Faculty Profile


Pilar Fernandez

Pilar Fernandez

Assistant Professor

pilar.fernandez@wsu.edu

 

Dr. Fernandez is a disease ecologist focused on the eco-epidemiology of zoonotic diseases, and in particular, vector-borne diseases. She graduated from the University of Buenos Aires with a BSc./MSc in biological science and completed her thesis on the molecular epidemiology of Trypanosoma cruzi in Northern Argentina, the causative agent of Chagas disease, at the laboratory of Dr. Ricardo Gürtler. Chagas disease is one of the main vector-borne disease affecting vulnerable populations in Latin America. Upon graduation in 2011, Dr. Fernandez received a doctoral fellowship from the Argentinean National Scientific and Technical Research Council to pursue her doctoral studies and research on Chagas disease transmission at the University of Buenos Aires, under the mentorship of Dr. Gürtler. Her PhD dissertation integrated traditional epidemiological research with an expanded perspective that includes eco-bio-social determinants, their eventual interactions, and spatial patterns of human infection risk in indigenous rural communities in Northern Argentina.

She defended her dissertation in 2017 and she moved to the United States the same year after being awarded the Earth Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship at Columbia University in New York City to conduct her postdoctoral research program at the laboratory of Dr. Maria Diuk-Wasser. During this time, she developed a research project on the eco-epidemiology of tick-borne diseases in the U.S., integrating the human dimension of disease transmission with the ecology of the enzootic transmission cycle. 

In September 2020, Dr. Fernandez joined the Paul G. Allen School at WSU as an assistant professor. Her lab will continue her research on the ecology and epidemiology of zoonotic diseases, with a special interest in the emergence and persistence of vector-borne diseases in affected communities. Disease ecology is an interdisciplinary field and Dr. Fernandez strongly believes in collaborations across disciplines and organizations. She is always open for new partnerships to advance science and to find sustainable solutions to alleviate the burden caused by these diseases.

As a disease ecologist, my research focuses on the eco-epidemiology of vector-borne diseases, understanding them as complex socio-ecological systems. Although human and animal health is a systemic manifestation of a population’s entire social, cultural and biophysical environment, the lack of sufficient knowledge on the complex relationships between human and nature has been a major barrier to the effective implementation of sustainable control programs. Nature-human systems are often studied separately, either as human systems with input/output to natural systems or as natural systems subjected to human disturbances, thereby failing to capture the whole complexity of their interaction. 

Zoonotic diseases occur in the interface between human and ecosystem health, which are both interrelated and simultaneously affected by human activity, changes in land use and climate in the context of global change. In my research I am working on integrating traditional epidemiological research with an expanded perspective including eco-bio-social determinants, their eventual interactions and spatial patterns, with a complex system approach. I am particularly interested in vector-borne diseases given their combined burden and the complexity of the interactions between the pathogen, vectors and hosts. The ultimate goal of my research is to identify critical factors affecting disease transmission, which will aid in the design of improved intervention strategies to alleviate the biological and socio-economic burden of these diseases in affected communities.

Earth Institute Postdoctoral Fellow program; Columbia University; From July 2017/September 2020 Project: “The dynamics of coupled natural and human systems in vector-borne diseases: the case of tick-borne Lyme disease” ; Advisor: Maria Diuk-Wasser.


CONICET Ph.D. Fellowship; Argentinean National Scientific and Technical Research Council ; April 2012/April 2017
Project: “Hierarchical spatial models of vector-transmitted pathogens: The case of Chagas Disease”; Advisor: Ricardo E. Gürtler

“UBACYT Estímulo” Licentiate Student Award; University of Buenos Aires; July 2010 / December 2011.
Project: “Assessment of genetic diversity of Trypanosoma cruzi in Triatoma infestans from rural areas of Santiago del Estero with different vector control history”; Advisor: Marta Victoria Cardinal

“FCEN-UBA” Licentiate Student ScholarshipFaculty of Exact and Natural Sciences, University of Buenos Aires; January 2010 / July 2010.
Project: “Sources of reinfestation of Chagas disease vectors”; Advisor: Ricardo E. Gürtler

Other scholarships and awards:
  • EPIC scholarship for the course “Agent-Based Models for Population Health” at the Epidemiology and Population Health Summer Institute at Columbia University (EPIC). Columbia University, United States. June 2015.  
  • Scholarship for the course “Data Analysis using STATA" at the Institut Pasteur de Montevideo, Uruguay. April 2012.