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Meet a Microbiologist: Rachel Simpson

African Sleeping Sickness gets its name from the sleep disturbances it causes. Awake in the night and asleep in the day. A bite from a tsetse fly can transmit Trypanosoma brucei, the parasite that causes African Sleeping Sickness. First come the fevers, headaches, and joint pain. Then weeks to months after the bite, the sleep disturbances set in. African Sleeping Sickness is in a category of diseases known as the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Like many NTDs, African Sleeping Sickness mainly affects underdeveloped populations in tropical regions. Unfortunately, this means that pharmaceutical companies don’t see reason to pursue research in these diseases. Hence the name “neglected tropical diseases.”

Name: Rachel Simpson

Job title: MD/PhD Candidate

Institution: University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA

Follow Rachel on LinkedIn

This is where academic researchers step in. Rachel Simpson, an MD/PhD candidate from the University of Buffalo, states that as an academic research lab “we can investigate subjects that may not be big money makers but can be huge life-savers.” Rachel’s research focuses on understanding a process unique to Trypanosoma brucei and other parasites: uridine insertion/deletion RNA editing. Rachel hopes that her research can pave the way for finding drugs that target this unique process. By focusing on a process specific to the parasite, there is a greater chance that the drug will not harm the human.

Rachel in the lab. Image credit: Lucie Kafkova.

Like a lot of research, Rachel’s work often takes weeks or months before results come in. “I’ll easily work for two or three months to get one piece of information with few to no intermediate points to tell me how the results are going to turn out. I find myself getting super excited and jumpy with anticipation right as I’m about to find out the final results,” she says.

Running an SDS-PAGE. Image credit: Rachel Simpson.

As someone who enjoys hiking and the scenery of the natural world, Rachel also thinks about the beauty of the microscopic world. “I am in awe of how richly complex our world is, from single-celled protists that live in the oceans to the normal flora in our gut and everything in between,” she says.

While not in the lab working on experiments, or dancing and jumping around the lab as promising results come in, Rachel enjoys meditation and economics and behavioral podcasts. She can also be found playing guitar, painting, and working on photography.

Rachel’s microbial doppelgänger: a broad range Rhizobium or non-pathogenic Toxoplasma gondii
Rachel doesn’t characterize herself with a specific microbial doppelgänger, but she thinks symbiont with broad host range such as a Rhizobium species or a non-pathogenic Toxoplasma gondii represent her well. Like her microbial doppelgängers, she feels comfortable in many environments and groups of people which is why she chose these adaptable microbes to personify herself.

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CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Meet a Microbiologist: Rachel Simpson by Jennifer Tsang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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