Ebola virus research in Liberia part of Kapiʻolani CC professor’s mission

John Berestecky

John Berestecky, a Kapiʻolani Community College microbiology professor, is on a mission in Liberia, and his spirit is unstoppable.

This past summer, Berestecky accompanied three Kapiʻolani CC and University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa students to help with Ebola and Lassa virus research at the University of Liberia in Monrovia.

“We wanted to demonstrate that we could put together a laboratory here on short notice and conduct decent science in this environment,” Berestecky said, adding that the most challenging part about the project was the countryʻs underdeveloped infrastructure.

Berestecky’s goal is to forge a collaboration between UH and the University of Liberia, which will lead to a graduate and research program in emerging viral diseases at the latter.

Kapiʻolani CC student Melissa Takaaze worked with him at the University of Liberia over the summer. “The work can be done and it can be done well,” said Takaaze. “I am proud and humbled to be a part of that experience, to be able to demonstrate the way that we are able to overcome these obstacles and perform great work.”

Berestecky hopes to involve the biotechnology and medical laboratory technician programs at Kapiʻolani CC as well as the graduate education resources of the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology programs at the UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine, where he is an affiliate graduate faculty member.

Takaaze currently serves as an IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) student researcher in Berestecky’s laboratory at the medical school. Brien Haun, a graduate student in the Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology, and senior biology major Kialanei Garalde-Machida were also part of the Liberia team.

Before he began teaching, Berestecky served in the Peace Corps in Liberia from 1979 to 1982. Over the years, he has made numerous trips to Liberia and, in 2013 took a leave of absence to work with its university to revamp and renew its biology and chemistry curricula.

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