Mary Burtnick

Associate Professor Mary Burtnick is a VALIDATE Network Investigator based in the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. As part of our VALID8 interviews series, we chatted with Mary about everything from time management to the amazing complexity of the human immune system.

Keep an eye out for more interviews from other members of our network on our VALID8 page.

1 - What do you do?

Research in my laboratory is focused on identifying the molecular mechanisms used by Burkholderia pseudomallei to persist within eukaryotic cells. Specifically, we are interested in determining how the virulence-associated secretion systems expressed by this facultative intracellular pathogen facilitate its survival and replication within both phagocytic and non-phagocytic cells.

2 - What do you tell non-scientists you do?

I tell people that we study disease causing bacteria so that we can figure out how they make us sick. We then use this information to try and develop ways to prevent and treat diseases caused by these bacteria.

3 - What drew you to studying vaccines?

Many of the virulence factors that we have studied over the years also turn out to be protective antigens. It seemed reasonable, therefore, to extend our studies to assess the vaccinogenic potential of these antigens alone or in combination with one another.

Assoc Prof Burtnick - BSL 3 Lab

Mary working with Burkholderia pseudomallei in a Biosafety Level-3 (BSL-3) lab

4 - Why is your work important and what could your work lead to?

Melioidosis is an emerging infectious disease that is being increasingly recognized in tropical regions around the world. In 2015, the estimated total global burden of human melioidosis was ~165,000 cases with ~89,000 deaths underscoring the potential impact of the disease worldwide. At present, there are no vaccines available for immunization against melioidosis. Recently, studies in our lab have demonstrated that subunit vaccines appear to be a promising approach for addressing this issue. All going well, our research has the potential to result in the production of a safe and effective melioidosis vaccine.

5 - What is the most interesting thing you have learned in your job?

One of the most interesting things that I have learned in my job is how complex our immune systems are and their remarkable capacity to protect us against the constant onslaught of microbes that we face on a daily basis.

6 - What is the best part of your job?

One of the best things about my job is that I never get bored. There are always new challenges to take on and I am constantly learning.

7 - What is the most challenging part of your job or research?

Time management. In addition to conducting my research and preparing grant applications, I also have to find time to teach classes, mentor students and perform administrative duties.

8 - Why are vaccines important?

Vaccine are arguably one of the greatest triumphs of modern medicine. They have saved countless numbers of lives and have significantly enhanced our standard of living. Similar to other vaccines, an effective melioidosis vaccine would without a doubt decrease morbidity and mortality in regions around the world where the disease is endemic.

Find out more

You can find more about Mary's research on her VALIDATE biography page.

There are more fascinating interviews with members of our extensive network of researchers on our VALID8? page. This is an ongoing series, so check back regularly.

If you are a member and would like to take part, you can email your answers to the following questions along with a captioned picture of your day-to-day work to