Arlington student Emmanuel Fordjour was a sophomore when he sought out
Julian Hurdle, an assistant professor of biology, and asked if he could help
research ways to fight a dangerous, hospital-acquired disease called
Clostridium difficile infection or CDI.
Just two years later, Fordjour’s
work with Hurdle has put him in an elite class – named a winner of the
Washington D.C.-based Council on Undergraduate Research’s 2014 Posters
on the Hill competition. Fordjour is one of just 60 undergraduate scholars
from across the United States selected from a field of 600 applicants. In
April, the winners will present their research to members of Congress,
Congressional staffers and staff from government agencies.
Fordjour, a double major in
biology and microbiology who plans to graduate in 2015, said the achievement
represents another of the “mind-blowing” opportunities he has had since
choosing to attend UT Arlington.
“My entire undergraduate career
changed after I got into research,” said Fordjour, who moved to Irving from the
United Kingdom after high school. “So many doors have opened up to me, chances
that I never thought I would get.”
Hurdle said the prestigious
award reflects the dedicated work of Fordjour and his research partner Kieu
Doan, another undergraduate in the chemistry/biochemistry department.
“Emmanuel is a very promising
scientific talent, exemplifying the high quality of students in the College of
Science and undergraduate research participation in the Department of Biology,”
Hurdle said. “This honor will provide him the opportunity to shine light on a
disease that is hard to treat, frustrating to clinicians, causes much death and
is now deemed an urgent public health threat by CDC. ”
Clostridium difficile, an intestinal bacterium also known as
C. difficile, causes severe diarrhea and is responsible for at least 250,000
hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Elderly and
hospitalized patients are especially susceptible. Last year, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention named C. difficile one of the three most “urgent
drug resistant health threats.”
Fordjour saw firsthand the toll
that C. difficile could take while volunteering at Baylor Medical Center at
“C. difficile just stood out to
me because it’s a formidable pathogen. You get sick and you think you’re done
with it, and it comes back,” said Fordjour, who has volunteered 600 hours in
the hospital’s emergency room.
In a project overseen by Hurdle,
Fordjour and Doan tested combinations of current and in development antibiotics
against clinically relevant C. difficile strains isolated from patients. He
found evidence that combining a currently used antibiotic called rifaximin and an
antibiotic called fusidic acid that is still in clinical trials in the U.S. was
particularly effective against different strains of C. difficile in lab tests,
gaining better results than either drug alone more than half the time.
This combination could also
reduce the risk of C. difficile developing resistance to either drug during
therapy, he said. The next step will be submitting those results for
“Rifaximin which is used to
treat traveler’s diarrhea is currently in clinical trials as a treatment for
patients who experience multiple episodes of treatment failures for CDI. The problem is that resistance can arise to
rifaximin during treatment. We hope the
combinations showing improve efficacy over rifaximin alone, could provide a
better treatment outcome,” Hurdle said.
In addition to Fordjour’s work
with Hurdle, he is a member of the UT Arlington Honors College and a recipient
of the UT System Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, or LSAMP,
grant and a scholar in the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement
Program. After graduation, he hopes to complete a combined M.D./Ph.D. program and become a
physician, educator and researcher.
Ashley Purgason, assistant dean
for undergraduate research and student advancement in the College of Science,
said Fordjour’s success brings prestige to UT Arlington and its efforts to increase
undergraduate research opportunities. Administrators hope to see more students
seek out extracurricular experience in faculty laboratories.
“We try to give our students
the best education we can in lecture halls and in our laboratory courses, but
what really ignites a lifelong love of science is when our students can go
further and get the thrill of inquiry-based experiments and the original
thought that goes with that,” Purgason said.
About UT Arlington
University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution and
the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked
UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013.
U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for
undergraduate diversity. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more and follow