CLEMSON — Biological Sciences graduate student Heather Andrews Walters is receiving the Clemson University Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award in Life Sciences—one of only two master’s thesis awards presented by the Graduate College across the entire campus.

Heather Walters working in lab

Biological Sciences graduate student Heather Walters has won the Clemson University Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award in Life Sciences.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Heather Walters

Walters thesis, “Phosphorylation of Eukaryotic Initiation Factor 2-Alpha in Response to Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress and Nitrosative Stress in Entamoeba histolytica,” examines an intestinal parasite that infects more than 50 million people worldwide annually, causing dysentery and liver abscess. The infection is prevalent in developing countries where poor sanitary conditions affect food or water supplies.

In her research, Walters studied the stress response of the parasite when it is deprived of nutrients or is attacked by the host’s immune system. A better understanding of this response may help researchers develop new drug targets to combat the parasite and the infections it causes.

“If we can find out how the parasite is able to overcome these stresses and how they survive, then researchers can find a weak point and use that to target it with new drug or vaccine therapies,” Walters said.

Walters was nominated by her advisor, Lesly Temesvari, an alumni distinguished professor of biological sciences.

“Heather’s research findings are seminal to the field because they provide the impetus to explore further the parasite’s stress response as a drug target,” Temesvari said. “Heather is one of the most efficient, self-driven, and organized students that I have mentored. I have no doubt that she will become a successful and visible scientist.”

Walters earned her master’s degree in biological sciences in May 2019. She is currently a Ph.D. student in Temesvari’s lab, where she is characterizing a protein that may be involved in virulence of this parasite.

Before coming to Clemson, Walters earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and she worked in industry as a lab analyst and chemist.

According to Walters, she takes pride in her research and thinks it’s important work, but she was surprised that she’d won the MS Thesis award. “I’m very pleased and honored that others thought highly of my work, as well,” Walters said. “Clemson is a great school and Dr. Temesvari is amazing, I couldn’t ask for a better advisor, and I love my work.”

The Clemson Graduate College has entered Walter’s thesis in the regional master’s thesis award competition sponsored by the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools (CSGS), which will present the award in March at its annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.