Fuller, A. Oveta 1955–

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A. Oveta Fuller 1955


Grew Up on a Farm

Studied Biology at UNC

Switched to Virology

Joined University of Michigan Faculty

Gained Professional Recognition

Selected writings


A. Oveta Fuller has spent her scientific career studying how viruses infect host cells. The long-term goals of her research include developing methods for controlling viral diseases and using viruses for genetic engineering. Specifically, Fuller studies the means by which viruses attach themselves to host cells and penetrate the host cell membrane or outer protective layer. Fuller is an associate professor in the department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. She also teaches in the medical, dental, and graduate schools at the University of Michigan.

Grew Up on a Farm

Almyra Oveta Fuller was born on August 31, 1955, in Mebane, North Carolina. Her father, Herbert R. Fuller, managed their family farm near Yanceyville, North Carolina. Oveta Fullers mother, Deborah Evelyn Woods Fuller, taught junior high school. Her paternal grandmother, Lillie Willis Fuller Graves, along with Ovetas father and his two siblings, had inherited the 100-acre farm from Ovetas great-grandmother. After her husbands death Lillie Fuller had remarried, and her four sons from the new marriage were part of the household while Oveta was growing up. In addition to these uncles, she also had two brothers.

When Fuller was four years old, she moved with her immediate family from her grandmothers farmhouse into a nearby home that her father and uncles had built. However, Fuller continued to spend a great deal of time with her grandmother while her parents worked. The farm supplied most of the familys needs, including fruit, vegetables, and grains, as well as cows, pigs, and chickens. Their cash crops were cattle and tobacco.

Fullers interest in biology began early. She noticed that her grandmothers diabetes could be treated, but that there were few treatments for her mild arthritis. Oveta was particularly impressed after her grandmother was bitten by a water moccasin, but recovered immediately after treatment with an antivenin, an antidote to the snake venom.

Studied Biology at UNC

Although Fuller was encouraged by her high school biology teachers, she was not yet thinking about a career in science. Following her junior year in high school, Fullers guidance counselor nominated her for the North Carolina Governors School, a prestigious summer program at Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. There Fuller studied mathematics but found herself stimulated by other subjects as well, including literature and music.

After high school Fuller was awarded an Aubry Lee Brooks Scholarship for a full four years at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, just an hour from her home. There she majored in biology, but also studied English literature, composition, and journalism, and worked on one of the college newspapers.

During the summer between her junior and senior years of college, Fuller worked as an apprentice at a

At a Glance

Born Almyra Oveta Fuller on August 31, 1955; daughter of Herbert R. and Deborah Evelyn (Woods) Fuller; married Jerry Caldwell, June 18, 1984; children: Brian Randolph Caldwell. Education: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, BA, 1977, PhD, 1983; University of Chicago, postdoctoral study, 198387.

Career: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, graduate research assistant, 197783, assistant director of the Summer Apprentice Research Program, 198182; University of Chicago, post-doctoral research fellow, 198387, instructor, 198486, research associate, 198788; DeVeras Inc., consultant, 198789; University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, department of Microbiology and Immunology, research scientist, assistant professor, associate professor, 1988.

Memberships: National Technical Association, cofounder of the Research Triangle Chapter, 1980; American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1984; American Society for Microbiology, 1984; Lineberger Cancer Research Center, advisory committee to fellows programs, 1989; Howard Hughes Doctoral Fellowship panel, 1991.

Awards: Aubry Lee Brooks Scholarship, 197377; National Technical Association Service Award, Research Triangle Chapter, 1983; Anna Fuller Fund Postdoctoral Award, 198384; Thornton Professional Achievement Award, National Technical Association, Chicago Chapter, 1984; NIH Post-doctoral Research Award, 198486; Ford Foundation, fellow, 1987.

Addresses: Home9398 Hidden Lake Circle, Dexter, Ml 48130. OfficeUniversity of Michigan Medical Center, Microbiology and Immunology, 6736 Medical Science Building II, Ann Arbor, Ml, 481090620.

local health clinic that served many older, chronically ill patients. In addition to helping the physicians, Fuller worked as a laboratory assistant. She discovered that she enjoyed laboratory work and began to contemplate a career in research. A recent outbreak of Legionnaires Disease had launched a massive research effort to identify the responsible microorganism, and during her senior year at UNC, Fuller wrote a major paper describing how biologists, public health practitioners, and physicians had joined forces to discover the path by which the disease-causing microorganism had infected its victims.

After graduating from UNC with a bachelor of arts degree in 1977, Fuller spent the summer in Louisiana, marketing childrens reference books for a national publishing company. However, she already had decided to enter a university doctoral program to study biology. After considering the programs at Howard and Georgetown Universities in Washington, D.C., as well as at the University of Illinois, Fuller decided to stay in Chapel Hill and take advantage of UNCs excellent microbiology program. She received a graduate fellowship from UNC that covered her tuition and expenses. During the summer following her first year of doctoral study, Fuller again worked in publishing. During the school year she tutored high school students in math and science. She also worked with undergraduates in UNCs Upward Bound program, which helped prepare disadvantaged students for a college curriculum. During 1981 and 1982, Fuller served as assistant director of the summer apprentice research program.

For her doctoral research Fuller studied the biological effects of two similar and very potent toxic chemicals from plantsabrin, that comes from the seeds of the rosary or jequirity pea, and ricin from castor beans. Although both chemicals have potential medical applications, particularly as cancer treatments, their potential as chemical weapons has also been of special concern to researchers. During this time, Fuller also became a founding member of the local chapter of the National Technical Association, an organization of black American scientists and engineers who were working in the larger academic institutions.

Switched to Virology

By the time Fuller earned her Ph.D. in 1983, she had become very interested in viruses, particularly in the chemistry of the cell surfaces of both the viruses and the host cells they infect. She moved to the University of Chicago to study herpes and other viruses, in the laboratory of Professor Patricia G. Spear. Herpes viruses attack the soft linings of the body, such as the mouth and genitals, causing cold sores, fever blisters, and genital inflammations. These viruses may be sexually transmitted and often cause recurring problems for the patient. Fuller was interested in how the virus attaches to host cell membranes in order to penetrate and infect the cells. Fuller and Spear were able to identify some of the molecules on the host cell surface that appeared to provide at least partial immunity to herpes infection by preventing viral attachment and/or penetration. Since viruses also have the potential of directing useful genes into human cells to treat various medical conditions, Fuller also investigated the genetic engineering of the herpes virus in order to develop a method for introducing new genetic material into cells for gene therapy.

In Spears laboratory Fuller demonstrated that the interaction between the virus and the host-cell membrane requires specific combinations of viral and host-cell proteinslarge molecules that are made up of chains of amino acids. If the host cell lacks a required protein, the virus may be unable to infect the cell. This may explain, in part, why viruses can infect some people and not others, and why humans are often immune to viruses that infect other animals.

During her first three years at Chicago, Fuller was a research fellow. Her post-doctoral funding came from the Anna Fuller Cancer Fund, a relatively small private foundation, and from other sources including the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She also taught introductory genetics at the University of Chicago in 1984 and an advanced course in human genetic disorders in 1986. On June 16, 1984, Fuller married Jerry Caldwell, and the couple had one son.

Joined University of Michigan Faculty

In 1987 Fuller was awarded a Ford Foundation fellowship and became an independent research associate at the University of Chicago. The following year she joined the medical school faculty at the University of Michigan, as a research scientist in the department of Microbiology and Immunology. Fuller was promoted first to assistant professor and then to associate professor. Although her initial research funding came from the university, she was soon awarded research grants from the National Science Foundation and from the NIH, to direct a research team that included both undergraduate and graduate students.

Fuller has used the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and pseudorabies virus (PRV) as model systems for examining the interactions between viruses and the host cells they infect. She has found that a series of specific attachments between the virus and the host cell triggers the fusion of the virus and the host cell membrane, mediating viral entry into the cell. Her research has focused on identifying the individual events of viral entry, the roles of both viral and cellular proteins in entry, and how these events might be circumvented to prevent viral infections. Fullers research has had important implications for the pathogenesis of HSV and other human and animal viruses.

Viruses use proteins called receptors, located on the host-cell surface, to enter cells. Fullers research group has been attempting to identify, clone, and characterize certain receptors for HSV-1 and HSV-2 on the surface of human cells. HSV and PRV use some of the same receptors to enter susceptible cells. Fuller has found that swine (pig) cells are resistant to HSV infection because they lack an important receptor. In addition, Fullers laboratory is identifying and characterizing host cell factors that enable PRV to replicate or reproduce within swine cells but not within human cells. They have also examined host cell factors that appear to influence the expression or activity of PRV genes early in the viruss reproductive cycle, since PRV has fewer such genes than HSV.

Gained Professional Recognition

In 1992 Fuller co-chaired a session at the International Herpes Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, and she has given numerous lectures in the United States and abroad. In 1999 Fuller and her collaborators were awarded a patent titled Compositions and Methods for Identifying and Testing Therapeutics Against HSV Infection. In 2002 Fuller published a review with P. Perez-Romero in Frontiers in Bioscience that summarized what was known about the human cell surface viral receptors and the entry of some common DNA viruses into human cells, as well as the early events that occur once the virus has entered the cell.

At the University of Michigan, Fuller teaches microbiology and immunology within the Molecular Mechanisms in Microbial Pathogenesis Training Program. This is an interdepartmental program for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows that integrates studies of the molecular and cellular biology of pathogenic microorganisms and the host responses to infection by these organisms. In 2003 Fuller was the course director for Microbiology 532, in which she taught introduction to micro-pathogens and the virology lecture series. She also teaches dental microbiology and molecular and cellular determinants of viral pathogenesis. In addition, Fuller is a faculty member in the gene therapy curriculum of the program in Biomedical Sciences.

Fuller has collaborated with other University of Michigan researchers on the development of HSVs as vectors for introducing foreign genes into cells, for genetic engineering and gene therapy applications. In 1997 she co-authored a paper demonstrating that a common retroviral vector used to introduce genes into human cells may not survive in the cell long enough for the gene to be transferred into the host DNA.

Selected writings

(With L. M. Stannard and P. G. Spear) Herpes Simplex Virus Glycoproteins Associated with Different Morphological Entities Projecting from the Virion Envelope, Journal of General Virology, 1987.

(With R. E. Santos and P. G. Spear) Neutralizing Antibodies Specific for Protein H of Herpes Simplex Virus Permit Viral Attachment to Cells but Prevent Penetration, Journal of Virology, 1989.

(With W. C. Lee) Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Entry through a Cascade of Virus-Cell Interactions Requires Different Roles of gD and gH in Penetration, Journal of Virology, 1992.

(With W. C. Lee) Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 and Pseudorabies Virus Bind to a Common Saturable Receptor on Vero Cells that is not Heparin Sulfate, Journal of Virology, 1993.

Microbes and the Proteoglycan Connection, Journal of Clinical Investigation, 1994.

(With Deborah S. McClain) Cell Specific Kinetics and Efficiency of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Entry are Determined by Two Distinct Steps of Attachment, Virology, 1994.

(With G. Subramanian, D. S. McClain, and A. Peréz) Swine Testis Cells Contain Functional Heparan Sulfate But Are Defective in Entry of Herpes Simplex Virus, Journal of Virology, 1994.

(With G. Subramanian, R. A. LeBlanc, and R. C. Wardley) Defective Entry of Herpes Simplex Virus Types 1 and 2 into Porcine Cells and Lack of Infection in Infant Pigs Indicate Species Tropism, Journal of General Virology, 1995.

(With S. T. Andreadis, D. Brott, and B. O. Palsson) Moloney Murine Leukemia Virus-Derived Retroviral Vectors Decay Intracellularly with a Half-Life in the Range of 5.4 to 7.5 Hours, Journal of Virology, 1997.

(With S. Andreadis and B. O. Palsson) Cell Cycle Dependence of Retroviral Transduction: An Issue of Overlapping Time Scales, Biotechnology and Bioengineering, 1998.

(With Aleida Pérez) Stable Attachment for Herpes Simplex Virus Penetration into Human Cells Requires Glycoprotein D in the Virion and Cell Receptors that are Missing for Entry-Defective Porcine Cells, Virus Research, 1998.

(With P. Perez-Romero) Mechanisms of DNA Virus Infection: Entry and Early Events, Frontiers in Bioscience, 2002.



Kessler, James H., J. S. Kidd, Renée A. Kidd, and Katherine A. Morin, Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century, Oryx Press, 1996, pp. 112-116.

Notable Black American Scientists, Gale, 1998.

Notable Women Scientists, Gale, 1999.


A. Oveta Fuller, University of Michigan, Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology, www.med.umich.edu/microbio/faculty/fuller.html (November 18, 2003).

Margaret Alic

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