Holly K. Huse
Many deadly diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, are the result of long-term microbial infections. These infections last for decades, often resulting in significant morbidity and mortality. Holly Huse’s research focuses on the adaptations that allow pathogens to persist in the host long-term. Her goal is to use this information to identify potential drug targets, with the overall aim of improving a patients’ quality of life and disease outcomes. She utilizes a common bacterial pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, as a model organism for studying persistence. P. aeruginosa causes long-term respiratory infections in individuals with the heritable disease cystic fibrosis (CF). Due to a genetic defect, individuals with CF are highly susceptible to respiratory infections, which are the primary cause of death in these patients. Approximately 70,000 people worldwide are afflicted with CF and 80% of them are chronically colonized with P. aeruginosa. Recently she identified 24 P. aeruginosa genes, important for chronic infection.
Many of these genes have unknown functions and were not previously known to be important for persistence in the host. She has discovered a novel link between one of the genes and a bacterial social behavior called biofilm growth. P. aeruginosa biofilms are highly antibiotic resistant and are proposed to play important roles in the host. Her studies have uncovered important new processes involved in P. aeruginosa infection. Further characterization of these genes will reveal new functions and possibly result in novel drug targets. Importantly, this same approach can be applied to other long-term infections caused by microbes.
Long-term, chronic infections caused by bacteria can last for weeks to decades. During infection, bacteria adapt to the host environment and often become resistant to antibiotic treatment. The goal of her research is to understand the adaptations that allow bacteria to persist in the host long-term. Her goal is to use this information to identify potential drug targets, with the overall aim of improving patients’ quality of life and disease outcomes.
Holly hopes to obtain a faculty position at an academic institution where she can study the intersection between microbial evolution and infection. The Powers Fellowship will help her achieve this goal because it covers her tuition and salary. This support relieves teaching responsibilities, which allows her to focus entirely on laboratory research.