Meenakshi Malik, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Students in the new bachelor’s program in Microbiology at ACPHS will not only study microscopic living organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses, but they will also learn to exercise critical thinking, patience, and perseverance. Those qualities are valuable for any health care practitioner, but according to Meenakshi Malik, director of the new program, they are essential for researchers.
“It’s all about persistence. A lot of what we do in the laboratory is bound to fail,” she says, “so part of the process is learning to deal with that. But research can also be incredibly exciting, because you have the potential to create knowledge for the first time in the world.”
Dr. Malik—the daughter of a noted microbiologist in her native India—discovered her passion for pathogens while studying to become a veterinarian. Switching her focus from clinical practice to research, she earned a Ph.D. in Immunology from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute. Her Ph.D. topic was Salmonella, a pathogen common to both animals and humans.
During post-doctoral studies at the Institute for Animal Health in the U.K., she continued to work towards finding an effective vaccine against Salmonella. Along with her husband and fellow microbiologist, Shekhar Bakshi, who is currently a professor at New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, the couple moved to Albany in 2003 to become Post-doctoral fellows at Albany Medical College (AMC).
In the aftermath of 9/11, AMC was awarded an $8.3 million grant for biodefense research. The grant afforded an opportunity for Dr. Malik to work on a Category A biothreat agent, Francisella tularensis. She explains, “the pathogen being studied had many of the same characteristics as Salmonella, just with a different focus.”
In 2010, Dr. Malik joined the faculty of ACPHS, where she established her own research laboratory, though the focus of her work continues to be on the various aspects of the Francisella bacteria.
This past July she received a three-year, $465,000 research grant from the National Institutes of Health to further explore how Francisella represses the body’s innate immune response in the first 72 hours following infection. If this process can be better understood, the ability to develop a preventive vaccine will be greatly enhanced.
Dr. Malik describes the College’s new B.S. program in Microbiology as “one of the few in New York State specializing in medical microbiology.
“Other institutions offer a B.S. with a concentration in general microbiology, but as a health care college, we are specifically focused on the study of human pathogens.”
The Biomedical Microbiology track focuses on how infectious diseases occur. This research-intensive track prepares students for advanced study in Microbiology, Immunology, or professional medicine. “Because we are a small school, we can place students in research labs right from the beginning, giving them a competitive advantage over students from large universities,” said Dr. Malik.
The Public Health/Infectious Disease track is designed for students interested in tracking the incidence and prevalence of infectious diseases, preparing them for positions in state or federal government regulatory agencies.
The Industrial/Pharmaceutical Microbiology track emphasizes the prevention, investigation, and control of microbial contamination. Students in this track will be well prepared for quality control positions with private biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies.
Food safety issues, environmental concerns, increasing antibiotic resistance, and the emergence of new diseases are all expected to increase demand for microbiologists in the years ahead. Armed with their education from ACPHS and the support of engaging, knowledgeable professors like Dr. Malik, the graduates of the ACPHS Microbiology program will be well positioned to seize these opportunities and, more importantly, help address these problems.