Dr. Ken Cadwell receives Burroughs Wellcome Fund's PATH Award

Thu, 08/06/2015 - 4:00am

Dr. Kenneth Cadwell Receives Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s Prestigious PATH Award

Ken Cadwell, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and member of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, has been awarded the Burroughs Wellcome Fund’s Investigators in Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award (PATH). Out of this year’s 131 applicants, he is one of only twelve to win the annual grant.

“It’s a tremendous honor because I’ve met and I know some of the other applicants, and they’re all phenomenal scientists. So to be chosen for this award among that elite group is pretty amazing,” said Dr. Cadwell. “For this award you get nominated by the institution, so receiving the grant is really a tribute to NYULMC and my director, Dr. Ruth Lehmann [Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Professor of Cell Biology, HHMI investigator, and director of the Skirball Institute and the Kimmel Center for Stem Cell Biology]. At that stage I already felt very fortunate,” he said.

A Significant Body of Work

Dr. Cadwell came to NYULMC in 2010, and since then has pursued research on the immune response and its relationship to intestinal bacteria. His area of inquiry aligns with the PATH award, which funds research aimed at improving the understanding of pathogen-host interactions. The grant provides winners with $500,000 over five years.

“This grant is going to allow us to take risks and perform tough experiments where we analyze the bacteria and how it interacts with the host, as well as how it interacts with other bacteria in the gut,” said Dr. Cadwell. “That’s been a real challenge in the field: not only finding specific bacteria to work on, but actually performing studies on that bacteria using both simple and complex techniques to really try to figure out how the bacteria promotes inflammation.”

According to Dr. Cadwell, he intends to use the grant to further his current research on a category of prevalent gut bacteria known as bacterioides and their link to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a major focus of his lab. He and his team have previously investigated the interaction between a gene mutation called Nod2 and the bacteria. The mutual presence of the mutation and the bacteria are associated with IBD.

“We think that whatever we end up finding is going to be very meaningful for understanding IBD,” said Dr. Cadwell. “Our lab is very good at manipulating animal models to learn about the origins of disease. But it’s difficult to simultaneously manipulate the intestinal immune system and the bacteria that colonize the intestine, and this includes the need to examine both individual bacteria and multiple bacteria. That’s really challenging, and those are the kinds of outside-the-box experiments this grant is going to support.”

Toward a Better Treatment for IBD

Dr. Cadwell and his lab are also studying the interaction between a different genetic mutation and a particular virus. Like the aforementioned study, the presence of these two factors is similarly linked to IBD. “We are trying to get at this from all kinds of angles; what are the properties of somewhat beneficial viruses and bacteria, and when are they beneficial and when are they harmful?” explained Dr. Cadwell.

He hopes his research will eventually lead to a better method of treating IBD. “We know that certain treatments work better in some people and not others,” he said. “In fact, current treatments can even be potentially unsafe for some patients. So we need to not only find ways to identify which people the treatment works for, we also need to find a safer alternative for people who should not be treated with current methods. That’s what we ultimately want to learn from these studies.”

Team Science

Dr. Cadwell attributes his success in winning the PATH grant to his colleagues at NYULMC. “So many people contributed to both the work and the application for this award,” he said. “A lot of the data behind this application was gathered by a PhD student in the lab, Deepshika Ramanan. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to come up with these ideas if it weren’t for her. I also received tremendous support from both the Skirball Institute and its director, Dr. Lehmann, who nominated me, and members of the microbiology department including our chair, Dr. Jeffrey Weiser, who helped me practice my presentation.

Dr. Cadwell added, “I was lucky to have people in the department who have won this in the past— NYULMC’s microbiology department has an amazing track record with this award, so I had good support from them.” Fellow recipients of the PATH grant in NYULMC’s Department of Microbiology include Ana Rodriguez, PhD, associate professor, who won the award in 2006; Andrew Darwin, PhD, associate professor, who received the grant in 2007; K. Heran Darwin, PhD, professor, PATH recipient in 2009; and Victor Torres, PhD, associate professor, who received the award last year, in 2014.