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Funk granted $250,000 for Q Fever bacteria research

The Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence awarded a research grant of $250,000 to Joel Funk, assistant professor of biology.

Funk will be working under project leader Daniel Voth, assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, to find better antibiotics for Q Fever.

Q Fever bacteria can infect many types of animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, dogs, etc. However, infected humans experience symptoms such as dry cough, fever, headache, joint paint and muscle pains. The fever may also produce abdominal pain, chest pain, rash and yellow skin.

Q Fever is caused by the bacteria Coxiella. Unlike other bacteria, Coxiella lives inside the body’s cells.

Under normal circumstances, bacterial invaders would be destroyed in a highly acidic part of the cell called a lysosome. However, Coxiella can live in a person’s cells for years, eventually resulting in heart disease.

“We’re trying to determine how bacteria can exist within another cell and not be eliminated,” said Funk.

Voth has studied the Q Fever bacteria since 2006, beginning when he worked at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont. Q
Fever is a problem in Montana, as well as in places such as Australia and New Zealand, where farmers catch it from infected livestock.

Funk contacted Voth about joining his research last summer. Encouraged by Brian Greuel, chair of the division of natural and health sciences, Funk and Voth applied for the grant along with seven other groups.

“I figured there wasn’t a great chance [to win],” said Funk. “I didn’t think that realistically it would happen. I was quite surprised.”

The grant will last for two and a half years. The money will be used to buy equipment and supplies for the research. Funk already ordered a special microscope and a high-tech incubator.

“The really neat thing is [that] it supports student research projects,” said Funk.

Two students will work on the project this summer, increasing to four in the summer of 2014.

“The grant is an exciting thing for Dr. Funk to train some undergrads in biomedical research, and I’m happy to help,” Voth said.