Kari Debbink and Rukie de Alwis received G. Philip Manire Graduate Student Excellence in Research Awards

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology is pleased to announce that Kari Debbink, a graduate student in Ralph Baric’s lab, and Rukie de Alwis, a graduate student in Aravinda de Silva’s lab, are the 2013 G. Philip Manire Graduate Student Excellence in Research Award recipients. 

Kari’s research focuses on the molecular evolution of norovirus and how this virus can escape from herd immunity. Her work is instrumental in defining viral sites that are critical for the emergence of new pandemic GII.4 norovirus strains. Her contributions to the field have been recognized and are reflected in her numerous oral presentations at national and international meetings. Kari has not only been an extremely productive graduate student with multiple publications, but she is also a very active member of our graduate program and in science outreach. 

Rukie did her dissertation research on the role of antibodies in Dengue virus infection. It has been unclear why certain antibodies enhance and others neutralize Dengue virus, and Rukie was able to identify a complex structure on the outer membrane of Dengue virion that is critical for neutralization. These data have been critical in our understanding of how neutralizing antibodies interact with different Dengue virus serotypes. Rukie’s characterization of novel epitopes has been acclaimed by many researchers as a key step towards a Dengue virus vaccine.

About Phil Manire and the awards in his memory . . .

The Manire awards for the most significant and impressive doctoral research projects are given in memory of Dr. G. Philip Manire, a friend and mentor to many people in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. Phil served as Chair from 1966 to 1979, years that were marked by a major growth in faculty and international recognition for molecular biology, microbiology, and immunology research at UNC. However, Phil's most lasting professional contribution was his nurturing leadership style that cemented a spirit of collegiality and family among a department of very diverse interests and personalities. 

In 2004, the Department of Microbiology & Immunology set up a trust fund in remembrance of Phil's contributions to the intellectual life of the department and his devotion to graduate education. The fund provides for an annual award to recognize outstanding research by a senior graduate student in the department. Nominations for the award are solicited from the faculty each Spring, and a committee evaluates the applicants based on the quality and significance of the student’s research. The award is considered to be the most prestigious departmental recognition of a graduate student’s research accomplishments