Dr. Iliyan Iliev, an associate professor of immunology in medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and a scientist in the Jill Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been awarded the Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease (PATH) award by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.
The PATH award provides early-career scientists with $500,000 over five years to investigate the interplay between humans and pathogens, and how such encounters can lead to disease. These prestigious awards are intended to give the freedom and flexibility to pursue new avenues of inquiry, stimulating higher risk research projects that hold potential for significantly advancing understanding of how infectious diseases work and how health is maintained.
“This award is not only a great recognition, but it’s also a trust that the Burroughs Wellcome Fund has in us to go in a direction that we haven’t yet explored in our lab,” Dr. Iliev said.
The PATH award will allow Dr. Iliev to explore processes that allow fungi to breach intestinal barriers and cause systemic Candidiasis, which is the most common type of systemic fungal infection caused by a yeast called Candida albicans that is found in humans.
“Clinical studies have shown that fungi can disseminate from the gut of patients who are immunocompromised and lead to systemic infections, which is very dangerous,” Dr. Iliev said.
Despite immunosuppression and low white blood cell count being risk factors for the development of systemic Candidiasis, only a fraction of all immunocompromised patients develop the infection, Dr. Iliev said. This suggests that there are additional unknown factors that determine who contracts the infection and under what circumstances. With the grant, Dr. Iliev and his team will study the barrier mechanisms to discern these factors and develop a way to identify the most at-risk patients.