Dr. Sara Ruiz Named USAMRIID Civilian of the Quarter
One significant project involved the development of a neurological model for melioidosis, a bacterial disease that poses a threat to Warfighters in several military theaters. This effort was the first to use a nonhuman primate (NHP) model of the disease to study neurological signs and symptoms also seen in human patients. Ruiz is currently working to model differences in virulence among several strains of the bacterium that causes tularemia, or rabbit fever, to inform future vaccine testing.
Based on her expertise in NHP modeling and her clear pattern of success, Ruiz was contacted last summer by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to perform an antibacterial therapeutic study using the rhesus macaque model of melioidosis infection. Although she already had a full list of projects, Ruiz rallied her group and coordinated with the Veterinary Medicine Division, Aerobiology, and Diagnostics Systems Division teams at USAMRIID to complete the study by the end of 2022.
"The big [project] that came down the pipeline was looking at a combination therapy, using two different antibiotics to treat inhalational melioidosis," Ruiz said. "The study was conducted in two iterations, each requiring near 24-hour lab coverage for weeks at a time. Normally, this type of NHP study takes a much longer lead time. Luckily for us, we had already planned our entire year, and we had everything in place to be able to execute within DTRA's timeline."
Dr. Christopher Cote, Deputy Chief of the Bacteriology Division, said Ruiz is extremely detail-oriented, which allows her to perform exceedingly well in many different areas of microbiological research.
"These characteristics have allowed Sara to be successful with multiple high-visibility projects run simultaneously during the last few years," said Cote. "Equally important, she is an exemplary team player."
Ruiz also chairs the Biosafety Advisory Council and serves as a General Skills instructor for Biosafety Level 3 laboratory training. In addition, she an alternate biosafety officer and an alternate member of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
"In addition to her scientific achievements, Dr. Ruiz has taken on multiple important roles that benefit the entire institute," said Cote. "She was an excellent choice to be recognized for this award."