A dual purpose: Researching and treating infectious diseases

  • May 5, 2016
  • Faculty & Staff, Research, Microbiology

Jeff Baker (left), an MMG Ph.D. student who is also enrolled in medical school, is shown here in the lab with Professor Robert Abramovitch.

Jeff Baker (left), an MMG Ph.D. student who is also enrolled in medical school, is shown here in the lab with Professor Robert Abramovitch.

TB currently infects about 2 billion individuals worldwide—a number that may surprise a lot of people.

“When I tell people I research TB, they say, ‘Oh, why do you do that? I thought TB was no longer a problem,’” said Jake Baker, a microbiology and molecular genetics Ph.D. student at Michigan State, who is also enrolled in medical school.

Baker entered college planning to be a doctor. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology, with a minor in Spanish, from Calvin College in Grand Rapids. During his undergraduate years, he discovered he had an interest in research as well as medical school. One of his professors suggested a dual degree, so he applied to the M.D./Ph.D. program at MSU in 2011.

“There is a lot of good we can do by researching infectious diseases,” Baker said. “Our current treatments for a lot of infectious diseases just aren’t good enough. TB is still a huge problem in developing countries.”

Baker investigates how TB adapts to its host environment. When it infects people, one of the first things it senses is acidic pH. He has discovered that in response to acidic pH, TB enters what’s known as a non-replicating persistent state—which Baker compares to a state of hibernation.

“This is important because a lot of research has already shown that when TB is in this state, it’s able to avoid being cleared by the immune system and being killed by antibiotics. Understanding how TB enters—or stays in—these persistent states will help us identify how it avoids being killed,” Baker said.

“The lab I work in is a great, collaborative environment, and I have a great mentor," he added. "Working in  Professor Abramovitch’s lab is preparing me for the type of work I want to do in the future.”

Baker's long-term goal includes a venture into a global health component in Central or South America.

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