Karen Lee Hutchinson, PhD, age 59, of Ellijay, GA, died at her home on May 4, 2021.
Karen was born in Washington, D.C. on June 7, 1961 to William H. Hutchinson and Mary Messick Hutchinson. She graduated from Culpepper High School, Culpepper, VA. She received a Bachelor of Science degree (Cum Laude) from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, VA in 1984 and a PhD in 1990 from the University of South Carolina, School of Medicine, Columbia, SC. Karen served as a microbiologist in the South East Poultry Research Laboratory, USDA, Athens, GA. She then served at the Viral Special Pathogens Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA for a year as a visiting fellow, and subsequently completed 25 years of civil service in the same laboratory as a microbiologist.
Karen was the quintessential free spirit. She enjoyed trying new things- from putting greenhouses on her deck in the winter so she could grow her own vegetables, milling her own flour, or weaving her own clothes. Her wry sense of humor was hallmark- she could see the lighter side of any situation. Always curious and of sharp wit, she would ask the penetrating questions and did not hesitate to point out the elephant in the room whenever she saw the need. Karen loved to cook and experiment with new culinary delights that she often served her friends. Most importantly, she genuinely cared about the people she worked with, her nieces,nephews, and former CDC colleagues. Her devotion and love for her best friend and companion Samantha, a 28-year-old Cockatoo, was central to all visits and conversations with Karen.
Karen was an accomplished microbiologist. Karen joined the CDC Molecular Biology section of the Special Pathogens Branch in 1994, shortly after the identification of the newly recognized hantavirus, Sin Nombre Virus, causative agent of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Hantaviruses are associated with a primary rodent reservoir host species in which it establishes a lifelong, asymptomatic infection in in which it causes no disease. This in sharp contrast to the rapidly progressing acute illness seen in humans. Her extensive background in virology as well as quantitative analysis was seminal in the establishment of a procedure enabling quantification of hantavirus replication. Prior to Karen’s arrival, knowledge of the molecular replication of hantaviruses was incomplete due to the difficulty in detecting and quantifying hantavirus RNA species in specimens. Within a few months, Karen developed and optimized a method, which could be used to quantify viral RNA synthesis. In addition, to gain insight into the mechanisms of virus transcription, initiation, and termination, she was able to analyze the Sin Nombre virus mRNA using molecular tools. Her studies, in collaboration with Dr. Pierre Rollin, were the first to describe the details of the replication, persistence, and excretion of Black Creek Canal Virus in its laboratory-raised natural rodent reservoir Black Creek Canal Virus, which, in nature, lives in the southeastern U.S. Karen was able to replicate the transmission of the virus in this rodent by working in the high-containment laboratory, wearing a “space suit” and enduring the required difficult working conditions. Karen also optimized a multiplex cytokine assay which made it possible to quantify multiple cytokines from extremely small sample volumes and used that assay to study samples from human and non-human primates infected with different species of Ebola viruses. Karen also worked on the development of a guinea pig model for examination of human Lassa virus pathogenesis. She developed a method to quantify mRNA expression for the guinea pig cytokines/chemokines. In her scientific endeavors at CDC she collaborated with scientists at CDC and Emory University. She was frequently consulted in the development of multiplex assays for the diagnosis of viral hemorrhagic fevers, as well as by the molecular virology section of the HIV laboratories at CDC to assist in the development of multiplex assays for use in primates infected with various strains of HIV.
Karen is survived by her longtime friend and soulmate, her 28-year-old cockatoo companion Samantha, Cindy Smith (Randy) of Brodnax, VA, and Dale Scalici (Joe) of Myrtle Beach, SC. She also had a host of nieces,nephews, and CDC colleague who idolized her. She is preceded in death by her parents William H. Hutchinson and Mary Messick Hutchinson.
A celebration of life will be held on June 6, 2021 in Fredericksburg, VA. Messages for family and friends may be left at the Logan Funeral Home website at www.loganfuneralhome.com. Memorial donations may be made online to Papayago Rescue House at www.papayagorescuehouse.org/donate.
Most importantly, she genuinely cared about the people she worked with, her nieces, nephews, and former CDC colleagues.
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