Ko Receives 2014 ICAAC Young Investigator Award

September 11, 2014

Durham, NC —Dennis Ko, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, has received a 2014 ICAAC Young Investigator Award for his innovative and multidisciplinary research on the genetic basis for pathogen susceptibility in humans. Samuel Miller, University of Washington, describes Ko “as a uniquely qualified individual with the talent and ability to become a leader in biomedical science.”

In 1997, Ko received a BS from Cornell University and later he obtained an MD and PhD from Stanford University where he worked in the laboratory of Dr. Matthew Scott. Using a combination of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and animal models, he pioneered a new subject in the lab examining how genetic alterations lead to the neurodegenerative lipid disorder, Niemann-Pick type C (NPC).

As a post-doctoral Life Sciences Research Foundation fellow in the lab of Miller, Ko developed a novel screening method termed Hi-HOST (high throughput human in vitro susceptibility testing) for identifying human genetic variation that affects cell-based readouts of bacterial infection. Through this approach, he was able to discover unexpected cell biology involving Salmonella-induced cell death and identify genetic differences important for sepsis.

Ko joined the faculty of Duke Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, Medicine, and the Center for Human Genome Variation in 2012. In addition to studies of host variation to Salmonella, his laboratory has expanded the pathogens under study with Hi-HOST to other bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. The long-term goal of the research is to fully understand human genetic variation for traits important for infection and inflammation that impact human disease.

“Dennis Ko is an exemplary and talented physician-scientist applying novel and innovative approaches to map and dissect human genetic variation related to susceptibility or resistance to infectious disease,” says Joseph Heitman, MD, PhD, James B. Duke Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. “His efforts span human genetics and multiple areas of microbiology and as such, he weds the two missions of the MGM Department. His receipt of the ICAAC Young Investigator Award is a richly deserved accolade in recognition of both his accomplishments to date and his future promise.”