Jessica Portillo and Sweta Patel receive the 2023 DMC Diversity Matters Award

The Duke Microbiome Center (DMC) leadership team is happy to announce that the recipients of the 2023 DMC Diversity Matters Award are Jessica Portillo and Dr. Sweta Patel. The DMC is committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion as fundamental to our center’s success and excellence (read more here). Our ability to achieve these ends relies on the initiative, leadership, and engagement of our center members. Launched in 2020, the annual Diversity Matters Award is designed to recognize individuals within the DMC that have made significant advances towards these ends within Duke and our broader scientific and geographic communities. We are very happy to recognize Jessica and Sweet as the two recipients of this year’s DMC Diversity Matters Award for their contributions described below.

Jessica Portillo’s receipt of the DMC Diversity Matters Award recognizes her outstanding commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within our Duke community. Jessica is a Ph.D. student in Duke’s Molecular Genetics and Microbiology (MGM) Program in the laboratory of Dr. Raphael Valdivia. She is recognized for being an excellent scientist and colleague within her lab and neighboring labs, where she generously promotes a collaborative, supportive, considerate, and inclusive work environment. Outside of the lab, she is a member of the MGM Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Group, and represented that group at the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) meeting this past fall 2023. She has also served as a mentor and communications director for Duke First, an organization for first-generation, low-income students. She is also a scholar in the Biosciences Collaborative for Research Engagement (BioCoRE) program that helps promote diversity and inclusion at Duke. For these and other contributions, she was recently recognized by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s Graduate Diversity Enrichment Program. For these many contributions to our Duke community as a scientist, student leader and role model, the DMC is pleased to recognize Jessica with this year’s DMC Diversity Matters Award.

Dr. Sweta Patel’s receipt of the DMC Diversity Matters Award recognizes her commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, both within the local Duke community and globally. Sweta is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, an Assistant Research Professor of Global Health, and a faculty member in the Duke Microbiome Center. Throughout her career, she has worked to further our understanding of conditions that disproportionately affect populations in low- and middle-income countries. Her research program at Duke is focused on respiratory health in adults and children in Botswana, with specific interest in associations between the upper respiratory microbiome and lung health in people with HIV. As part of this, she implemented the largest study of lung function performed in Botswana to date and collected lung function data on 400 adults. These data are particularly important for addressing disparities related to lung health in low- and middle-income countries because current reference equations used for lung function test interpretation were developed without any data from sub-Saharan African populations. The microbiome data she is collecting in Botswana also addresses a key disparity in microbiome research; currently, <5% of publicly available human microbiome data are derived from sub-Saharan African populations. Given the impact of geographic location, lifestyle, and exposures on microbial communities, obtaining region-specific microbiome data is essential to accurately identify microbiome-disease associations in the populations at highest risk for morbidity and mortality. By building a research program in a low- and middle-income setting representative of those where most of the world’s respiratory-associated morbidity and mortality occurs, Sweta’s findings will improve representation of these populations in the scientific literature and contribute to improved health equity. Within Duke, Sweta serves on her Division’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee where she has worked to reduce disparities in trainee/faculty representation and in the provision of patient care. Sweta has also presented data to the Division on racial and ethnic disparities in pulmonary function testing and has been a strong advocate for a race-neutral approach to interpretation of these results by Division faculty. Within the DMC, Sweta is a highly-engaged faculty member who has been an effective advocate for keeping diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of Center efforts and culture. For these contributions to our Duke community and the global scientific community, the DMC is pleased to recognize Sweta with this year’s DMC Diversity Matters Award.

The next nomination cycle for the DMC Diversity Matters Award will be announced in fall 2024. For further details on this award mechanism including past recipients, go here.

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