The journey unexpected
Scientist Jeannine Brady has spent her career studying something she never imagined — dental microbes
By Jamie Harrison
“Did you know that cavities are an infectious disease caused by bacteria?” Jeannine Brady, Ph.D., asks. “Streptococcus mutans is the bacteria that is a major cause of cavities. That is one of the primary focuses of my work.”
Brady is a woman of many hats. She is a scientist, a mentor and a teacher. An oral biology professor in the College of Dentistry’s department of microbiology, she has always been interested in infectious diseases, microorganisms and mechanisms of immune protection, though she never imagined she would spend her days studying bacteria or teaching at a large research school.
“A long time ago, in a former life, I worked as a diagnostic virologist and I always thought that I would be studying viral pathogenesis,” she said. “But you never know where things are going to take you.”
During her high school years, Brady’s favorite subjects were science and biology, so she was encouraged to get onto a pre-medical track and apply to medical school. But when she arrived at Rutgers University, she realized she was more interested in microbiology and immunology.
After earning a degree in microbiology in 1977, Brady worked as a diagnostic virologist and a drug representative for a pharmaceutical company. Once she and her husband moved back to New Jersey, she was offered a position to do clinical research at different institutes across the country.
“Once I began to do that, I realized that I had an interest in research,” she said. “Then I realized that I needed to get an advanced degree in order to advance in that field.”
Brady received her doctorate in immunology from UF in 1989 and took on a postdoctoral fellowship in the College of Dentistry. She began to work on Strep mutans and has studied this organism ever since.
“As a little kid I wasn’t dreaming I want to go and study dental microbes,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to be a scientist, but not in that the particular area. I just found it to be a fascinating field. What we are learning is directly relevant to important global health care issues.”
After completing her fellowship, Brady was asked to teach virology and immunology to dental students, and was later promoted to a faculty position. In 2009, she was selected as the Basic Science Teacher of the Year, and she also received a Doctoral Mentoring Award.
“That meant an incredible amount to me because it came from the students,” she said. “That was a surprise because I didn’t even know that I had been nominated.
“I think the thing that I’m most proud of is that every student who has left my lab has gotten a job,” she said. “They have gotten a job doing what they want to do.”
Some of her students have enrolled in medical school, taken faculty positions for basic research and have even gone into forensics.
“One of the best things about this profession, which is one that I thought that I would never be involved in, is that it’s very rewarding,” she said. “I have the ability to share information with students and colleagues.”