Montana State University

Caffrey, Willems receive Kopriva fellowships

August 19, 2015

Alayna Caffrey, MSU doctoral student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, will receive $5,000 to support her research as a recipient of a 2015 Kopriva Graduate Student Fellowships from the MSU College of Letters and Science. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.Daniel Willems, MSU doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will receive $5,000 to support his research as a recipient of a 2015 Kopriva Graduate Student Fellowships from the MSU College of Letters and Science.

Alayna Caffrey, MSU doctoral student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, will receive $5,000 to support her research as a recipient of a 2015 Kopriva Graduate Student Fellowships from the MSU College of Letters and Science. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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Two doctoral students who work on research projects with biomedical applications have been awarded 2015 Kopriva Graduate Student Fellowships from the College of Letters and Science.

Alayna Caffrey, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Daniel Willems, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, will each receive $5,000 to support their research, including expenses such as travel to meetings or for instruction, books, supplies, and special research services. Both will give a Kopriva Science Seminar Series lecture during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Caffrey, originally from Williamsport, Penn., researches the early immune response against Aspergillus fumigatus, a common mold that can be found in soil or compost piles. The mold causes severe lung infections in people with weakened immune systems, perhaps compromised by leukemia, chemotherapy or organ transplants. The death rate from Aspergillus fumigatus ranges from 30 to 90 percent, depending on the population. To help lower that percentage and understand what goes wrong in weakened immune systems, Caffrey studies how healthy immune systems respond to Aspergillus fumigatus. She has discovered that a molecule called IL-la is critical for recruiting white blood cells to an infection site.

Willems, originally from Billings,  studies lipid abnormalities in Alzheimer’s disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and Type 2 diabetes. Lipids are the fat-soluble molecules found in tissues and biological fluids, and lipid disregulation  has been implicated in many brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression and anxiety. Willems has developed an effective set of protocols to extract and analyze the lipid fraction of metabolites found in many tissues. By applying these techniques to human brain tissue, he is seeking early biomarkers of the development of Alzheimer’s disease. He also hopes to be able to detect these biomarkers in blood plasma at relevant levels because early detection in blood would be a key to better treatment and prolonged life.  

Phil Kopriva, a 1957 microbiology graduate, established an endowment to fund the Kopriva Graduate Student Fellowships, which are awarded to recognize and support the research of outstanding graduate students in the areas of physiology and/or biochemistry. Past recipients include Sunshine Silver and Ramon Tusell (Chemistry and Biochemistry) in 2008; Travis Harris (Chemistry and Biochemistry) and Crystal Richards (Microbiology) in 2009; Jonas Mulder-Rosi (Cell Biology and Neuroscience) in 2010; Amy Servid and Alison O’Neil (Chemistry and Biochemistry) in 2011; Joshua Heinemann and Shefah Qazi (Chemistry and Biochemistry) in 2012; Timothy Hamerly (Chemistry and Biochemistry), Nicholas Dotson (Cell Biology and Neuroscience) and Sydney Akapame (Mathematical Sciences) in 2013; and Tamra Heberling, Ph.D. (Mathematical Sciences) and Pilar Manrique (Microbiology and Immunology) in 2014.


Jody Sanford  (406) 994-7791,  jody.sanford@montana.edu