Assistant Professor Who Attended University Grants Academy Awarded NIH Grant for Streptococcus Pneumoniae Research

Walter AdamsOur battle with respiratory diseases is far from over. Walter Adams, SJSU assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and founder of Adams Labs, and his troop of researchers are at the forefront of this ongoing war.

Adams and his team have been awarded a National Institutes of Health grant for $439,500 for his research — “Microbial and Host Factors that Promote Epithelial Disruption and S. pneumoniae Transit out of the Lung” — that addresses fundamental questions about streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterium that is the leading cause of community-acquired pneumonia. 

His lab focuses on understanding what happens during respiratory infections concerning the immune response by revealing the microbial and host factors that enable this bacterium to travel from the lungs into the bloodstream — causing the spread of a potentially lethal infection.

According to Walter’s research, “Streptococcus pneumoniae causes 900,000 cases of pneumococcal pneumonia annually in the U.S., with a mortality rate of 5-7%, making this disease a major health and financial burden. S. pneumoniae lung infections can spread to the bloodstream (bacteremia) and lead to severe patient outcomes.”

As a devoted Game of Thrones fan, Adams compared his work to the popular fantasy drama TV show — his battles just happen to take place under a microscope instead of a medieval battlefield. 

“Who's winning? Why are they winning?” Adams asked in his comparison. “What weapons are they using? What defenses do we have? And how can we then develop therapies to help out our white blood cells, to help out our immune system so that we come out on top?”

Adams noted that the real damage happens when the bacterium enters the lungs. This can destroy the tissue which then allows the bacteria to get into the bloodstream — potentially causing a series of lethal ailments such as meningitis and sepsis.

Female student in a labThe research aims to discover information that can be broadly used to treat other respiratory infections that include both viruses and bacterial pathogens. 

“Viruses and bacteria can often use similar strategies to cause their disease, and if we can find solutions in therapeutic treatment options that can be used in the clinical setting to fight both of them, then we're killing two birds — or one virus and one bacteria — with one stone,” said Adams. 

Many faculty members aspire to pursue research grants but may lack the experience, resources and time needed to write a successful grant proposal. The SJSU University Grants Academy (UGA) assists with that. By participating in the UGA, Adams received critical information on how to write a competitive grant proposal and built vital relationships within his cohort that supported him on his research grant excursion.

“The UGA provides a community and support network that is there on a regular basis,” he said. “You're in a designated cohort, and it's just invaluable to go through this process with other faculty. They also give you a designated amount of course release for teaching for the semester that really gives you extra time as a faculty member to think deeply about your research and proposal.”

The purpose of the UGA is to support faculty through the process of writing and submitting a grant proposal that will provide external funding for Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (RSCA).

"Research shows faculty that get some kind of proposal support and content review are twice as likely to be funded as those who do not,” says Julia Gaudinski, Director of Research Development and the coordinator of the UGA program. “The UGA and the SJSU Research Development team are here to ensure our faculty get the support they need in order to have the highest probability of getting their RSCA funded."

In addition to relieving teachers of some of their teaching workload to ­focus on grant writing – the UGA offers working sessions, sequenced assignments, reviews of proposal drafts by their faculty facilitator, an informal faculty mentor, a review by an external expert, and additional support from campus research development specialists.

“What the UGA does is give you additional information, mentorship, and support during this process,” said Adams. “So instead of only getting a little bit of supplies, or data beforehand, you get additional coaching and mentorship — and then you can become like Jon Snow and just crush it.”