UofL Researchers Land Nearly $12 Million to Study Microorganisms & Disease

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08/28/2023

University of Louisville researchers have received $11.7 million to study microorganisms throughout the body, including the mouth. What they find could lead to better understanding and treatment of a range of chronic conditions.

The five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is an extension of a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant awarded in 2018 to study the connection between those microorganisms — such as bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses and protozoans — and disease. The work could lead to discoveries in, among others, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, periodontitis and colorectal cancer.

The grant will support research by three faculty members focused on microorganisms in the mouth, GI tract and the blood-brain barrier, said Richard Lamont, principal investigator for the grant and chair of School of Dentistry Department of Oral Immunology and Infectious Diseases.

“Collectively, these three projects provide innovative approaches to an increased understanding of the host-microbe interface as it defines health and disease and these advances will establish the basis for new therapeutic approaches,” Lamont said.

The School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology & Immunology also is involved in the COBRE research, including interim chair Haribabu Bodduluri, the center’s co-director.

“An essential feature of these awards is the support of shared resources for development of new research areas,” said Bodduluri. “In the past few months since the renewal, we were awarded supplemental funding to the COBRE that enhances the research core facilities and initiates a novel ‘Team Science’ project.”

Gerry Bradley, interim university provost, said the NIH grant allows UofL to further the COBRE’s groundbreaking research, development of new innovations and training the next generation of scientists.

“This huge commitment from the government reinforces that UofL is one of the top dental schools in the United States in terms of the value of research work conducted here and research funding dollars,” he said.

The original COBRE grant allowed UofL to establish an interdisciplinary research program to study associations linking microbiome with inflammation and disease. The grant provides junior research faculty with seed funding to build potential for independent research funding. The first five faculty researchers involved are successfully continuing their research with other financial support.

“As a top-tier research institution, UofL works to expand understanding and find solutions to important problems,” said Kevin Gardner, executive vice president for research and innovation. “The work of Drs. Lamont and Bodduluri, along with their team, for example, could lead to life-changing therapies, treatments and more that could dramatically improve the lives of people living with numerous conditions.”

Kevin Sokoloski, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology and participant in UofL’s initial COBRE grant, said the program helped his research by connecting him with a robust scientific community focused on inflammation and pathogenesis.

“Our ongoing involvement in the COBRE program has accelerated our success and continues to enhance our scientific mission,” Sokoloski said.

The newly funded researchers are:

  • Fata Moradali, (Oral Immunology and Infectious Diseases), who will address periodontitis, a common condition driven by a synergistically virulent bacterial community that triggers destructive inflammatory responses in the periodontal, or gum tissues.
  • James Collins, (Microbiology & Immunology), who will investigate the GI tract pathogen C. difficile, an evolving organism whose ability to cause disease can be enhanced by the nutritional microenvironment. 
  • Yun Teng, (Department of Medicine), who will focus on the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Increased permeability of the BBB accelerates the aging process and the progression of age-related diseases.

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