University of Vermont

Heather Bean Named Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Research Fellow

Heather BeanDr. Heather Bean has been named the Carol Basbaum Memorial Research Fellow by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. This award is given to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Research Fellowship applicant who receives the best priority score during the foundation’s review of research proposals. Her proposal entitled "Volatile biomarkers of P. aeruginosa adaptation to the CF lung", focuses on identifying volatile chemical compounds that are produced by the bacterium P. aeruginosa as it mutates and adapts in chronic Cystic Fibrosis lung infections.

“This prestigious award reflects the exceptional research accomplishments being made by members within CEMS,” says Bernard “Chip” Cole, Interim Dean of the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.  “It is inspiring to have yet another notable national recognition for CEMS research.”

“It is truly an honor to be recognized nationally for this research,” said Dr. Bean. “The long-term goal for this work is to detect P. aeruginosa volatiles with a breath test, enabling the patient's medical team to identify important bacterial phenotypes, such as antibiotic resistance, as they arise in the lung.”

Dr. Bean joined the Laboratory of Prof. Jane Hill in 2009 as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Engineering.  Her research focuses on the application of mass spectrometry to the study of infectious disease.  She received her Ph.D. in chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008, and was a Postdoctoral Research Associate for the School Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University prior to arriving at UVM.

“Dr. Bean is being recognized for her talent as junior investigator who the CFF predict will be a leader in the field. She is an exceptional scientist,” says Prof. Jane Hill, Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering,


A primary cause of morbidity and mortality for cystic fibrosis (CF) patients is lung damage caused by chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P.a.) infections. Once P.a. infections are established in the lung, the P.a. mutates to become antibiotic (Ab) resistant. Therefore, early clearance of the P.a. infection is essential for long-term patient outcomes; once treatment of a P.a. infection fails, the infection becomes established and the bacterium evolves to become highly resistant to treatment and damages the lung.

            Current methods for diagnosing and characterizing P.a. lung infections require recovering bacteria from the lung, followed by lab tests. However, it is well established that P.a. Ab susceptibility and mucoidy (sliminess) are a function of its environment, and laboratory results do not reflect what is happening in the lung. Therefore, a critical component of infection treatment and control - Ab choice and dosing - is less sophisticated and useful than it could be.

            The goal of this research is to identify volatile P.a. biomarkers that can be used to detect Ab resistance, mucoidy, and other clinically-important traits by analyzing patients' breath. This goal will be achieved in two stages. First, mutations will be introduced in P.a. genes for Ab resistance, mucoidy, and quorum sensing, and the volatile biomarkers of these mutations will be identified. Second, the robustness of these biomarkers will be validated using artificial neural network analyses of the volatiles produced by P.a. isolates collected from CF lungs. These data will advance the development of a breath test for diagnosing and characterizing P.a. lung infections.

For more information contact:

Heather Bean, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Vermont


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