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Serap Aksoy, PhD

Interim Department Chair and Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases); Acting Chair, Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases

Appointments

Biography

Professor Aksoy is a tropical medicine researcher whose work focuses on the epidemiology of insect transmitted (vector borne) and zoonotic diseases. Her research has been on tsetse flies and the pathogenic parasites they transmit that cause highly neglected and fatal diseases of humans in Africa, known as Sleeping Sickness. Her laboratory focuses on deciphering the vector-parasite molecular dialogue and parasite development during the transmission process with the ultimate goal of identifying novel targets of interference and developing transmission blocking vaccines to reduce disease. Her fundamental and interdisciplinary work on tsetse and its microbial symbionts has identified key principles that shape host-microbe interactions. Her studies with tsetse's mutualistic microbes identified nutritional contributions that facilitate female fecundity and mediate host immune system development. Her studies with tsetse's commensal microbiota led to a novel biological method, coined as paratransgenesis, in which anti-parasitic molecules are synthesized in the beneficial gut microbes, thus making the gut environment inhospitable for disease causing parasites. Ability to spread such modified microbes into natural insect populations is being explored to reduce disease transmission as a novel biological method.

Dr. Aksoy maintains collaborative research activities with Yale researchers as well as with multiple universities and research institutes in Africa. Their studies in Kenya and Uganda investigate the epidemiology of Sleeping Sickness disease, with a focus on understanding the major drivers that sustain disease transmission, as well as on population genetics of flies and parasites and their microbiota. She initiated and led a large international consortium that eventually sequenced the genome of six tsetse fly species. This effort vastly expanded molecular knowledge and genomic resources on this neglected disease vector, and collectively expanded research capacity in bioinformatics and functional biology in many laboratories in sub-Sahara Africa. As the co-editor in Chief of the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases between 2007-2020, she has been a major voice for building research and publication capacity for global neglected tropical diseases. Throughout her professional career, Aksoy has been an advocate of and innovator in Global Health; served as a dedicated mentor to students and scientists in the US and in Africa, China, Italy and Turkey helping to prepare the next generation of leaders in the fields of epidemiology and zoonotic disease control.

Education & Training

  • PhD
    Columbia University (1982)
  • BS
    Vassar College, Biology Department (1978)

Activities

  • Evidence Based Control Strategies of Sleeping Sickness Vectors
    Kikuyu, Kenya; Usuku, Uganda (2004-2018)
    This Fogarty International Research Collaboration award (FIRCA) proposal on tsetse fly biology/physiology supported the ongoing Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT) control activities in East Africa.

Honors & Recognition

AwardAwarding OrganizationDate
Elected Member to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)National Academy of Sciences (NAS)2021
Award of Excellence for Research Towards ControlInternational Scientific Council for Trypanosomiasis Research and Control, African Union2019
Elected MemberConnecticut Academy of Science and Engineering2019
Research, Innovation and Leadership AwardConnecticut Technology Council2016
Honorary FellowEntomological Society of America2015
Fulbright ScholarUnited Stated Fulbright Commission2015
Honorary FellowAmerican Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene2014
Ambross Monell Foundation2006
Robert Leet and Clara Gutherie Patterson Trust Award2000
Culpeper Foundation Biomedical Initiative Award1998
Columbia University Graduate Scholar Award1978
National Science Foundation Presidential Award for Undergraduate Research1977

Departments & Organizations