PhD Student, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
From her first encounter with X-ray crystallography structures in a molecular modeling course, Katherine Reiter knew she wanted to become a public health biochemist. She thought that the flowering projections that encapsulate some of the world’s most deadly viruses—HIV, polio and tuberculosis—had a striking symmetry, reminiscent of a cathedral window. “I wanted to know how such seemingly beautiful objects could be so destructive, and what processes were involved that accord with such symmetry,” she says.
Prior to taking the course, Reiter found it difficult to connect her interests in chemistry to those in biology. But the three-dimensional structures, she says, created a visual bridge between biological systems, the chemicals involved and their interactions. This dual power of diseases’ beautiful complexities and capabilities for deadly human infection has inspired Reiter to pursue further research on pathogens and global health.
In her studies and future research, Reiter wants to focus on how nutrition affects the immune response to infectious disease in order to help public health officials make more informed decisions about the implementation of supplementation plans in developing countries.
The interaction between malnutrition and infection, she says, is cyclical. Infection can lead to loss of appetite and impaired nutrient absorption, while malnutrition can reduce the immune response, leading to a higher risk of infection.
While president of the Emory Undergraduate Global Health Organization, Reiter learned that disease is rarely the sole cause of death in developing countries, but is intricately related to the nutritional status and living standards of the affected people. She says that increasing nutritional status and decreasing infection rates is one of the essential steps in giving a population the ability to raise themselves out of poverty.
She sees the beauty in that, too.