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School of Medicine Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine profiles

September 26, 2011

Beth Zha

Beth Zha

M.D.-Ph.D. student
Coleman Award Winner

The Mary P. Coleman Award in Microbiology was established with a $10,000 bequest from the mother of Phil Coleman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of microbiology and immunology. Two students received the prize this year, one of whom is Beth Zha, an M.D.-Ph.D. student who is investigating the side effects that occur with HIV therapy. Protease inhibitors cause metabolic changes, including insulin resistance, atherosclerosis and changes in body fat composition, Zha says, “all of which increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.” The virus itself also increases these cardiovascular risks, so the infection and the treatment together “is like a double hit,” she says.

Zha, who will defend her dissertation in a few months and enter the final clinical phase of her training, has long envisioned a career as a physician-researcher. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to really learn about the scientific process including scientific writing and grant writing — all the things, not just bench work,” she says. She hopes to specialize in infectious disease, but one result of her basic science research training has been a new appreciation for studying all aspects of a treatment. “I always thought I would work on the diseases themselves,” she says. “Now I see that focusing on therapies is also important. It’s a new perspective on how I can help patients with a disease — by managing their treatment as well.”

“I think she’s the most hard-working student I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Zha’s mentor, Huiping Zhou, Ph.D., an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology. With her dedication to her work and a few first-author papers under her belt, Zha is a worthy recipient of the Coleman Award.