Rachel Fitzjerrells, a T90 trainee in the Iowa Institute of Oral Health Research and a PhD student in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, was awarded an F31 grant.
Thursday, November 16, 2023
Rachel Shrode

An F31 award is a training grant for mentored dissertation research. This award will support Fitzjerrells's study investigating the relationship between multiple sclerosis (MS) and the oral microbiome and metabolome.

MS is a medical condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, leading in some cases to a host of symptoms, including impairing vision, sensation, or balance, and affecting arm or leg movement. This lifelong condition affects nearly 2.3 million people worldwide, but its specific causes are unknown. This gap in understanding limits treatment options for affected patients. For other neurodegenerative and autoimmune disease, greater understanding of the causal relationships between the oral microbiome and metabolome and the condition(s) have led to breakthroughs in understanding and treating them. Yet there is no similar research trajectory for MS.

In her project, Fitzjerrells is bringing those resources to bear on the relationship between the oral microbiome and metabolome for patients with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (which makes up 85% of all MS cases). Fitzjerrells's dissertation will not only improve our understanding of MS generally, but could lead to the development of personalized microbial-based therapies for MS. 

This project is the seventh NIH training grant that R90/T90 students have secured since the training grant was refunded in 2018, and the first since the training grant was refunded in 2023. Past trainees who received NIH training grants include Aline Petrin (K01), Jennifer Sukalski (F31), Matthew Remy (F31), Jason Semprini (F31),  Tim Nguyen (F31), and Mason Sweat (F32).

Fitzjerrells's mentors are Ashutosh Mangalam, associate professor of pathology; Sukirth Ganesan, assistant professor of periodotnics; Jeff Banas, professor and director of the Iowa Institute for Oral Health Research; Albert Erives, associate professor of biology; and Grant Brown, associate professor of biostatistics.