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Thomas Kehl-Fie, Phd

Assistant Professor of Microbiology
Affiliate Member of the Carl R Woese Institute for Genomic Biology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Vallee Scholar 2017: Harnessing Nutritional Immunity to Combat Infection

Due to the continued emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance, more than 10 million people per year are expected to die worldwide from infectious diseases, exceeding the number of people who die from cancer, by 2050. Elucidating how bacteria overcome the host’s defenses has the potential to identify new opportunities for therapeutic intervention and blunt the growing threat of infection. During infection, invading microbes must obtain all of their nutrients from their prey. Our immune system combats invaders by restricting the availability of essential metals, functionally eliminating them from sites of infection. This defense, known as nutritional immunity, is an incredibly powerful weapon in the host’s arsenal, as nearly half of all enzymes rely on a metal cofactor for function. Despite the power of nutritional immunity, infections remain a serious threat to human health. How successful pathogens are able to thrive and cause disease in the metal restricted environment created by the host is unknown. The goal of my laboratory is to determine how pathogens overcome the host nutrient withholding response. Using an interdisciplinary approach, which combines microbiological and biochemical approaches with advanced elemental analysis, we are working to understand how pathogens maximize their ability to compete with the host for essential nutrients and elucidate the adaptations that enable bacteria to grow even when nutritional immunity prevents them from satiating their appetite.

Dr Kehl-Fie is an assistant professor of microbiology and affiliate member of the Carl R Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  He completed his doctoral training in molecular microbiology and microbial pathogenesis at Washington University in St Louis with Dr Joseph St Geme III.  Dr Kehl-Fie conducted his postdoctoral work at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the laboratory of Dr Eric Skaar.  As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr Kehl-Fie’s investigations expanded the scope of nutrients withheld by the host to combat infection. He also developed a series of unique tools, derived from host proteins responsible for restricting these nutrients, which enable the impact that nutritional immunity has on pathogens to be studied both in culture and during infection.  In addition to being named a 2017 Vallee Scholar Dr Kehl-Fie has received young investigator awards from the March of Dimes and National Institutes of Health.

Kehl Fie Lab