Guardian Against Germs

Biological Sciences grad earns Alumni Achievement Award

Bacterial research and vaccines are pivotal to the health and welfare of people throughout the globe. Bernard Beall (B.S. ’82, M.S. ’85) works his dream job as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s StrepLab.

At the CDC’s StrepLab, Beall and his team study and characterize the bacterial strains that are afflicting the U.S. population with strep throat, skin and blood infections and pneumonia. The team continuously studies the three principal streptococcal pathogens from 31 million people, representing 10 percent of the population.

Over the course of his career, Beall has been recognized for his work at the CDC and for his contribution to his field. In addition to creating new and better testing for bacterial strains, he also has published more than 200 scientific publications, including 187 peer-reviewed journals.

Beall is being honored with the 2016 UMKC School of Biological Sciences Alumni Achievement Award. Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Beall and other outstanding alumni at the 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 21 at Swinney Recreation Center. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted nearly 600 attendees and garnered more than $141,000 in student scholarships.

“I am quite proud,” said Beall. “I get to work with a great lab team, and spend much of my time studying data collected from fascinating organisms. What more could one ask for? What could be a bigger experiment than observing the selective effects of a vaccine upon a pathogenic bacterial species?”

Beall wasn’t always so focused. Growing up in Kansas City, he described himself as a rebel without a cause in high school who didn’t accomplish much. It was his first microbiology course in college that helped him realize that this is what he wanted to pursue.

At UMKC, Beall researched staphylococcal genetics. When his National Institutes of Health fellowship was coming to an end at Emory University, his wife encouraged him to apply at the CDC.

Early in his career with the CDC, Beall developed a genetic typing system for group A streptococcus, a major global pathogen and the ninth most common cause of infectious death, causing 500,000 deaths each year. In 1995, he noticed the lab-based test for typing the group A streptococcal surface M protein, to be exact, was labor-intensive, inefficient and often inaccurate. He developed a simple test, which has become the single most-used test in identifying different strains.

Currently, Beeall and his team at the StrepLab are shifting from classical bacteriology for strain surveillance to whole genome sequencing, allowing for vaccine evaluation and treatment strategies. With whole genome sequencing, the StrepLab can detect and monitor vaccine-escape variants — virulent strains that resist vaccine treatment — and identify new antimicrobial resistance mechanisms. Whole genome sequencing will lead to effective vaccines against high-impact global pathogens like Streptococcus pyogenes (the “flesh-eating bacterium”) and Streptococcus agalactiae (the most common cause of meningitis and sepsis in newborn infants).

The CDC recently recognized Beall for outstanding performance. Now that he has accomplished his professional goals, he says he is in the process of fulfilling his biggest personal dream: building a small house with his wife at the foot of Mt. Maurice in Montana.

“Work hard and be opportunistic,” Beall said when asked about keys to success. “Put your efforts into multiple research areas within the discipline that you are studying. Success requires hard work and some luck. Your chances of being lucky increase when you look behind multiple doors.”

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 21, 2016, Alumni Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information on the 2016 Alumni Award recipients.

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