Burke Fellow: Pardis Sabeti

Dr. Sabeti is a computational geneticist with expertise developing algorithms to detect genetic signatures of adaption in humans and the microbial organisms that infect humans. Her lab’s key research areas include: developing analytical methods to detect and investigate evolution in the genomes of humans and other species; examining host and viral genetic factors driving disease susceptibility to the devastating and deadly diseases in West Africa, Ebola Virus Disease and Lassa hemorrhagic fever; investigating the genomes of microbes, including Lassa virus,Ebola virus, Plasmodium falciparum malaria, Vibrio cholera, and Mycobacterioum tuberculosis to help in the development of intervention strategies; determining the microbial cause of undiagnosed acute febrile illness.

Dr. Sabeti completed her undergraduate degree at MIT, her graduate work at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and her medical degree summa cum laude from Harvard Medical School as a Soros Fellow. Dr. Sabeti is a World Economic Forum (WEF) Young Global Leader and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and was named a TIME magazine ‘Person of the Year’ as one of the Ebola fighters. Her awards included the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Natural Science, the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, the NIH Innovator Award, the Packard Fellowship, and an Ellis Island Medal of Honor. She has served on the MIT Board of Trustees and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Women in Science, Medicine, and Engineering. Dr. Sabeti is also the lead singer and co-song writer of the rock band Thousand Days.

Burke Fellowship Research Abstract:
Chikungunya virus is the causative agent of a mosquito-borne disease characterized by fever and debilitating joint pain. Large-scale outbreaks of Chikungunya disease have occurred in Southeast Asia and East Africa; currently, Chikungunya virus has established itself in temperate urban regions of North and South America. Moreover, Chikungunya has spread to non-canonical mosquito species suggesting the occurrence of human-to- mosquito transmission and an increased epidemic potential.

Studying circulating strains is critical given the recent global spread of Chikungunya, mosquito host expansion, and wide-range of clinical outcomes. Viral genomic analysis may allow us to determine the variations that cause spread to different mosquito vectors and is pivotal to predict and control outbreaks. Furthermore, the genetic variation may also affect clinical symptoms and severity. Insights into the clinical profile of the genetic variation of Chikungunya will allow us to anticipate symptoms and target adequate therapies for patients.

Utilizing the significant investment in technological development for viral sequencing, the viral genomics group at the Broad Institute has sequenced and fully-assembled over 500 viral genomes from Lassa and Ebola clinical samples—including rapid response during the early stages of the 2014 outbreak in West Africa. This has significantly expanded the number of full-length sequences available and has allowed us to gain important new insights into the evolution and viral dynamics of these deadly viruses.

In collaboration with the University of Miami and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), we will conduct a pilot study to sequence Chikungunya genomes from a cohort of infected patients in Baranquilla, Colombia with varying symptoms. In our pilot study, acute Chikungunya clinical samples will be shipped to USAMRIID for initial processing—using methods developed in the Broad viral genomics group—then sent onto the Broad for sequencing and analysis. This information will provide the basis for 1) diagnosing disease severity in patients with Chikungunya-induced chronic arthritis and 2) understanding sequence variation within this geographical region.