientist. I’m very pleased to congratulate her on this highly competitive research award,” said David Aronoff, MD, professor of Medicine and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases.
Since 1998, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has awarded more than $160 million in grants to help up-and-coming physician scientists transition to independent research careers. This year’s recipients emerged from a rigorous peer review process involving 254 applicants.
“I’m very grateful to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for this significant research support,” said Wanjalla, who will use the award to investigate the role of cytotoxic CD4+ T cells in CVD progression in persons with HIV.
“If you have HIV, it turns out you have double the risk of developing CVD,” she said. “In these patients, co-infection with common cytomegalovirus and resulting chronic inflammation appear to contribute to CVD via altered memory T cell and antibody responses. This research award will go toward investigating cellular mechanisms underlying this pathology.”
Hailing from Nairobi, Kenya, Wanjalla studied biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and earned MD and PhD degrees from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Following completion of a residency and clinical fellowship in infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in 2018 she was named an instructor at VUMC and was appointed assistant professor last month.