Luis Murillo’s curiosity about epidemiology —the origins of disease and how it spreads—led him to approach a professor about doing some research related to this field. Jorge Mena-Ali, visiting assistant professor of Biology, helped the 2010 graduate construct a project that would trace the evolutionary relationships between pathogens and their hosts and explore how they co-evolve.
Murillo looked at how a specific fungus could infect some plants, but not others, and found that proteins in the fungus could be inhibited by one particular gene in the host. Murillo realized the patterns he was studying in plants could have applications for diseases that shift from one species to another—such as the H1N1 virus.
Murillo, the first in his family to go to college, is now a student at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Mena-Ali acted as mentor and guide during his project, providing Murillo with numerous papers to read as background and talking with Murillo whenever the student popped in—about once or twice a week—for informal chats or more structured guidance.
“I encourage independent inquiry, and Luis really took ownership of this,” Mena-Ali says. After he becomes a doctor, Murillo’s goal is to advance medicine and serve underprivileged patients. “I want to push medicine forward, focusing both on patients and new discoveries,” Murillo says. “I really hope that I can bring something to people who need it.”