The University of Louisville has received a nearly $11.2 million federal grant to study the role of microorganisms in the body, from a bubonic-plague-causing bacteria called Y. pestis to microbes related to oral diseases, such as periodontitis.
The grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences will be used to establish a COBRE — Center of Biomedical Research Excellence — combining the talents of researchers from the schools of dentistry, medicine and engineering.
The researchers are “trying to find ways to understand not only how these microorganisms influence health but how that then could translate into ways to treat a whole variety of diseases,” UofL’s interim president, Greg Postel, said during a Monday news conference.
“It ranges from infectious disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, neurodegenerative disease, metabolic disorders — a whole host of things can potentially be positively impacted by harnessing knowledge and new treatment options related to this particular study,” he said.
The effort, involving both senior and junior faculty from the various schools, is expected to help boost the careers of young investigators and theoretically, make the research go faster than if an investigator were working alone, Postel and others said.
“Multidisciplinary collaboration is so critical to solving the mysteries and manifestations of disease and developing therapies to treat them,” said T. Gerard Bradley, dean of the School of Dentistry. “I am confident that the group of scientists we have gathered together will certainly uncover new knowledge to that end.”
Richard Lamont, the chair of the School of Dentistry’s Department of Oral Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said the study will look at microbes’ role in an array of diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, vaginosis, colorectal cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.
“The interplay between the microbes and the hosts and the pro- and anti-inflammatory components of the immune system” helps determine whether or not a person develops a disease and controls whether it becomes an acute or long-standing disease, he said.
Juhi Bagaitkar is one of the junior faculty members who will benefit from the grant. She hopes to provide insight into how white blood cells fight periodontal pathogens. She is also expected to enhance the understanding of immune pathways related to inflammation of the gums.
She says she’s happy to be able to take advantage of the five-year grant as a budding researcher. “Along with the fantastic mentorship, which is available here, it enables you to collaborate better, open up resources, try out a few things, which you might be a little hesitant (about),” Bagaitkar said. Also, it could lead to “more funding from the NIH or other nonprofit foundations.”