Virologist Maritza Puray-Chavez, PhD, a staff scientist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been named a 2023 Dr. Eddie Mendez Scholar by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. The award recognizes outstanding early-career scientists who are members of groups underrepresented in science or who are living with disabilities, and who have made notable contributions to infectious diseases, cancer or basic science research.
Originally from Peru, Puray-Chavez studies how viruses get inside cells, replicate and evade host immunity. Such data are crucial for identifying promising drug targets and vaccine candidates for viral infections. She works in the laboratory of Sebla Kutluay, PhD, a Washington University associate professor of molecular microbiology. Her long-term goal is to establish herself as an independent scientist.
Puray-Chavez’s work has focused on two viruses that have caused global health crises: HIV and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Her research into the HIV life cycle has advanced understanding of how natural antiviral biomolecules and small-molecule inhibitors keep the virus in check, as well as how the virus re-activates after going latent in a cell — discoveries that could aid the design of next-generation HIV therapies. She was also the first author on a paper that demonstrated that a single mutation gives SARS-CoV-2 the ability to enter cells via an alternate route. Since COVID-19 antibodies and vaccines are designed to block the usual route of entry, this discovery illustrated a worrisome potential ability for the virus to evade COVID-19 therapies.
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