Renowned Vaccinologist to Present Thursday’s Second Keynote Address

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a diverse group of conditions that greatly impact impoverished communities, mainly in tropical areas, and disproportionately affect women and children. According to the World Health Organization, NTDs cause destructive health as well as social and economic consequences to more than 1 billion people globally.

Maria Elena Bottazzi, Ph.D., FASTMH

Maria Elena Bottazzi, Ph.D., FASTMH, is an internationally recognized vaccinologist and global health advocate who has dedicated her career to improving academic opportunities, access to care and scientific innovations in tropical medicine. She will present the ABRCMS Scientific Keynote Address, “Academic Creativity, Strategic Alliances and Diplomacy to Catalyze the Vaccine Sciences in Tropical Medicine,” from 1:10 – 1:55 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, in ACC North 100 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

“Tropical medicine is a field that doesn’t really have any borders,” Bottazzi said. “There’s a misconception that most of these diseases primarily occur in poor or underdeveloped countries. While they are certainly tied to poverty and underserved populations, they no longer solely affect poor countries. In fact, many of these tropical infectious diseases occur in our own high-income settings in pockets of poverty, such as in the South, Midwest, Native American reservations and other underserved communities at all levels.”

Even diseases that aren’t necessarily fatal can keep underserved populations chronically unhealthy, said Bottazzi, adding that there’s not the same economic incentive to find treatment solutions for NTDs because they primarily affect impoverished communities.

“When people have poor health status, they usually also don’t have good access to education,” Bottazzi said. “So, it’s all a big cycle of social, manmade and biologic factors that influence this cycle of poverty.”

To address these challenges, Bottazzi said clinicians, researchers, scientists, students, local legislators and others who live in communities affected by tropical diseases must be empowered to find innovative solutions. She saw this philosophy work in real-time as the co-creator of a patent-free, open-science COVID-19 vaccine technology that led to the development of Corbevax in India and IndoVac in Indonesia, two locally designed and produced COVID-19 vaccines.

Unlike multinational corporations that license their vaccine technologies internationally for profit, Bottazzi’s team distributed “starter kits” to companies free of intellectual property barriers and at a greatly reduced cost. After the organizations received the starter kits, it was up to them to develop solutions that would be appropriate, acceptable and affordable for their domestic populations. For example, an Indonesian organization created a halal vaccine due to its large Muslim population.

“It all came from our technology and our open and publicly available scientific knowledge, but these organizations innovated internally and independently of each other,” Bottazzi said. “That’s what it means to empower them with true vaccine diplomacy.”

Bottazzi is division chief of pediatric tropical medicine and co-director of Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine. She is also associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, professor of pediatrics, molecular virology and microbiology, and distinguished professor in biology at Baylor University.

Forbes Latin America named her one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Central America in 2020, 2021 and 2022. She was the recipient of the Carlos Slim Foundation Health Award for Lifetime Achievement in Research and the League of United Latin American Citizens 2022 National Service Award. Earlier this year, Fast Company named her one of the Most Creative People in Business and the Carnegie Corporation honored her as a 2022 Great Immigrant and Great American. She also was nominated by Texas Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher for the Nobel Peace Prize for developing accessible COVID-19 vaccine technology.

Register for ABRCMS 2022

It’s not too late to register for the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS), the go-to conference for underrepresented scientists at various stages of their professional and educational journeys. ABRCMS includes programming for undergraduate students, graduate and postdoctoral scientists, faculty, program directors, administrators and more.

ABRCMS 2022 is being held Nov. 9-12 in Anaheim, Calif. Can’t make it in-person? The meeting features a virtual component so you can still participate in this dynamic event.