School of Medicine Faculty Member Dr. Robert Visalli to Lead American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program

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Dr. Robert Visalli

SAVANNAH – Dr. Robert Visalli, associate professor of microbiology and chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences in Mercer University School of Medicine, was recently selected to lead the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program.

ASM offers the preeminent undergraduate fellowship program in microbiology worldwide, providing students who wish to pursue a graduate degree in microbiology with opportunities to conduct full-time summer research alongside faculty mentors and present the results of their research at the annual ASM Microbe Meeting.

“It is a real honor to be appointed the next chair of the ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program,” said Dr. Visalli. “The value of the program cannot be overstated. I have been fortunate to mentor three Fellows, and all went on to receive their Ph.D.’s. I look forward to working with microbiologists across the country to select the next cohort of up-and-coming microbiologists.”

The highly competitive fellowship provides a stipend of up to $4,000, a two-year ASM student membership, and funding for travel expenses to the ASM Research Capstone Institute and ASM Microbe Meeting.

Dr. Visalli has been involved with the program for more than 15 years in various roles, including as a faculty mentor, as a reviewer and, for the past four years, as one of four national co-chairs.

He will serve as program chair for the next three years, overseeing the application, review and selection processes.

Dr. Visalli joined the faculty at Mercer in May 2012. He earned his B.S. in microbiology from Indiana University-Bloomington, Ph.D. in medical microbiology and immunology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed postdoctoral training at the Pennsylvania State University School of Medicine.

The Visalli laboratory uses Varicella-zoster virus as a model organism to understand the mechanism of viral genome (DNA) processing and packaging (i.e. encapsidation). He is interested in the function of proteins that form the encapsidation machinery (i.e. the terminase and portal proteins), portal structure and the identification of antivirals that inhibit DNA encapsidation.

He was the lead scientist involved in the identification of novel encapsidation inhibitors, and through studies with the VZV encapsidation and portal proteins, he seeks to define the mechanism of action of these inhibitors. Studies on novel antiviral compounds that specifically inhibit the encapsidation process may lead to new therapeutic strategies to treat herpesvirus infections.

Dr. Visalli is dedicated to productive student research opportunities and hands-on mentoring. The majority of peer-reviewed publications, poster presentations and oral presentations from his laboratory include one or more student researchers. His projects are designed for undergraduate, master’s level and first-year medical students.

ASM is the largest single life science society in the world, composed of more than 39,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM promotes and advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities, and enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, it promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences. For more information, visit www.asm.org.

About Mercer University School of Medicine (Macon, Savannah and Columbus)

Mercer University’s School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 60 percent of graduates currently practice in the state of Georgia, and of those, more than 80 percent are practicing in rural or medically underserved areas of Georgia. Mercer medical students benefit from a problem-based medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment fosters the early development of clinical problem-solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of the basic medical sciences in medical practice. The School opened a full four-year campus in Savannah in 2008 at Memorial University Medical Center. In 2012, the School began offering clinical education for third- and fourth-year medical students in Columbus. Following their second year, students participate in core clinical clerkships at the School’s primary teaching hospitals: Medical Center, Navicent Health in Macon; Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah; and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The School also offers master’s degrees in family therapy, preclinical sciences and biomedical sciences.

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Kyle Sears